Litter wardens paid up to £1k more when they issue more fines

Litter wardens earn bonuses when they issue more fines
Litter wardens earn bonuses when they issue more fines

Ever wondered why litter wardens were getting so tough? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that when they slap people with a fine for feeding the birds or pouring coffee down a drain, they can make extra cash.

A BBC Panorama investigation looked into Kingdom Services, a private company providing litter wardens to 28 councils. They're an attractive proposition for the councils, because rather than having to pay their own wardens, they hand the whole business over - and are guaranteed to make money from the process.

See also: Pensioner fined £80 for pouring coffee down drain

See also: Litter fines set to soar to £150

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Should we be worried?

On the plus side, finally someone cares that the streets are clean. Partly as a result of the flourishing litter warden business, the number of fines issued for littering has risen in the past decade from 727 to over 140,000. It's bound to make people think twice before throwing their litter into the street.

It's also a highly cost-effective approach, because stopping people from littering is far cheaper than picking up the litter when it's all too late. The cost of litter picking last year alone was £1 billion, which is something cash-strapped councils can ill-afford.

However, the Panorama programme revealed the problem with making litter fines into a business proposition. Kingdom is structured so that officers are paid £9.47 an hour, and then once they have issued four tickets, for every subsequent ticket they receive a 'competency allowance'.

This means it's in their interests to fine as many people as possible. The programme found one warden who made £987 in one month from this 'allowance'.

The company was very clear that it doesn't set targets or offer bonuses: this is a 'competency allowance' if officers met their basic competencies. However, there's an argument that it might inspire some wardens to go the extra mile in issuing tickets.

Bonkers fines

There are certainly some who are pushing the definition of 'litter'. The programme found a few instances - including the man who was fined for dropping a tiny piece of orange peel, and the woman who received a fine for pouring coffee down the drain (and throwing the cup in a bin). Both successfully appealed their fines.

There have been plenty more examples too. These have included a woman who was fined for throwing a piece of Christmas cake to a squirrel in a churchyard in Kent, one who was fined £50 for throwing some of her leftovers to a pigeon in Swansea, and a woman from Coventry who discarded a cigarette butt on her way home from the supermarket - and after refusing to pay and being taken to court, she was eventually left with costs of £504.

You have to ask whether these fines are really likely to be enormously effective in keeping the streets clean. But what do you think? Are you a fan of litter wardens? Let us know in the comments.