My Lords, I am trying to get there.
In our view, legislation should not provide for people to be issued with, or threatened with, financial penalties the first time they make a mistake. That is why we want local authorities to give householders a written warning. The requirements on people are not always obvious, particularly when they move to an area where a different collection system applies. It is right that people should find out what they have done wrong and should have the opportunity to rectify mistakes before they are asked to pay a penalty. People in London have as much right to this opportunity as anyone else in England.
Based on what we have heard from local authorities, we do not believe that this will add significant burdens compared with how the current arrangements operate. We know that many authorities already communicate well with their residents and seek to educate them if they are having difficulties with collection requirements, but if we do not amend the London Local Authorities Act, this legislation would still allow someone making a mistake for the first time in London, but not elsewhere in England, to be penalised. We do not believe that that is fair or right.
I am aware that some noble Lords consider that the system we propose is bureaucratic. Indeed, my noble friend described it as byzantine. She used the words “long and protracted” and mentioned our five-page schedule. Let me explain why I do not believe that we are introducing significantly more bureaucracy compared with the current London system.
London Councils produced a 22-page guidance document in December 2013 on the current system operating under the London Local Authorities Act. According to this, London authorities issue householders with a penalty charge notice. I quote from the guidance:
“Depending on each local authority’s policy, a verbal or written warning may be given before escalating”,
to a penalty charge notice. The householder then has 28 days to make representations to the London authority. If representations are made, the authority then has 56 days to make a decision. If it rejects the representations, a notice of rejection must be served. The householder may then appeal to an adjudicator before being required to pay the penalty. All that is under the current system in London.
Under our proposed system, London local authorities will first issue a householder with a written warning. The next time a householder makes a mistake they may issue a notice of intent. The final notice can then be issued after 28 days, taking account of any representations made. The householder may then appeal to an adjudicator before being required to pay the penalty. Is our proposed system really adding bureaucracy, compared with the current system?
As well as reducing the regulatory burden on householders, our proposals seek to ensure that the level of penalties is proportionate. Given the broad agreement that making a mistake related to household waste collection should not be a criminal offence, it would not seem appropriate for the penalty to be higher than for a criminal activity. The penalty under the London system for a breach of the rules about presentation of waste is currently set at £110, yet a shoplifter committing a first offence may be issued with a £90 penalty notice for disorder. Under our proposals, councils in London would be able to set the penalty between £60 and £80.
We believe that this range is proportionate, but understand that some noble Lords consider that it will not act as a deterrent. We should remember that for many people in London, as elsewhere, an £80 financial penalty is certainly significant. For people who consider that £80 is insignificant, I ask whether they really consider £110 such a radically different amount that they will treat it as a significant penalty. We believe that £60 to £80 is the right level and that householders in London have as much right to be treated fairly and proportionately as anyone else in England.
Also, I suggest that it would not be right for a “harm to local amenity” test to apply everywhere in England except London. Under the Environmental Protection Act, we propose that householders should be issued with a fixed penalty only if their behaviour actually causes problems in their local neighbourhood. They could receive a penalty for leaving bin bags on the street for days on end, but not for leaving a bin lid open. If we kept the London system as it is, we would be in the anomalous position where the legislation allows local authorities to issue penalties to householders who make any sort of mistake in this area if they live in London, but not if they live anywhere else in England.
We intend to work with local government to produce advice to help local authorities implement the test with confidence. My officials are of course also happy and available to talk to representatives from London Councils and others about the practicalities of operating this system if that would be useful.
This clause and schedule, as they stand, will introduce a proportionate approach, providing appropriate safeguards for householders throughout England, including London. I therefore ask my noble friend to withdraw her amendment.