PROPOSALS for reduced fines for litter droppers in Mid Devon sparked an unexpectedly lengthy debate focused predominantly on the potential unfairness of discounts for prompt payments.

Councillors were being asked to amend the current litter policy to include a 50 per cent reduction on the £150 fine for people who made payments within 14 days of an offence.

But Councillor James Buczkowski (Liberal Democrat, Cullompton St Andrew's) said this was at odds with Mid Devon District Council’s recent resolution to take into account a so-called "poverty premium" when amending or creating policies.

This relates to lower income households paying proportionally higher rates than more affluent households to access the same services.

Cllr Buczkowski said it was conceivable that the discount could disproportionately benefit those with the means to pay the fine, even though the policy is intended to provide a more affordable fine.

“I disagree with the prompt payment discount,” he said.

“This is a form of poverty premium, where those that can afford to pay get a discount but those that can’t will pay more,” he added.

Luke Howard, the council’s environment and enforcement manager, said providing the opportunity to pay a discounted fine “often speeds up payment and reduces the time and cost the authority has to spend chasing people”.

He added that providing a discounted rate for prompt payment was also in line with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) guidance.

But Cllr Buczkowski insisted that he felt the discount would still benefit more people who could afford to pay the fine, and that it “goes against what we approved at full council” in terms of the poverty premium.

A report in January showed that the poverty premium costs poorer Mid Devon households more than £7 million per year.

Cllr Josh Wright (Liberal Democrat, Silverton), asked whether the policy could be flexible if people were struggling, while Cllr Simon Clist (Liberal Democrat, Upper Culm) enquired whether the discounted rate could be extended for people who contacted the council within 14 days and were suffering genuine financial hardship.

While no formal amendment was proposed, council officers said the authority could consider claims of financial hardship in relation to litter fines on a case-by-case basis.

Information about appealing or querying fines would be clearly displayed on the fixed penalty notices, making it easy for residents to contact the council with any concerns.

Cllr Claudette Harrower (Conservative, Tiverton Westexe), asked how many people the council had to spot litter-droppers, and queried how young people were dealt with.

Mr Howard said the council had four people who spent time looking out for littering offences, and that this would soon be upped to five, but only for a short period because one member of staff is retiring.

“The main focus is on towns where the issue is more prevalent,” he said.

“I wouldn’t say that we focus on any age group, we are just out in communities, engaging with residents and people as we pass, and dealing with issues as officers see them.”

He added that his officers would “look to engage, rather than fine” young people, noting that fixed penalty notices are not issued to under 18s.

The proposal to implement a 50 per cent discount for littering was approved by the cabinet, except for Cllr Buczkowski, who abstained.

The proposal formed part of a wider environment and education policy review, which also touched on the council’s recycling and stray dog policies, as well as other areas.

Bradley Gerrard