Sheffield council told to dump ‘bin tax’

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Councillors in Sheffield are being told to bin a controversial policy which seeks to charge student-only households to collect their rubbish.

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles believes the authority is exploiting official regulations by planning to bring in fees for waste collection.

Sheffield is one of only three councils to be considering the practice – with Manchester and Bristol the other two.

Ministers say it has been legally determined that student households are domestic residences and so their occupants are exempt from council tax.

And in a letter to the council they highlight how forcing the cost of waste collection onto students to try to raise income would lead to a rise in fly-tipping and illegal dumping of waste.

They argue that the end result could, perversely, leave the council financially worse off in the long run due to clean-up costs.

Mr Pickles said the practice of so-called ‘back door’ bin charging went against the intentions of regulations that allow for local authorities to charge for the collection and disposal of waste from a wider range of non-domestic properties than before.

Such charges should not be made on residential and student properties and ministers had made clear that they were prepared to legislate if councils insisted on continuing their ‘exploitative’ charges.

Mr Pickles said: “Sneaky councils attempting to make a quick buck by charging hard-up students for their bin collections is the worst form of short-term thinking.

“The subsequent increase in fly-tipping and back yard burning could cost them more in the long-run and undermine community relations.”

Sheffield University student union president Ally Buckle said it was already an expensive time to be a student.

“Additional costs imposed by the council would be met with discomfort from students who are already struggling to keep their heads above water,” he said.

Coun Jack Scott, cabinet member for the environment, said: “So far we have not charged any student accommodation sites for their waste collection, though we have approved a policy to enable us to do this in the future.

“Clearly we do not wish to be in this position, but the Government’s massive cuts mean we have to examine every option to raise money in order to protect services.”

“It should be remembered that many of these companies have multi-million turnovers and are FTSE listed but do not contribute at all to the resources of councils, either through council tax or business rates, so there is clearly a question over continuing to collect huge amounts of waste for free when council’s budgets are being so tightly squeezed by the government’s attacks on local councils.”

He added: “We have not charged any Student Accommodation sites in Sheffield for their waste collection, though we have approved a policy to enable us to do this in the future. The decision of DEFRA and Department for Communities and Local Government is deeply disappointing. So much for localism.”