Sunday, 3 August 2008

Families who overfill their bins fined more than shoplifters under Government-backed plans


By Steve Doughty
03rd August 2008

Ministers have endorsed bigger punishments for families who break wheelie bin rules than for shoplifters.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn backed on-the-spot fines of up to £110 for those who overfill their bins, leave them out too early, or put out sacks of 'side waste' alongside.

The price of defying rubbish regulations is £30 higher than the £80 fixed penalty fine given to shoplifters or those involved in drunken disorder in city centres.


Clamp down: Families who overfill their bins will receive larger fines than shoplifters, under Government-approved plans

The confirmation that Labour has been putting pressure on town halls and their bin police comes after three years of rapid growth in the numbers of fine tickets handed out to householders singled out for 'littering' - the offence committed by those who infringe strict wheelie bin rules.

Around 20,000 fines for breach of rubbish collection rules are thought to have been handed out in the latest year for which figures have been released. Tickets usually demand payment of fines of £100 or £110.

But the Government has always insisted that the high levels of bin fines were a matter for local councils to decide. Legislation covering on-the-spot fines for bin offences says they should be at least £75, but lays down no upper limit.

The Environment Department today confirmed that 'enforcement' guidance laid down for councils from Whitehall has set the £110 level.

A spokesman for DEFRA said: 'The guidance is not new. It sets fines at between £75 and £110.'

He added: 'Fixed penalty notice fines are an alternative to prosecution, and were called for by local authorities so that they could react to the severity and frequency of the environmental offence and offender and ensure our streets are kept clean for all of us.

'Ultimately the fines are there to act as a deterrent.'

Deterrents for breaking the bin rules that usually go alongside fortnightly collection schemes and compulsory recycling demands are much fiercer than those applied to thieves or to drunks creating late night mayhem in town centres.

Bus driver Gareth Corkhill was notoriously given a criminal record earlier this year for overfilling his wheelie bin to the point where the lid was open by four inches.

Mr Corkhill's conviction at the behest of Copeland council in Cumbria came after he failed to pay a £110 on-the-spot fine.

Brought to court, the father of four was ordered to pay a £210 fine equal to his week's wages, plus a £15 surcharge to help 'victims of violence', and given a record.

By contrast, shoplifters and drunks are given £80 fines, which often do not appear on their criminal record and which frequently go unpaid.

Last year prolific thief Anthony Hickingbotham ran up nine £80 on-the-spot fines for shoplifting and other criminal offences - none of which he paid - before finally being brought before a court in Hull, where he was sent on a drug treatment course.

Judges complained to police that magistrates had been informed about none of Hickingbotham's fixed penalty fines and he 'had got away scot free with a catalogue of offences'.

Magistrates and lawyers frequently claim that criminals are given on-the-spot fines by police anxious to hit crime clear-up targets and escape paperwork, when they should be brought to court for more severe punishment.

There were 193,000 on-the-spot fines for shoplifting and disorder last year, against 44,000 littering tickets. Both figures rose by around a third in 12 months.

Half the littering fines are for offences involving a single black bag and the great majority of these are for breaking bin rules.

Tory local government spokesman Eric Pickles said Labour was creating 'an army of municipal bin bullies hitting law-abiding families with massive fines while professional criminals get the soft touch.'

He added: 'It is clear Whitehall bureaucrats are instructing town halls to target householders with fines for minor breaches.

'Yet with the slow death of weekly collections and shrinking bins, it is increasingly hard for families to dispose of their rubbish responsibly.

'It is fundamentally unfair that householders are now getting hammered with larger fines than shoplifters get for stealing.'


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