Northumberland has highest bulky-waste charge in the North East
The postcode lottery of bulky-waste collection charges is kind to people in the North East, but Northumberland has the highest rates in the region.
Nonetheless, the prices charged in the county to collect items such as furniture, fridges and lawnmowers for disposal remain far lower than elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the local authority explained that the charges reflect Northumberland’s large geographic area and do not cover the full cost of the service, which remains subsidised.
Analysis released today by the BBC Shared Data Unit reveals widespread regional variation in how much people are being asked to pay, with prices ranging from just a few pounds for a single item to more than £100 for collections of multiple items.
Pricing structures vary as well with most local authorities charging per item, but there are other ways of charging.
Given this, the figures focus on the fairest method for comparison between different councils – the average cost of an item at first collection.
By this measure, Northumberland County Council’s service is the most expensive in the North East at £16 for one item – above the English average of £11 and regional average of £5.40.
Other councils in the area, such as Sunderland, South Tyneside and Hartlepool, have an initial charge higher than this, but it is for multiple items, meaning the per-item cost is much lower.
There are around 50 councils nationwide whose average cost per item is higher than Northumberland’s, with the highest charge being £44 and 20 local authorities charging £30 or more.
Only 15 out of 326 councils in England currently offer a free bulky-waste collection available to all residents.
A Northumberland County Council spokesman said: “The council’s bulky-waste collection service is available to all households in the county.
“The charges reflect the higher costs incurred in providing a collection service across a large geographic area, but this remains a subsidised scheme as the income generated from charges does not meet the whole costs incurred in providing the service.
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“Residents who have low incomes or are on benefits are able to apply for lower concessionary charges when using this service.
“The county council also provides a very comprehensive HWRC (household waste recovery centre) service with a network of 12 sites located across the county, where residents are able to deliver their own household waste for reuse/recycling/disposal free of charge.”
The full charging regime in Northumberland is £16 for one item, £32 for two to four items, £64 for five to eight items, with prices on request for more items.
Professor Simin Davoudi, professor of environmental policy and planning at Newcastle University, said: “There is variation in terms of the charges for bulky waste and it is up to local authorities to determine how much they charge.
“The charges could correlate with the cost of the service – it might be cheaper in the North East than in the South East. Then there is also the socio-economic profile of an area. For people in deprived communities, paying £10 or £15 is quite a lot of money.
“The Local Government Association (LGA) did a survey and said there is no direct link between charging and fly-tipping.
“Charges for collecting bulky waste may not be the only factor in fly-tipping, but it is a factor. It seems to me that bulky-waste charges are a bit of a false economy. The cost of clearing fly-tipping is much higher than the charge to collect.
“The figure for cleaning up fly-tipping in 2016-17 was nearly £60million. Next to that, the charges they have managed to collect are nothing.
“It needs proper investigation to see if it really is worthwhile to charge for collections rather than provide that extra incentive for people not to fly-tip.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service