Members of the public are 20 times more likely to be hit with a fine in one of the 39 areas which contract out the work to private enforcers, in some cases allowing them to keep 100pc of the fine as payment in a system which critics say acts as an “incentive” to hand out tickets.
The council issued no fixed penalty notices themselves in 2014 or 2015, but these increased significantly in 2016 after 3GS were employed, according to figures released following a Freedom of Information request. 3GS keep 60 per cent of every fine that is paid, rising to 70 per cent for fly tipping. The organisation does not hand out warnings and there is no appeals procedure for individuals to challenge fines.
Mrs Mapletoft said: “The fines came completely out of the blue and I had no idea what I had done wrong.
“It simply said I had put a cardboard box in a communal recycling bin instead of having it taken away. “The letter was difficult to understand and threatened me with court action unless I complied.
“Given I had wrongly disposed of just one cardboard box, the £600 fine was totally disproportionate
“The whole experience was extremely distressing for my whole family and my daughter was so upset because she thought mummy may be spending Christmas behind bars in prison.”
Alison Mapletoft had a 65cm square box containing eight cushions delivered to a PO box used by her business. Her husband Charlie broke it down and disposed of the box in a communal recycling bin. She then received one fine of £300 for the fly tipping and a second £300 fine for not having a waste disposal contract in place.
“I don’t really have any business waste because I don’t make or see my goods from my home,” she said. “I had no idea if I disposed of a box in a recycling bin I was technically fly-tipping. That is ridiculous.”
Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton, said she had been inundated with complaints about 3GS for disproportionate fines.
In a blog she wrote: “In many of the cases I’ve been contacted about, a warning, or guidance, would seem a more proportionate response – and I fail to see why it isn’t possible for this to happen.
“The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) guidance on the issue of Fixed Penalty Notices, clearly states that issuing one should be a proportionate response, that they should not be issued where there is no intent. The correspondence I’ve been sent suggests that 3GS are ignoring DEFRA guidance.”
A council spokesperson said: “Anyone who feels they have been wrongly given a fixed penalty notice can make a representation to 3GS in the first instance. If they are still concerned, or wish to give more general feedback, they can write to the council.
“Any cases referred to the council are reviewed on an individual basis to ensure that fixed penalty notices are issued correctly.”
3GS failed to respond to repeated requests for comment.