Wednesday, 18 April 2012

What DEFRA Say About Wokingham's Stealth Tax

By Anthony Vick

Following the announcement that Wokingham Borough Council planned to introduce a Waste Scheme forcing residents to buy additional "official" bin bags from the Council (should they require them), in effect setting up a monopoly, I decided to write to DEFRA and ask whether it planned to take action against WBC. This is what DEFRA said:
Anthony Vick, Lib De
"Section 46(3) of the Environmental Protection Act gives local authorities the power to require householders to use a specific type of receptacle for their waste. Local authorities may require that the receptacle meets reasonable specifications, but if they require householders to purchase their own receptacle, whether for all or part of their waste services, they should not create a monopoly. They may not require the householder to purchase the receptacle from a single supplier. For example, if householders are required to present waste in black sacks, they should be able to choose where to buy their sacks, rather than being restricted to "official" ones which are only available from the local authority. Where local authorities provide the receptacle (bin, box or plastic sack), they are allowed to make a charge for this, but must ensure that any charge covers only the cost of providing the receptacle and not any additional fees to cover collection or disposal."
If a local authority sets a limit on the number of bins or sacks that will be collected from a single property, but allows householders to purchase additional waste receptacles, it may only charge for the cost of providing the receptacle and not include a fee for collection or disposal of the waste even if this waste is over and above what their normal waste collection system would allow a householder to present for collection.

Whilst acknowledging that local authorities face financial pressures, the Government has made it clear that excessive increases in charges are not an acceptable response to them. However, charges are a matter for local authorities to determine, and it would be inappropriate for central government to seek to micromanage them.

If you are unhappy with the service provided by your local authority you should first make a formal complaint to the authority. You can either ask the local authority how to do this, or speak directly to your councillor. If having done this, you feel that your local authority has not fulfilled its duties when investigating your complaint, you can contact the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), which may investigate complaints of ‘maladministration’ such as bias, delay or incompetence etc." 
So, although DEFRA thinks it wrong of Wokingham Council to set-up a monopoly by forcing its residents to buy additional sacks only from the Council, it is unwilling to take action and suggests we raise the issue with the Local Government Ombudsman.

Well, let's see how Wokingham Borough Council respond to my  objection to the scheme  first 
(below), but calling in the LGO may not be such a bad idea.

I would like it formerly noted that I object to Wokingham Borough Council's new waste scheme, in particular the setting up of a monopoly forcing households who use more than 80 bin bags to purchase official bags from the Council (I am aware that households of 5 or more are entitled to 20 more bags). I believe the council is behaving illegally in this respect and would very much like it to reconsider it's position and allow  residents who wish to purchase their own bags from a 3rd party supplier to do so; I would suggest this could be done by providing these residents with free stickers to put on their bags. 
I would appreciate a response from the council on this matter so that I have a formal record of its position should I wish to take this matter further. Thank you.
Frankly I expect Wokingham Borough Council to brush off my complaint - and many other likes it - but it's an important and necessary step if we wish to raise the issue with the LGO and we want to challenge the Council's adoption of a stealth tax.
I'll be keeping my fingers crossed and hoping the Council will see sense and let people buy their own bags from other sources, but if not I may just take the LGO up on its suggestion.