Bin police force residents to hand over personal medical details

Families are furious about plans by a council’s bin police to question them about their medical history.

Officials in Plymouth, Devon, are to send a questionnaire to every household asking them to give intimate personal details about their family.

Householders are also being asked to nominate one person who will take legal responsibility for anything put in their bins.

The council is even asking how many children families have and whether they use disposable nappies.

The forms are to be sent to all homes in the city as part of a ‘zero tolerance’ policy on bins.

The council wants to increase fixed penalties from £50 to £110 for those who put bins out early, fail to recycle, overfill wheelie bins or put the wrong rubbish in the wrong containers.

They are asking each household to nominate one person as responsible so it will be easier for them to prosecute without having to prove who put out the offending bins.

The council is also considering interviewing suspected bin offenders under caution in procedures similar to the way police question criminals.

The draft letter, which has been seen by opposition councilors, also asks how many people live at each address, whether they have any medical conditions and if their families use disposable nappies.

Officials from the Conservative-run council hope the information sent back by families will make it easier to prosecute or impose fixed penalties.

It follows the failure of a pioneering prosecution by Exeter City Council 45 miles away which failed because they could not prove that household waste in a recycling bin was put there by the householder.

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The draft letter to all homes in Plymouth will set out what is and is not allowed in each type of bin.

The idea has caused fury among residents who blame the council for the debris left by late collections and rubbish spilled from the back of dustcarts.

Many residents say they would only take legal responsibility for their bins if they are fitted with locks to make sure nobody else uses them ounce they have been put on the street.

A Plymouth lawyer has advised that if residents do not sign the form the council would need to prove who is responsible.

Labour councillor Chris Pattison said: “It all sounds a bit Draconian and intrusive to me. What right has someone got to ask whether you have any children or how you look after them?

“When Labour was in power we started a strategy of trying to educate people about waste and recycling and to encourage people to compost more. That process needs to continue.”

Angry resident Sid Anning, of Crownhill, Plymouth, said: “The proposed measures are rather intrusive and draconian.

“Threatening the public with court action or fines is not the way to go about doing things. All it will do is increase the amount of fly tipping which has already become self evident.

“The council needs to get its own act together before it starts coming heavy-handed on Joe Public.

“The streets of this city are filthy and dirty. Rubbish which has been discarded in my area has remained there for months on end.

“You could then be fined for someone else’s rubbish. I for one will not be signing any responsibility for my bin because it is not lockable and I do not intend to stand guard on it overnight.

“As to giving them the personal details of who lives in the house, frankly it’s none of their business.”

Plymouth-based solicitor Cathryn Smith said the letter would not constitute a contract but could be used as evidence that someone had accepted responsibility.

She said: “If you don’t sign it, the council would still have to prove who is responsible.”

Council Cabinet member Cllr Michael Leaves said in the letter the council will pledge to improve its service by making sure every bin is returned to the spot where it is left by householders.

The council’s draft enforcement strategy states: “We will try to persuade people to change their behaviour through information, education and advice, but will not hesitate to take enforcement action such as issuing fixed penalty notices, or prosecuting, when appropriate.

“This will send a clear message of zero tolerance to those individuals or businesses who continue to spoil our environment.”

The strategy was set out in a council e-mail from a senior manager in the street services department.

It said: “I am becoming increasingly concerned at the numbers of complaints we are receiving about improperly placed wheeled bins and the difficulty we have to take effective action.

“Due to the fact that bins are seldom labelled we have no recourse but to send letters to every household in the street. These tend to have no effect whatsoever.

“Whilst we could of course try and root through waste looking for an address and name, the scale of this growing problem is realistically making this approach impractical.

“That’s before we get into the legal argument of strict liability. To get a conviction or to be able to issue a fixed penalty notice we would have to interview each householder under caution and hope they admitted liability.”

A council spokeswoman said: “Nationally and locally there is enormous pressure to minimise the amount of waste we generate and to recycle more.

“We want to make sure that everyone is clear about the way in which we deliver our waste collection services, and what level of service they are entitled to: but, equally, residents need to know what their responsibilities are.

“We are looking at how we can improve the efficiency of our waste collection services in a way that will not only mean fewer bins are missed, but that spillages are quickly cleared and streets are kept cleaner.

“When we have finalised our proposals, probably in the middle of this year, we will launch a major publicity and information exercise to keep residents in the picture.”

By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 12:14 PM on 27th May 2008

Source: Daily Mail

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