Enforcement firm issues £1.5m in fines

A notice in Walthamstow Town Square warning people about environmental fines
A notice in Walthamstow Town Square warning people about environmental fines

Complaints pour in over penalties for litter and spitting, reports James Cracknell

Waltham Forest Council is poised to offer a new contract to an environmental enforcement company whose officers are accused of acting “like Wild West sheriffs”.

Kingdom Services Group is a private company that issues Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) on behalf of the council to people who drop litter, spit, fly-tip, or break other local environmental laws – but residents have complained of aggressive tactics and intimidatory behaviour from Kingdom’s staff.

Data obtained by the Echo under the Freedom of Information Act shows Kingdom issued around £1.5million in fines over three years. There were 7,672 individual fines handed out over the last year alone. Profit is split between Kingdom and the council.

Those people who appeal have a high chance of overturning their fines, however, with 72% of appeals issued between October 2018 and September 2019 being successful, according to data supplied by the council.

Sandrine Ceurstemont wrote for the Echo last year about being fined £150 after accidentally dropping a shopping receipt, later overturned on appeal. “The power they are given risks being abused when their ultimate goal isn’t to look out for the public good,” said Sandrine.

Sarah McCulloch says she was fined by Kingdom simply for putting rubbish outside her flat for collection. “We live above a shop in Walthamstow and do not have wheelie bins,” Sarah told the Echo. “Kingdom is harassing local residents with dubiously legal littering fines and making their profits from people who pay up.”

Ioannis Tsintilas was fined for spitting, but says he felt forced to pay the fine on the spot because he mistook the environmental enforcement officer for a police officer. “It was unpleasant and unsettling,” said Ioannis. “I was approached by two men dressed in official uniforms equipped with camera devises. I was literally cornered and accused of spitting on the ground. I was certainly smoking, but not spitting at all.

“I was afraid, so I offered my ID and accepted the fine to make them stop and leave me alone. Kingdom’s employees seem to run around the place sharing fines left and right as if they were sheriffs in the Wild West.”

The council’s current contract with Kingdom began in April 2017 and is set to be renewed next month, with a final decision by councillors due shortly. The number of fines has gradually increased over the duration of the contract.

Clyde Loakes, cabinet member for the environment, said: “Waltham Forest residents expect to enjoy clean and tidy neighbourhoods that are not spoiled by litter, dog mess, or people’s spit.

“Kingdom operatives and our own neighbourhood officers wear body cameras so that when they see someone disrespecting the borough we can take enforcement action and issue FPNs to those who do not live by the rules that apply to everyone else.

“Litter has a serious negative impact on our local biodiversity, ruining our green and open spaces and preventing residents being able to enjoy them. There is simply no need to litter in Waltham Forest. If you don’t want the fine, don’t do the crime.”

A Kingdom spokesperson said: “The 72% figure refers to appeals against FPNs which have been closed as resolved other than by paying the penalty. This can include a case being voided under public interest as opposed to not meeting evidential standard, but can also include appeals rejected and files prepared and forwarded for consideration of prosecution, therefore the figure should not be used as an indicator of success or otherwise.

“We patrol fairly and proportionately. All complaints are dealt with transparently and appropriate action taken if the service is seen to have fallen below the standard expected by the authority.”