COMMENTARY: Dodgy charging. Locals gutted

Blue bags
Blue bags
Tony Johnson
Tony Johnson

A brief diversion from the mire of that Housing white paper, but we’re still talking rubbish. Again.

The “dodgy charging” was introduced at the Bracknell and Reading rubbish tips, on top of the charges WBC began in 2012 for collecting garden waste.

In 2016, West Berkshire Council pulled out of the multi-council waste disposal deal with Re3. WBC commented that this left a £500k hole in the budget so charges for DIY waste would be levied.

Demonstrate control, levy gratuitously

Hang on a moment, doesn’t our council tax already include the cost of rubbish collection and disposal?

You’ll recall WBC’s £6.5M budget deficit last year, so to make ends meet, either cutting costs, raising funds or doing both was needed.

Therefore residents doing their own house improvements must now pay to get rid of soil, rubble, plasterboard etc at the tip – perhaps under a new concept of “user pays – twice”?

Drafting clumsy, Legislation ghastly

There’s legislation to prevent councils charging for waste disposal and it’s titled The Local Authorities (Prohibition of Charging Residents to Deposit Household Waste) Order 2015.
The title’s long, but the content’s short. It’s a ministerial order which says that Local Authorities can’t charge residents for disposing of household waste as of April 2015.

It defines household waste as having the same meaning as it does in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Controlled Waste Regulations 2012.

Looking into the detail is when one spots the clumsiness (or craftiness) of the drafting.
Anything to do with construction; including demolition works, preparatory works, improvement, repair or alteration; is all classed as “industrial waste”.

But the order only stops local authorities charging for “household waste”.

Dubious clarification letter – goobledegook

It won’t surprise you to learn that residents in other boroughs aren’t happy either. Over in Surrey, one of their councillors wrote to the government department to get clarification on whether the charges were legal or not.

A letter duly came back saying they weren’t legal; suggesting if residents felt that strongly, they should take Surrey County Council to judicial review in the high court.

This can cost well over £10,000 and funnily enough, nobody’s taken up the department’s suggestion.

DIY classification, Lordly guidance

In the House of Lords recently, Baroness Parminter put a written question as to “the appropriateness of the charging regime for DIY waste made by some councils, such as Wokingham”.

The answer from Lord Bourne reminded everyone that the Order says no charging for disposal of household waste. He went on to say that DIY waste should be classed as household waste and should be disposed of free of charge.

Sadly, even his Lordship’s written answer doesn’t alter the legislation.

Directorate Challenged, Losing Ground?

Locally, that written answer was put to Angus Ross, WBC Executive Member for the Environment, but he’s robustly declined to alter the current charging regime.

Also putting forward the tip operator Re3’s explanation, Cllr Ross made a case for charging. But in deprecating the confusion caused by “DIY waste”, he’s introduced “non-household” waste – which isn’t in the legislation either.

In everyday English, the intent of both the ministerial order and the House of Lords answer is obvious.

So in calling for the charges for DIY waste to be withdrawn, the challengers aren’t wrong.

I’ve undertaken some intensive research and debate on the precise wording and exact meaning of the legislation as it stands. And in charging for DIY waste the council aren’t wrong either.

But the council and the challengers not being wrong doesn’t necessarily mean that either of them is right.

It’s past time that the department responsible for this nonsense puts the legislation right.
And if you hadn’t guessed who this is, it’s the Department for Communities and Local Government, DCLG.

The same lot who put the new Housing white paper together.

The Acton Diet: The Curious Case of the Hidden Persuader

We’re advised that WBC’s current budget shortfall projection of £19 million is in the “revenue budget”.

Which of course has absolutely nothing to do with WBC spending £10 million to replace the swimming pool over in Woodley, because that’s in the “capital budget”.

Isn’t it fortunate that the Leader of Woodley Town council managed to persuade the Leader of Wokingham Borough Council that it would be a good idea if WBC were to fund the replacement of the Woodley swimming pool?

Mind you, it might have been a short conversation, and without much in the way of argument…


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