By Steve Doughty
Householders have been threatened with £1,000 fines if they leave their wheelie bins out for too long.
The penalty would be the largest ever imposed on those who fail to remove their empty bins from the pavement after they have been emptied.
Letters warning of the £1,000 fine have been sent out in Bedford, where council chiefs say bins on the pavement are a hazard to blind people.
The local authority has issued its threat just a month after the Government condemned such draconian punishments as ‘clearly disproportionate’. Ministers have promised a new law to strip councils of the right to levy large fines.
The Bedford fines are more than 12 times greater than the on-the-spot penalties routinely handed out to shoplifters.
The letters distributed among the 65,000 homes in the borough say that anyone who fails to take their bin back in within 24 hours of their rubbish collection will be liable for the fine. The threat provoked a furious response in the town.
Matthew Hipkin, 37, said: ‘It’s an absolute waste of council money and time to have people walking the streets checking if someone has put their bin away.
‘I understand the principle of keeping the streets clean but the council has put across its point in the wrong way. It is being way too heavy-handed.’
A father of two who did not want to be named added: ‘I’ve had these threatening letters when I left my bin out on the pavement because the binmen hadn’t turned up.
‘Other times I’ve had to walk ten doors away to pick up my bin because they’ve been left scattered in the road after collection. It’s a ridiculous waste of our council tax. Why don’t they just make sure the bins are collected on time?’
There was exasperation from national campaigners against council taxes and inefficiencies.
Christine Melsom, of the Is It Fair? group, said: ‘I suppose they have to try to make money somehow but this is nonsense.
‘This is taking bin fines far too far. In most parts of the country you find very few bins left out for long anyway.’
Bedford is run by elected Liberal Democrat Mayor Dave Hodgson, and the three major parties each have 12 elected councillors.
A spokesman for the authority said: ‘We’ve been working with Sight Concern Bedford and the Royal National Institute of Blind People to encourage households to put their wheelie bins away, to help make pavements safer for blind and partially sighted people.
‘Where we receive reports of households repeatedly leaving out bins which can cause problems to such people, the council will write to the households concerned and advise that this is an offence for which they may ultimately be fined.’
Some councils have threatened £1,000 fines as their ultimate sanction for people who fail to follow recycling rules and put the wrong material in the wrong bins.
A £1,000 fine is the largest possible under the 1990 Environmental Protection Act.
In the Government’s Waste Review last month – which failed to bring back weekly bin collections – ministers said punishments for erring householders should not be higher than fines for criminals.
The review said of £1,000 fines: ‘It cannot be right for this kind of threat to be hanging over householders.’