New garden waste collection charges

Hackney Council has suddenly imposed an annual subscription for having garden waste collected, to take effect from 6th May but lasting initially until 31st March 2025.

While it's fair to charge the relatively small proportion of households which have private gardens with the cost of those collections, that charge should reflect the actual cost of providing the collection service. Assuming that everyone with a garden is rich and can be charged substantially more than that actual cost, to help Hackney reduce its budget shortfall, is clearly wrong. The other services that the Council provides benefit all, or far more, people than the garden waste collection service does, so the cost of those services should be spread evenly across all the borough's residents.

I've compared these new fees with what Hackney's neighbouring councils are charging. Up to now, the only one of those councils which has charged at all is Haringey; the two others still provide the service free.

Tower Hamlets collects two bags of garden waste weekly, at no charge:

Newham council collects green/garden waste free from 1 March-September, "in normal black bin bags or in tied bundles" - but on request only:

Haringey charges from £60 (per 140 litre sack or bin) annually for a weekly collection:

Islington has introduced an annual £75 charge (beginning 1st April 2024) to empty three garden waste bags per fortnight: NB The charge is halved to £37.50 for householders who receive Housing Benefit, Council Tax Support or Universal Credit.

Hackney wants £78 (per 140 litre brown bin) or £100 to empty two 90-litre garden waste bags, fortnightly: The only people who would pay lower average rates are those who want to have two bins or far more bags emptied regularly - which most Hackney gardeners won't need.

Hackney Council's publicity dishonestly implied that its new charges would be in line with other neighbouring councils' rates, which is clearly not true. Hackney's charges are double those that Islington is introducing from 1st April and Hackney isn't even offering discounted rates to its poorest residents.

The Council assumes that all garden waste can be compostable but, realistically, that only applies to soft green waste. Thin woody prunings still need to be collected (although thicker ones can be used for a log pile). Yet, while many gardeners may only need a small but irreducible amount of their garden waste collected, subscribers may well maximise the garden waste that they put out for collection to make up for having to pay for far more collections than they really need. Those on very tight budgets, who already struggle to both heat their homes and eat properly, will be particularly badly affected by the unavoidably high basic charge.

There are already problems with contractors and others putting garden waste into other people's bins, which cannot effectively be secured against abuse. The Council's waste collectors have also permanently taken away garden waste bags put out for emptying (and return to the householder) since at least February. One cannot now order any further bags without paying Hackney's new subscription rate. Yet most people with back gardens need those bags to bring dirty garden waste through their homes, if only to fill a bin kept at the front of their home.

Hackney Council should have consulted all Hackney gardeners about the practical issues before imposing this system. Rather than charging on the assumption that gardeners need to put out lots of garden waste every fortnight, year round, a fair approach would have been to charge only for the garden waste actually collected, using an equivalent to the visitor parking permits system. Having each full bag or bin emptied might cost more individually but that system would incentivise gardeners to compost etc as much of their garden waste as possible, thus minimising the overall cost of the collection service. It would also minimise the risks of unscrupulous people misusing subscribers' bins and bags.

What do you and your neighbours think?

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Comment by Diana Weir on July 5, 2024 at 14:39

I've been notified that my e-petition against Hackney Council's overcharging residents for garden waste collection has finally gone 'live'. (It should be valid for a year from today - not from the day when I first submitted the draft, over six weeks ago now. I've asked the Council to correct that now, since I made that point when the draft was submitted but the Council kept delaying its acceptance and publication.)

Meantime, the petition can at last be signed and I hope that very many Hackney gardeners will do so, so that it can qualify for a debate by Hackney's full Council as soon as possible. At least 750 signatures are needed to achieve that.
Please would all Hackney residents who object to this scheme (whether or not they've felt obliged to subscribe to it) sign the petition and share it around their networks, so that it can reach as many Hackney residents as possible.
Comment by Diana Weir on June 29, 2024 at 11:19

The text of the article changed slightly the day after it was published, following "later clarification" from the Council. Their savings targets for 2025-26 and 2026-27 are now £468,000 - not £118,000 and nil, respectively, as shown in last November's Overall Financial Position report. That implies that the Council are proposing to introduce "an ad hoc collection, per bag, garden waste service as part of a phase 2" in the financial year 2025-26, so as to extend charging to residents in "properties on estates using the communal garden waste service share bins". The per bin subscription scheme can't apply to those communal bins.

If estate residents are to pay only per bag of garden waste collected, however, then the Council shouldn't be able to keep levying annual subscriptions on those in "street level properties". I'd been trying since April to persuade the Council that they should be using an ad hoc approach, not a subscription one, because it's infinitely fairer to charge gardeners only for the amount of garden waste that we actually need to have collected - but they'd constantly misinterpreted and pooh-poohed the idea, as if it hadn't already been mooted in that financial report.

Comment by Diana Weir on June 27, 2024 at 15:54

The Hackney Citizen has just done a major story on this issue, conveniently just at the point where I'd finally forced the Council to confront the unanswered Freedom of Information Act request about exactly how the charges had been calculated and for documents supporting that.

Anger at lack of transparency over council’s new garden waste charg...

Comment by Diana Weir on June 20, 2024 at 10:30

David Franks, you asked how much it cost Hackney to collect garden waste.

The scant indications in their two staged responses to my complaint are that that represents the cost of their two garden waste collection vehicles and the two crews who man those vehicles - although they've ignored my argument that that cost should be discounted when calculating these subscription charges, because those vehicles must also collect green waste from parks, street trees, Council estates etc and the processed garden waste has commercial value as compost.

There's also a reference to last November's Overall Financial Position report, which listed several "discretionary expenditure savings" including "charging for green waste collection" - and that was calculated at £350,000 in this financial year, £118,000 for 2025-26 and nil for 2026-27. Whether that £350K represents the vehicle and crew costs isn't directly stated and why the figures change so drastically over the three-year period is anyone's guess. It would be self-defeating for the Council to be charging so much to collect residential garden waste that they can't get anyone to subscribe at all after the first two years, if they still need those vehicles and crews to collect other green waste from around the borough.

Throughout the complaint process, the Council officers who wrote its responses completely ignored my Freedom of Information Act request that "the Council should also disclose exactly how it priced the charges announced in March, producing all relevant documents", so I've just chased them about that. The maximum time allowed by the Act for responding to a FoIA request is 20 working days, which expired at the end of April! If they continue to ignore the request, I'll take this to the Information Commissioner.

Comment by Diana Weir on May 30, 2024 at 12:56

Glyn Harries, sorry that I didn't see your comment sooner.

Thanks for being so proactive and perhaps even getting the Council to expand the range (and price) of their options by adding a single-bag option. Do let me know if you get any confirmation of that.

Sam Kirk replied to Alastair Binnie-Lubbock's initial questions of the Council about this scheme by sending him a potted version of the waste team's shoddy initial response to my formal complaint.

As best I could discover, some 16,000 households had access to the free 'Brown Bin' scheme in 2010 and, as Hackney's population rose by 5.3% by the time that the 2021 census was taken, there should have been more by April 2024. But the figures for anticipated income from charging for garden waste collection (which I dug out of published Council papers from last November-January) were startlingly low, suggesting that perhaps a quarter of previous users might subscribe this financial year, less than a third of that quarter might do so in the next financial year and none at all by 2026-27! I was told in the first response to my complaint that the charges were based on the cost of Hackney's in-house garden waste collection vehicles and crew, so what that implies for the future of the service is worrying.  Yet there was also a single mention there of possibly extending the chargeable service in future to Council estate residents (who currently still have their garden waste collected free) via an ad hoc single bag scheme - which is what I'd like to be available to all residents. Much fairer, because that charges by reference to actual use of the service.

Do let's co-ordinate our efforts, if this is something that you want to pursue further.

Comment by Diana Weir on May 30, 2024 at 12:40
Hackney Council is maddeningly delaying my attempts to bring it to book about overcharging for garden waste collection.
Delivering their second-stage response to my formal complaint has just been deferred until 7th June.
I recently submitted a petition on the ModernGov platform (the only one via which Hackney Council will accept any e-petition) but the Council's petitions team management are taking full advantage of the ten working days before they have to let me know if it's been accepted for publication.
Meantime, however, a hardworking Green Party councillor has got the Corporate Committee to agree that this garden waste collection charging scheme should be officially scrutinised. The most appropriate body for that is the Scrutiny Panel's Living in Hackney commission.
Any Hackney resident can suggest a topic for scrutiny. I've just done so but the more people who ask them to scrutinise this scheme, the better the chances of that busy commission doing so.
So please would anyone who lives in Hackney make good use of the public suggestion form to do that, and would others with friends or family here spread the idea to them too.
Comment by Glyn Harries on April 25, 2024 at 7:10

 Yes agree. Feel this is a poor decision, that won't raise much money and targets people who are already composting but need a way of getting rid of woody material. For me it is a Loquat tree I have inherited that produces a lot of leaves that don't compost at all well.
I had some emails with Hackney Waste and then Sam Kirk the Director. Don't think they will budge though they have now, maybe after me proposing, a 'one bag' option instead of a bin.
I do think it will mean more peopel driving to leyton, more people burning and more people putting green waste into the black bags.
In one email I was told 1500 people have signed up, but that is actually a tiny amount.
I also said why not more community commposting but was told not practical due to the level of supervision needed and contamination - which I guess is true.
And what makes me more annoyed is Sam Kirk also said there appears to be no intention of NLWA / Ecopark to re-introduce the compost deliveries to Hackney, after the re-development at Edmonton is completed.

Comment by Diana Weir on April 10, 2024 at 10:22

It turns out that Hackney want to charge even more for this service than initially advertised.  Were this 'year' not somewhat foreshortened, the lowest charge would have been £85 - not £78. There's an elaborate set of terms and conditions at Hackney Garden Waste Terms and 2024/25 - Google Docs

I hope that the rather forceful complaint and Freedom of Information Act request which I sent in just over a week ago causes the Council to rethink these charges very seriously.

Our existing and prospective Green Party councillors were sent a copy of the complaint privately and have confirmed that they will be following it up with the Council and lobbying against these unlawfully high charges. I've had no response from the one continuing (Labour) councillor in my ward, however.

Comment by Diana Weir on April 1, 2024 at 10:34

When I make a formal complaint to the Council about this - very soon, now that I've done what I can to raise awareness generally - I'll raise the issue of what the service actually costs the Council.

Councils have statutory rights to charge for garden waste collection, so that battle was fought and lost many years ago, but that same statute limits what they can recover for providing that service to "a reasonable charge".  And charging double the amount that Islington, which must only just have costed this service and priced it accordingly, can't be reasonable.

I'll also continue to compost everything that I can. Neighbours whose garden waste is almost entirely of the soft green sort have suggested sharing their bin and my compost heap, to everyone's benefit.

The less that people resort to burning woody waste, the better for local pollution levels. Since bonfires aren't illegal, there's no way to insist on the use of incinerators.

Comment by David Franks on March 30, 2024 at 13:13
Thank you Diana.

Have we any indication of the cost of this service? And of course, how much it actually cost per Council Tax payer.

Of course there a extensive range of non statutory Council services, that all Council Tax pay for. My neighbour noted yesterday, on this basis, who should he pay for a Youth centre, or towards that new swimming pool.

Generally I believe it is short sighted.

Many people will start putting their garden waste back into their black bags or use incinerators.

We will continue to use our composting bins.

Best wishes


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