By Marcus Leach

Car litter louts are blighting the countryside and costing council tax-payers millions thanks to a legal loophole which lets offenders get off scot free, council leaders warn.

The Local Government Association is calling on the Government to toughen up legislation in the Localism Bill to allow councils to take action against the registered keeper of a vehicle from which rubbish is thrown if the offender can’t be identified. The change would bring littering from a vehicle in line with speeding and fly-tipping.

Currently if a council officer reports litter being dumped from a moving vehicle they can post a fine to the vehicle’s keeper, but if the keeper denies the offence and no one else comes forward, the authority has to go through the almost impossible task of proving the identity of the litterer in court.

The prohibitive cost of prosecuting these cases discourages most councils from pursing offenders, particularly as past court penalties have been less than the original fine, with the defendant not ordered to pay court costs.

This means there is no meaningful deterrent to discourage car litter louts from blighting the countryside with fast food wrappers, empty bottles and cigarettes tossed from moving vehicles, and contributing to the £850m annual cost of cleaning up England’s roads and streets.

Cllr Clyde Loakes, Vice Chairman of the LGA Environment Board, said:

“Car litter louts who blight our countryside and cost council tax-payers millions in clean-up costs are getting away scot free thanks to a legal loophole which could be easily closed. It’s time to get tough on lazy, selfish people who toss rubbish from moving cars and expect other people to cover the cost of cleaning it up.

“When someone gets a speeding ticket or flytipping fine, the keeper of the vehicle can be prosecuted if the offender can’t be identified. Littering from a vehicle should be treated in the same way.

“Councils in England spend more than £850 million each year on keeping the streets and roads clean. With council services under enormous pressure from big cuts to local authority budgets it is vitally important to bring that cost down. Getting tough on people who drop rubbish on our carriageways is one way to tackle a problem which is costly, difficult and dangerous to clean up.”

Presently offenders are only fined if their vehicle is stationary and the littering is seen by a council officer who immediately issues a fine, or if they admit to it on receiving a fixed penalty notice by post.

More than 100 councils have told the LGA they want a change in the law. The most appropriate legislation would be to make the owner or keeper of the vehicle responsible for littering offences, unless they can prove it was someone else.