A private company acting as ‘litter police’ in a number of UK council areas gives its officers bonuses for issuing fines to the public, an investigation has found.
Litter enforcement firm Kingdom Services, which has contracts with 28 local authorities, saw its profits rise by 30% last year to £9 million.
An investigation by BBC programme Panorama heard one of its officer claim he received a bonus one month of £987.
Other members of staff were filmed handing out £75 fines to people who had dropped tiny pieces of orange peel or poured away coffee.
Although littering is a crime, if someone pays the fine they can avoid a criminal record.
Panorama reported on several instances where people were incorrectly fined. One man was issued a fixed penalty notice by a Kingdom Services employee after accidentally dropping a small piece of orange peel, even though he picked it up.
Another woman was issued a fine for pouring coffee down a drain.
In a third case, a woman was issued a fine for fly-tipping after she put her recycling outside her own home on the wrong date over the Christmas holidays.
Kingdom Services told Panorama that its ‘competency allowance’ was not a paid incentive for officers to issue fines.
But the programme sent an undercover report to work inside Kingdom Services in Kent, and she was told during training that the allowance was ‘a bonus’.
A manager told her: ‘When I was doing it in Ashford, I was hitting out quite a lot of tickets and I think the most I brought home just on the bonus was £987.’
The undercover reporter was told by a staff trainer: ‘Obviously we are here to make money, I’m not going to not say that to people.’
Kingdom Services staff told her that some officers pretend to call the police to make people pay the fine or hand over their personal information.
However, the decision to prosecute alleged litterers is made by the local council, not the private company.
Civil liberties group the Manifesto Club said companies such as Kingdom Services offer councils ‘a very seductive offer’.
Josie Appleton, the group’s spokeswoman, said: ‘They basically just say, “Sign it over to us and we’ll make you a bit of money and you won’t lose anything.”
‘Essentially, what you have here is a fine on behalf of a public authority being contracted out to someone who basically has anything but the public interest at heart and so very much is seeking to make money.’