To charge (or not to charge) for DIY waste

If you go down to your local household waste recycling centre (HWRC) today, you might be in for a big surprise. Some would say you won’t believe your eyes.

For today’s the day, or rather this year is the year, when you might be charged for dropping off your soil, hardcore and plasterboard left over from your DIY projects.

A growing number of local authorities – including Hampshire, Surrey and West Sussex county councils – have introduced so-called ‘DIY waste charges’ at their HWRCs over the last 12 months, much to the annoyance of some residents and opposition councillors, who regard the charges as unfair and unlawful.

Last month, the Liberal Democrat opposition group on Surrey County Council published the details of a letter it had received from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG), which stated a resident ‘can apply to the High Court for a judicial review of the legality of the decision to charge residents for a type of waste if he or she is of the view that it is “household” and should be disposed of for free’.

The Lib Dem spokesperson in Surrey for highways and the environment, Stephen Cooksey said it was a ‘poor’ response from the government.

‘Rather than suggesting residents go to court, the government should be telling the county council to drop these charges immediately,’ says Cllr Cooksey. ‘I shall shortly be writing to government ministers at DCLG asking them to do just that.

‘In their letter, the government clearly state that charges should not extend to disposing of household waste from DIY but that is exactly what the Tory county council is doing,’ adds Cllr Cooksey.

Fly-tipping surge?

Surrey CC introduced a series of charges at its recycling centres on September 1. The charges include £4 per bag or part bag of breezeblocks, bricks, rubble, soil, stones, ceramic bathroom fittings, tiles and the same amount for a bag, or part bag, of plasterboard.

Dropping off ceramic baths or concrete posts will also cost residents £4 per item.

‘Those doing basic DIY will still be able to use our community recycling centres for free – the charges will only affect residents doing more significant construction work,’ comments Surrey CC’s cabinet member for environment and planning, Mike Goodman.

‘Some people are concerned there will be a big increase in fly-tipping as a result of our changes but I believe those fears are misplaced,’ adds Cllr Goodman.

‘We’ve looked closely at other councils’ charging schemes and are not expecting to see an increase in fly-tipping based on their experiences.

‘Fly-tipping is an existing problem which we’re already tackling through stepping up coordinated action with Surrey’s district and borough councils.’

The issue of whether these charges will lead to more fly-tipping has been a concern for campaigners in other areas, notably Oxfordshire and Staffordshire.

A survey published by Keep Britain Tidy in October also showed more than half (53%) of local authorities who said fly-tipping was a major problem in their area, thought that increasing waste charges and closing recycling centres had contributed to the problem.

Letter of the law

But a larger problem for local authorities looking to introduce charges for DIY or bulkier waste is the wording of the relevant legislation.

According to the DCLG, the Local Authorities (Prohibition of Charging Residents to Deposit Household Waste) Order 2015 means local authorities cannot charge to dispose of household waste and recycling at household waste recycling centres, but they can for construction and demolition waste.

It is never going to be popular with residents if charges are introduced but at least it is a way of maintaining services that might well have otherwise reduced – Lee Marshall, LARAC

‘We’re determined to boost recycling and that’s why we’ve brought in legislation to stop councils charging residents for household waste,’ says a DCLG spokesperson. Guidance is clear that should include any household waste from DIY.’

However, not all local authorities share that view.

‘Like many other councils up and down the country, we’ve always classed bricks, soil and rubble as non-household waste,’ says Derbyshire County Council’s cabinet member for highways, transport and infrastructure, Dean Collins. ‘If the law has changed then the government needs to be clear about that and tell us.

‘Charging for bringing these materials to our centres is one of three potential measures we’re looking at introducing to cut costs in the face of government cuts to our budget which will be a third lower in 2018 than in 2010.

‘We don’t want to make any cuts but we have no choice. We asked local people for their views about our proposals and we’re considering all the responses before deciding whether or not to go ahead and introduce the measures.’

But as councils continue to come to terms with increasing demand for certain services, and less money from central government, the reality is more local authorities will introduce charges for some items.

‘Given several years of budget cuts, councils are constantly having to review how they provide services to residents,’ says the chief executive officer of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC), Lee Marshall.

‘Where there is the ability to charge for a service, by doing that it can mean that service continues to be provided rather than being reduced or cut completely.

‘It is never going to be popular with residents if charges are introduced but at least it is a way of maintaining services that might well have otherwise reduced. In a way, it is a similar situation with garden waste and if a council introduces charges for that,’ adds Mr Marshall.

Jamie Hailstone

Jamie Hailstone

journalist

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