Councils accused of “ripping-off” charities
The Association of Charity Shops has “named and shamed” a number of councils it says are acting against the law by making charity shops pay waste disposal costs, writes Jolene Hill.
The organisation, an umbrella group for UK charity shops, has accused a number of councils – Southampton, Eastleigh, Fareham, Winchester, Test Valley, Gosport, Portsmouth, Norwich and Birmingham – of “ripping off” charities. It estimates there could be more than 100 councils which are overcharging but has gone public with Norwich, Birmingham and those in Hampshire because they have a large number of charity shops.The conflict comes over the interpretation of controlled waste regulations concerning whether councils can charge institutions like charities for disposal services. Defra has said it believes charities should not pay for waste disposal services (see letsrecycle.com story).
Birmingham city council was included on the Association of Charity Shops hit list, but told letsrecycle.com this week that it actually changed its policy four months ago, so that charity shops which fall under the “appropriate definition” were no longer charged for waste disposal.
The Hampshire authorities and Norwich city council denied any wrong-doing, but have said they are reviewing their policies on charity waste. Hampshire admitted its review has uncovered “inconsistencies” it says is replicated across the UK.
However, the Association of Charity Shops has claimed the councils are using “delaying tactics” rather than scrapping disposal charges made on top of collection charges for charities.
John Canessa, chairman of the Association of Charity Shops, said: “Volunteers and staff in charity shops work tremendously hard to raise vital funds. In the UK last year, they raised £110m for vital charitable causes. They also prevent hundreds of thousands of tonnes of goods becoming waste each year. This helps local authorities. For local authorities to wrongly take money away from these funds is scandalous.”
The Association has carried out a year long campaign to convince councils they should not be charging for waste disposal and said 66 councils have amended their policies.
Local authorities can only charge for the collection of waste from a charity shop. Authorities know this, yet they continue to rip shops off.
David Moir, Association of Charity Shops
Last month, Defra waded into the row and pledged to write to all local authorities to clarify its position on waste disposal charges.
Defra, LARAC and the Local Government Association said that councils can charge institutions such as charities for collection but not disposal. Under Schedule II of the Controlled Waste Regulations, they are classified as household waste which some local authority experts say makes them exempt from disposal charges.
David Moir, the Association's head of policy and public affairs, said some councils overcharge on collection to recoup disposal costs, while some claim charities waste counts as business waste – non household waste – so they can charge disposal costs under regulations governing commercial waste.
He added: “The Controlled Waste Regulations are quite clear – local authorities can only charge for the collection of waste from a charity shop. Authorities know this, yet they continue to rip shops off by including an extra charge for disposal of the waste.
“Charity shop waste is classed as household waste – the law does not allow disposal charges to be made for household waste.
“With regard to charging for disposal of household waste (from whatever source) this is totally prohibited. Under no circumstances can an authority charge for disposal of household waste.”
Mr Moir alleges that:
• Southampton and Norwich include disposal costs as if charity waste is commercial waste;
• Eastleigh, Fareham, Winchester and Test Valley overcharge;
• Gosport and Portsmouth treat the waste as commercial and refer charities to outside contractors.
He added that the Association had been in frequent contact with the authorities but had come up against “delaying tactics” and “outright denial” in Hampshire and “a brick wall” in Norwich, so decided to name them publicly.
In Hampshire, the county council, the 11 district councils – including Gosport, Eastleigh, Fareham, Winchester and Test Valley – as well as two unitary authorities of Portsmouth and Southampton have joined together to form a waste partnership called Project Integra.
Consultation has highlighted an inconsistency in current practices in Hampshire, which is replicated across the UK.
Hampshire county council
Hampshire county council told letsrecycle.com it has carried out a consultation with Project Integra partners concerning charity waste policy.
A spokesman said: “The partnership is currently reviewing charity waste related policies in order to ensure a consistency of approach. This consultation has highlighted an inconsistency in current practices in Hampshire, which is replicated across the UK. Hampshire county council's legal team is now reviewing this matter to provide a definitive position in due course.”
Southampton council's executive member for environment Councillor Gavin Dick said: “Since assuming my responsibilities in May of this year, I am aware that officers have been working to progress this issue and have made our views known on the interpretation of supporting legislation. Whilst we maintain our position on this matter, moving forward we will shortly be confirming our policy to levy a charge for the waste collection element only.”
Cllr Dick added that the council disposed of around two thirds of charity waste each year free-of-charge through Southampton's civic amenity sites. He added that the remainder was collected by Southampton's commercial waste business “of which the value to the council of the disposal element is less than £5,000″ and some collections were made free-of-charge.
Norwich city council said its service for charities was provided by an outside contractor.
A spokesman explained: “We are currently carrying out a review of our waste management strategy which will look at how we deal with all our waste collection, including that of charity shops. We expect this to have been completed by the end of the year.”
Birmingham city council spokeswoman Barbara Bojang confirmed that it has changed its policy on charity shops and waste charges. She said: “For those Charity Shops which appear to fall within the appropriate definition, the charges were reduced to only include collection costs some three to four months ago.
“Birmingham city council is happy to continue working closely with the Association of Charity Shops and to reconsider further the costs associated with the collection and disposal of charity wastes,” she added.
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