Row as councils warned over refuse charging

A ROW has broken out between local and central government after Ministers wrote to town halls warning them against introducing “backdoor” bin charging for collecting rubbish – as councils hit back by rejecting calls from Whitehall to bring back weekly collections,

Environment Minister Lord Henley and Local Government Minister Bob Neill decided to write to local authorities amid concerns that a “small minority” were exceeding their legal powers to charge for providing waste services.

The letter reminds councils they are not allowed to impose charges for collecting mainstream rubbish, only for items such as garden waste or bulky rubbish.

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They are also not allowed to levy “callout” charges if they call at a house but the waste is not picked up.

The Ministers warned that if householders had to buy their own bin bags, the local authorities could not force residents to buy “official” council rubbish sacks – telling town halls they should not create a monopoly.

They wrote: “In short, councils cannot introduce ‘backdoor’ bin charging for mainstream waste collections or waste disposal.

“Such stealth taxes are not legal and are contrary to the policy direction of the new Government.”

The Government is currently passing legislation to abolish controversial rules brought in by Labour Ministers which allowed for a “pay-as-you-throw” pilot scheme to reward those who produce least waste and charge extra to those who throw away the most.

The project – described by the Tories as a bin tax – was a failure, not one local authority signing up to the scheme when it was offered to them, although Bristol later launched a trial which the council said would pay rewards only to those who produced least waste.

Lord Henley and Mr Neill said the Government believed bin charging would fuel fly-tipping and backyard burning, and put new costs on families at a time when they were struggling to make ends meet.

However the councils which currently collect waste once every two weeks, including Sheffield, Hambleton, Richmondshire, Doncaster, York, Kirklees and North Lincolnshire, issued their own warning to Whitehall that attempts to change back to weekly waste collections would dramatically increase costs and reverse efforts to increase recycling rates.

Of the 100 councils which responded to a survey on waste collection, none said they were planning to increase the frequency of refuse collections.

Ministerial calls to bring in innovative schemes aimed at boosting recycling, for example the “Recyclebank” programme which rewards people with shopping vouchers, are also sparking only limited interest.

Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles last year ordered the Audit Commission to repeal guidance to local authorities which he said had forced the move to “unpopular and unhygienic” fortnightly rubbish collections.

He pledged to work with councils to improve the frequency of rubbish collections, and urged local authorities to use incentives to boost recycling rates.

The vice chairman of the Local Government Association environment board, Clyde Loakes, said: “The survey bears out the LGA’s view that bin collection is a local matter to be decided by councils with their residents.

“Since 2005 there has been a 37 per cent reduction in the amount of waste going to landfill, while recycling rates have soared from 22 per cent of all household waste to nearly 40 per cent.

“That success indicates that there is no need to introduce a rigid, nationally imposed system of bin collection which won’t take into account local differences.”