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Members will debate Dog Fouling in a Westminster Hall debate, scheduled for Tuesday 14 March 2017 at 430-530pm. The Member in charge of the debate is Mrs Anne Main MP.

Dog fouling: What is the problem?

According to Keep Britain Tidy dog fouling is “a major concern to members of the public”. In 2014-15, the BBC found that local authorities in England and Wales received some 73,824 complaints about dog fouling. A particular complaint in many areas is that dog waste is bagged up, but then left behind; Keep Britain Tidy report that this is an increasing problem. Speaking to the BBC Countryfile magazine about this issue in April 2015, Caroline Kisko, the Kennel Club Secretary, said:

“Dog owners should always clean up after their dogs and dispose of the waste appropriately and the vast majority do, however a small minority who do not can give all dog owners a bad name.  A lack of bins in an area, particularly public footpaths through the countryside and woodland areas can be frustrating, but is not an excuse to hang dog waste bags in trees or leave them on the ground as some people seem to do.  Owners should keep their dog waste bags with them until they can find a dog waste bin or regular litter bin, or should take it home with them to dispose of it properly.”

The Dogs Trust also advise that if there are no specific dog waste bins available, it is possible to put bagged dog mess in a public litter bin.

This is a devolved issue; separate legislation applies to England and Wales (together) and Scotland. This brief covers the England and Wales approach first, and details the legislation and guidance for Scotland separately below.

Who is responsible for keeping land clear of dog waste?

It is illegal for dog owners to not clean up their dog’s waste in a public area. There is an exemption for some kinds of public land in England and Wales, including: Land used for agriculture or woodlands; rural common land; land that is predominantly marshland, moor or heath; and highways with a speed limit of 50mph or more.

Litter authorities have a statutory duty under section 89 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (as amended) to ensure that, so far as reasonably practicable, their land is kept clear of litter (including dog waste), and refuse. Litter authorities generally refers to local authorities, but also includes educational institutions and the Crown (in each case in respect of its own land) and the Secretary of State.

Most local authorities have webpages giving advice about litter, and many also have dedicated helplines on which to report litter.

All organisations with a duty to collect litter are required to have regard to the Statutory Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse for England. In addition, DEFRA has produced guidance for how councils on how they should deal with litter (including dog waste) and the penalties they can give.

If a member of the public feels that a litter authority is not fulfilling its duties to keep public land clear of litter, he or she may apply to a Magistrates’ Court for a litter abatement order (section 91 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990). If the court is satisfied that the litter authority is in dereliction of its duty under section 89 of the Act, it may issue a litter abatement order requiring the body to clear the area of litter.

What powers do local authorities have?

In England and Wales, local authorities can issue on-the-spot fines for dog fouling, known as Fixed Penalty Notices. The amount will vary depending on the council. It is often £50 and can be as much as £80; most local authorities have set it at the default level of £75. If someone refuses to pay the fine, they can be taken to court and fined up to £1,000.

DEFRA discontinued collecting figures on the number of fixed penalty notices issued by local authorities in 2010, as this was deemed to be an unnecessary data burden on local authorities. This means the most recent official figures for the number of fixed penalty notices issued is 2008-09 when 2,082 fixed penalty notices were issued. In 2015, a BBC article stated that the number of people fined for failing to clean up after their dog fell by almost 20% in 2014-15—2,868 fixed penalty notices were issued in England and Wales compared to 3,521 in 2013-14. The BBC obtained figures from 302 of the 348 local authorities in England and Wales. Of those, 103 did not issue any fixed penalty notices in 2014-15, and 48 had not issued any in the last five years.

Following the implementation of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, local authorities in England and Wales can no longer make Dog Control Orders. Instead they can use new powers under the new Act to control dog fouling by issuing Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) to require owners to clean up after their dogs in specified public areas. Existing Dog Control Orders will stay in effect until 20 October 2017, unless they are replaced by PSPOs before then.

In accordance with the DEFRA guidance, local authorities can use PSPOs in a similar way to dog control orders, to stop anti-social behaviour such as dog fouling in a public place. PSPOs can make it an offence if dog owners do any of the following:

  • don’t clean up after their dogs;
  • allow their dogs to enter particular places that have a PSPO, like playgrounds or parks.

If a PSPO is not complied with, the person in breach of it can be fined up to £100 on the spot or up to £1000 if it goes to court.

Registered blind dog owners cannot be fined.

For further information, the Library Briefing Paper on litter  sets out information on general litter offences (including more detail on fixed penalty notices).

A Novel approach to dealing with dog fouling

In 2012, West Dunbartonshire council provided its local cleanup workers with cans of bright spray paint to tag abandoned dog waste in a highly visible colour scheme. This alerts passers-by to the mess, and aims to shame irresponsible owners into picking up after their dogs in the future.

Dealing with dog fouling in Scotland

In Scotland, The Dog Fouling (Scotland) Act 2003 makes it an offence for a person to fail to clear up their dog’s waste in certain public places, such as footpaths and pavements.

The maximum fine for the offence is currently £500. Local authorities must authorise at least one person to issue fixed penalty notices for the offence. Fixed penalty notices can be issued by such persons and by the police. The Dog Fouling (Fixed Penalty) (Scotland) Order 2016 increased the fixed penalty for dog fouling from £40 to £80, bringing it in to line with the fine for littering.

Working dogs—tending or driving of sheep or cattle, working with the armed forces, customs and excise or the police force—are exempted from the Act while they are working. So too are registered blind dog owners.

Public Health risks: Toxocariosis

The main risk to health from dog faeces is an infection called Toxocariosis. This a rare infection caused by roundworm parasites. The parasites are usually found in cats and dogs, and are more likely to affect young children as they are most likely to come into contact with soil contaminated with the roundworm larvae from dog/cat faeces.

In most people, the infection does not cause any symptoms and the parasites die within a few months. Some people experience mild symptoms, such as a cough, fever, headaches. In rare cases the larvae can infect organs such as the liver, eyes, brain or lung and cause more severe symptoms. These can include, fatigue, seizures, loss of vision, and breathing difficulties.

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