Saturday 21 October 2017

Too busy to follow the bin charges story closely? Here's what you need to know

Stock photo
Stock photo
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

The Government and Fianna Fáil have defused the row over bin charges for now - but tens of thousands of households still face the prospect of larger bills.

What will happen to bin charges?

A deal struck last night will see the establishment of a new watchdog that will be tasked with ensuring consumers don't fall victim to so-called 'price gouging' by waste collectors.

The body, known as the 'Pricing Watchdog Monitoring Unit', will be given specific powers to tackle emerging cartels in the industry, as well as bringing criminal convictions against firms suspected of price-fixing or collusion.

But half of the country's households will still be forced to switch to a pay-by-weight bin system in a move that left-wing TDs insist will result in significant price hikes.

Under the new system flat-fee waste collection charges will be banned by the Government.

Under a new system flat rate fees will be banned, meaning households which only use the black bin to dispose of waste will pay higher charges (Stock photo)
Under a new system flat rate fees will be banned, meaning households which only use the black bin to dispose of waste will pay higher charges (Stock photo)

Environment Minister Denis Naughten said that a more “flexible approach” for waste collection charges had been approved, which would allow companies to charge based on the number of times the bin was lifted, by weight, through a weight allowance coupled with a higher charge per kilogramme produced above this or through a combination of all.

It comes because of the amount of waste being sent to landfill has increased in the last two years. The Government says that an “incentivised pricing structure” is needed to improve recycling rates.

Under the new arrangement, waste collectors can offer a range of incentivised pricing options.

What is the reaction to the proposed changes?

Senior Government figures admitted last night they could not rule out increases in household bills - but insisted the new watchdog will ensure efficient regulation of the market.

"This is all about ensuring the Government is given evidenced-based research about how the market operates. If price-gouging is found to be happening, then we will act," said a well-placed source.

The Government is not ruling out the prospect of setting up a full-blown regulator, as proposed by a Fianna Fáil motion, after the watchdog reports back on market activity.

The Cabinet held an incorporeal meeting last night - ie. over the phone - during which a counter motion was agreed. The meeting took place after hours of back-channel discussions involving Communications Minister Denis Naughten, Fianna Fáil's communication spokesperson Timmy Dooley and other senior figures, including those in Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's office.

Mr Dooley last night insisted that if the Government fails to establish a regulator, then the party will introduce its own legislation to that effect.

The watchdog will be made up of officials from the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), the Department of the Environment, and outside consultants.

Figures from both parties said they believed a fair and reasonable compromise was struck.

The issue of bin charges was discussed at the Fianna Fáil front bench meeting, as well as during Leaders' Questions'.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told his senior colleagues the party should stand firm, adding that Mr Naughten has now struggled with the issue of bins and broadband.

In the Dáil last night, Mr Naughten defended the changes. "We have to make changes and it is only right that the more you produce, the more you should pay. Unless people want to see the re-emergence of landfills in every local authority area, we need collectively to make the transition from taking little notice of what goes into the black bin to being conscious of what we are dumping.

"What we are doing is most certainly not about imposing financial hardship on families."

Sinn Féin's environment spokesperson Brian Stanley claimed the Government has shown little concern for ordinary households.

Mr Stanley said: "The Government are starting at the end of the process and putting the cost on the householder. Instead, they should consider putting the burden on the manufacturer of excessive packaging in the first instance."

The proposals agreed by the two parties were passed in the Dáil last night.

What impact will the changes have on households?

Families on low-incomes will suffer most from "the debacle" of the new bin charges regime, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald has said.

The party’s deputy leader said the planned ending of flat-charge bin charges announced by Environment Minister, Denis Naughten, meant simply that charges would spiral.

“It will allow operators to charge whatever they like for what is an essential service,” Ms McDonald said.

The Sinn Féin deputy leader deplored the lack of support for families on low incomes in the outline plans revealed by Government.  She also said the changes would affect farmers and small business people and provoke more illegal dumping.

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said people had no need to be fearful.  He said he hoped Ms McDonald would not “exploit” people’s fears but instead help spread accurate information.

Mr Varadkar said €75 per year will be paid to people with long-term illness who must use incontinence pads.

The Taoiseach added that more money was allocated to local councils to crack down on illegal dumping. He also said it will be mandatory for waste collection companies to roll-out brown recycling bins.

Will the new regulation work?

Hard to know. Questions remain over who will regulate the new watchdog? The Environmental Protection Agency is largely made up of scientist without the skillsets for economic regulation.

There is no existing model to point to in other jurisdictions, and there's no guarantee that prices wouldn't rise because regulation would have to allow for costs to be recovered.

Could households face penalties if they don't comply with new recycling regulations?

Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers has accused the Government of failing to address problems surrounding waste collection and said the lack of an awareness campaign for the new charging system will mean families will "inevitably pay more".

He told the Dai that a waste collection company is to impose "outrageous" charges of up to €25 if customers accidentally put the wrong item in the wrong bin.

He said the issue is causing "concern and distress" in his Dublin West constituency.

"I've been made aware of one waste collector, Panda, who is now imposing different charges, fees, fines and penalties seemingly at their will," he added.

"Under the new agreement of terms and conditions that they propose. They've said that they're going to charge between €10 and €25 if a customer accidentally puts the wrong item in the wrong bin."

He said "one Pringles can" in the wrong bin would result in a charge, and added: "That's outrageous."

Mr Chambers claimed the Government is "doing absolutely nothing about it".

He described a watchdog planned by the Government as "toothless", saying "we need a fully financed regulator", as proposed by his party.

He said the agreement between Panda and customers also gives the company "sole discretion" over the price of services.

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News