A policy of fining businesses who put waste in residential bins has been suspended following an outcry over sole traders ending up with bills of hundreds of pounds for throwing away a couple of cardboard boxes.
Hundreds of people signed a petition started by Hove cushion maker Alison Mapletoft, who was fined £600 for putting a cardboard box in a recycling bin, calling for Brighton and Hove City Council to terminate its contract with 3GS, who issue the fines.
Hove MP Peter Kyle took up her case, and met with 3GS to request more flexibility and discretion in how fines are issued.
3GS told Brighton and Hove News that the current process is now suspended and that it is now talking to the council as to how it can be improved.
But he added that the law does not differentiate between big and small companies, and that ignorance of the rules is no defence.
Paul Buttivant, 3GS business development director, said the meeting, which also included the council’s environment lead Cllr Gill Mitchell, was “very constructive” – but warned that there was limited flexibility in the system.
He said: “I made it very clear that the current process (now suspended) was itself not appropriate. Our guys are notified of potential fly-tip from council staff, they visit and take appropriate evidence which is handed over to BHCC management who decide which is to be processed and which isn’t.
“There are a number of issues with this process and all were raised, including the fact that no-one, including 3GS, is appropriately empowered to determine what is and isn’t a breach of the law – that is the judgement of a court.
“Whilst we would all welcome flexibility, these offences are criminal. We do not write the law, so its not for us to determine. Who can determine intention? Is driving 20 minutes from your business and depositing business waste into a recycling bin intentional? That’s the dilemma. At a meeting with DEFRA a senior official pronounced ‘ignorance isn’t a defense’.”
“As for appeals, there is only one and that’s direct to the court. We do offer a complaints process and through that in very few cases the fines are withdrawn, but there are very tight procedures in place.
“There was a recent case where one individual received a £300 FPN and another had theirs dropped. That decision was not taken by 3GS. It can be very uncomfortable for the determining authority/employee who feels they have the authority to make such decisions.
“The law doesn’t differentiate between big and small businesses, as it doesn’t between race, creed or colour.”
“Mr Kyle was vocal about fly-tipping, but he was focused on country lanes and a sofa outside his apartment. But fly-tipping in lanes and dumping furniture carries no ID, so who do we approach and issues fines to?
“Roaming CCTV is an option, but it would require extensive management. Static CCTV was installed last year at the household waste centres but nothing has been done with the data on that yet, although I did recently discuss the various options with the council.
“This isn’t a simple process. If these were civil offences it may be but they’re criminal and must be dealt with accordingly.
“We very much look forward to the follow-on meeting so we can agree strategies going forward.”
Mr Kyle’s constituency manager Chris Henry said: “The meeting went very well. It was agreed that flexibility was needed and that discretion should be used so that cases small business cases can be viewed differently to someone wilfully fly-tipping.
“Peter pushed the point that if no appeal is allowed, then a review would be beneficial so that small businesses and sole traders who mistakenly put a box in household recycling could be looked on sympathetically if there was no intent.
“Peter was also keen on the idea of that the fines were scaled for different sized businesses. There is obviously a difference between a large company dumping cardboard and a self-employed writer working from home. He was promised that this would be looked into.
“Peter was also extremely vocal about the need to focus more on areas of high fly-tipping and to stop this issue which is the real blight on our communities.
“The main sticking point here was that there is never a name and address left on fly-tipping, so the council agreed to implement roving CCTV in areas of most need, so called hot-spots.”
One initiative agreed by all was to put a note on council tax bills informing people of the law and 3GS also floated the idea of businesses being given details of commercial waste providers if their waste is found in residential recycling bins instead of a fine where appropriate.
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