St Helens Council yet to implement new powers to tackle fly-tipping

Recent figures revealed there were thousands of incidents of fly-tipping in 2014/15
Recent figures revealed there were thousands of incidents of fly-tipping in 2014/15

Council chiefs in St Helens have yet to hand out a single “on the spot” fine for fly-tipping since they were given new powers last year, figures show.

In May, the Government gave local authorities the power to issue fines of between £150 and £400 to those caught in the act of fly-tipping, instead of having to take them to court, as part of efforts to crack down on waste crime.

Recent figures revealed fly-tipping is costs St Helens taxpayers thousands of pounds every year.

Figures released by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), shows there was 1,485 incidents of fly tipping reported to St Helens Council in 2014/15, which cost £90,230 to clear up.

Of the cases reported to the council, 290 were on a highway, 33 on a footpath or bridleway and 975 were in back alleyways.

More worryingly, one incident involved an animal carcass and in seven case asbestos had been dumped.

Nationally, fly-tipping has been on the rise in the past few years, with 900,000 incidents in 2014/2015, the most recent year for which figures are available, and councils spending £50 million on clear-up costs and £17 million on enforcement action.

Of the 302 councils with responsibility for tackling fly-tipping who responded to the freedom of information request, 118 had handed out fixed penalty notices.

Use of the powers ranged from issuing just one fine to more than a hundred in some areas, for illegally dumping items such as furniture, old fridges, bags of rubbish and garden waste.

In total, town halls had handed out 1,353 fixed penalties since May, the figures show.

But 184 councils had not issued any, with many having not yet put the new rules in place or saying they were in the process of doing so.

Others said they pursued illegal dumping of waste through prosecutions or employing methods such as making offenders clear up their rubbish.

The maximum value of the fixed penalties which have been issued by councils since May is around £432,000, according to the figures, although the amount of money councils stand to collect for fly-tipping offences is likely to be significantly lower.

This is because many councils offer reductions for early payment, while in some cases the offender may refuse to pay which means the case has to go to court.

Newham, London, which had the worst problem with fly-tipping in 2014/2015 with more than 70,000 reported incidents, has used the new powers most, issuing 135 fixed penalty notices with a total value of £54,000.

The top five councils for using the powers are all London boroughs, each issuing dozens of penalties, but Southwark, which had among the worst fly-tipping rates in 2014/2015 with more than 25,000 cases, has not handed out any.

Neither has Birmingham, where the council says consideration is being given to using fixing penalty notices but the current policy is prosecution which has led to people being imprisoned, having a curfew imposed or fined.

Manchester, which also has a significant fly-tipping problem, has handed out 19 fines, while Liverpool has issued one.

Local Government Association environment spokesman Martin Tett said: “At a time when councils face difficult choices about services in the light of reducing budgets, they are having to spend a vast amount each year on tackling litter and fly-tipping.

“This is money that would be better spent on vital services such as filling potholes and caring for the elderly.”

The Government’s decision to bring in the fixed penalty notices, at the urging of the LGA, was “a big step in the right direction”, he said.

But councils, who may feel in some cases going down the prosecution route was most effective, also needed a faster and more effective legal system with hard-hitting fines for more serious offences and to be able to recoup all prosecution costs, he said.

The Country Land and Business Association called for councils to do more to use the powers they have been given to tackle fly-tipping, which cost rural businesses £800 per incident to clear up dumped rubbish.

The Government hopes the fixed penalty notices will act as a deterrent, but a poll of more than 1,000 people for Furniture Choice, which has set up a recycling tool to help people dispose of furniture legally, suggests three quarters (74%) did not know about the new powers.