The Challenge

In 2018, a student accommodation owned and managed by one of our clients was charged more than £40,000 for waste collection and disposal. The charge applied despite councils having a responsibility to collect residential waste.

The council in question argued that student accommodation waste wasn’t residential and was indeed commercial, even though the building in question was clearly a residential premise. Consequently, the charge was levied and ignored government guidelines and legislation to prevent such measures.

The council argued that the student property was a ‘self-catering accommodation’, which, under the Controlled Waste (England and Wales) Regulations (2012 regulations), would make it a domestic property used in the course of a business for the provision of self-catering accommodation.

Of course, a residential property where residents self-cater isn’t the same as a domestic property explicitly designed for self-catering. Due to the difference in opinion, the council refused to accept the property’s claim it was a residential building.

The Approach

We took on our client’s waste issue, opening a complaint against Lewisham Council. We argued the case, highlighting the 2012 Controlled Waste (England and Wales) Regulations and 2013’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) letter to local authorities clearly stating that charging for waste collection from residential properties is not to be permitted.

DEFRA’s letter, in particular, explained: ‘The Valuation Office Agency has determined that the student accommodation can be a residential dwelling, and is entered onto the council tax valuation list accordingly’. Therefore when a unit has a student in residence, charges are not to be applied.

We firmly believed an error of judgment was made by the council, and it failed to follow government guidelines. The charges amounting to £40,000 and any subsequent charges that would follow were not applicable to this PBSA accommodation.

Therefore, we escalated our client’s issue regarding refuse collection with the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

The Results

After reviewing the case, the Ombudsman upheld our objection, stating the council did not follow government guidelines, nor provide an acceptable reason for why it decided to go against advice in previous legislation.

The Ombudsman believed that, given clear advice that local authorities should not be charging for waste collection from student accommodation under the 2012 regulations, it was wrong to levy the charges on our client for waste collection.

The outcome from the Ombudsman suggested that the council should cancel use of the charging policy and repay any charges already paid by our client for waste collection and any charges made by other student accommodation providers.

As a result of the decision, a precedent now stands that acts as the standard bearer for property operators and offers a level of protection from unjust charges and the inconvenience caused.

For further information, see the Ombudsman’s full findings.