Latest News from BPCA

09 November 2021

Are you local? Community pest issues and local authorities

PESTWATCH | PPC105 NOVEMBER 2021

It’s common for pest technicians to feel like they are up against a brick wall when dealing with community-related pest problems.

BPCA’s Technical and Compliance Manager Natalie Bungay shares her insights into how you can approach your local authority for help.

Are you Local community pest issues and local authorities

Natalie and local authorities

I’ve worked in the pest management industry since 2002. When opportunity knocked, I relocated to Yorkshire and began my experience within a local authority as a supervisor for their pest control team.

I worked alongside enforcement officers, environmental health officers and also local councillors. This, in turn, has given me a deeper understanding of how you, as private pest control organisations, can use the services that LAs provide to better deal with pest problems.


SPEED VIEW:

  • Pest control is usually a high priority item for local councillors
  • Enforcement officers can use public health legislation, environmental protection and also the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act (PDPA) to deal with pest issues
  • The PDPA requires all LAs to keep districts free from rats and mice so far as is reasonably practicable
  • Each LA will have environmental enforcement – a statutory duty.

Professional pest management is a career focused on delivering a service that is a matter of unprecedented importance for many of your customers. As we know, pests can cause some serious emotional responses.

To help our customers, we need to have a wide range of skills, experience and knowledge. We end up becoming jacks of all trades - and masters of pest control.
Among that knowledge should be legislation, and the role of local authorities in helping tackle community and residential pest issues.

What’s a local authority?

A local authority (LA) is an organisation responsible for vital services for people and businesses in defined areas. Services can include well-known examples such as provision of social care, schools, housing and planning, and waste collection.

Lesser-known ones include licensing, enforcement, business support and pest control.

Local councils (the most common type of local authority) are made up of councillors elected by the public in local elections. Councillors work with local people and partners, such as local businesses and other organisations, to agree and deliver on local priorities.

These decisions are implemented on an operational level by permanent council staff, who deliver services daily.

Pest control is usually quite a high priority item for local councillors. They will react, on behalf of their constituents, to rid an area of a particular pest issue, usually rats and mice.

They will do this by ‘demanding’ both cleanups, clearances and even enforcement action.

In this article, we will explore two main areas of utilising a local authority:

  • On an individual basis (single, residential property)
  • From a block or community perspective.

We will look at the legislation that can help you and the support that local authority enforcement officers are legally obliged to deliver, which you can access if you know what to ask for.

Let’s talk rats and mice

When it comes to enforcement officers (EOs), they aim to solve a particular problem. EOs have many pieces of legislation at their disposal, and it is up to them to decide which will get the best results in terms of serving notices.

Just like pest professionals, we have many tools we can use to rid a property of pests: which tool we use is sometimes down to individual preference.

In terms of environmental concerns (waste, rats, mice, other pests, hoarders, etc), there are a few pieces of legislation that an EO can use: public health legislation, environmental protection and also the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act (PDPA).

In the following scenario, we will focus on the PDPA but don’t worry; if you experience a slightly different piece of legislation being used by an EO, it all has the same objective.

Each LA will have a department dedicated to environmental enforcement. All LAs have to provide this statutory service.

The Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 (PDPA)

The PDPA is a piece of legislation that requires all LAs to keep their districts free from rats and mice so far as is reasonably practicable.

The LA may serve a notice to the owner or occupier of land where rats or mice appear to be a problem. This requires them to take reasonable steps to rectify the infestation in a specific time.

Section 4 suggests that the works usually required will be the removal of waste, but any such notice may require:

The application to the land of any form of treatment specified in the notice

The carrying out on the land of any structural repairs or other works so specified, and may prescribe the times at which any treatment required by the notice is to be carried out.

Let’s establish a scenario so that we can picture how you can make an LA work for you:

Problem

Your customer is in a private terraced house, with rats in the garden, but you can’t find any harbourage. You believe they are coming from a neighbouring property as you can see, from a distance, holes under a shed.

Once you realise that you can’t do anything from your customer’s garden, and obviously you can’t wander through other gardens, your customer should seek support from the LA. If you can guide them on this they’re likely to be thankful.

Solution

Each LA will have a department dedicated to environmental enforcement. All LAs have to provide this statutory service.

Your customer needs to find this department within their LA, which can be a challenge in itself, and make a report. Below is an example of what might be found online.

Following a report of suspected rats on a neighbouring property, the following is a common approach from most LAs:

An EO will first expect your customer to have communicated with their neighbours and asked them to get their own pest controller.

This can be emotive, and sometimes residents are not happy to do this. This would be considered by the EO.

The EO will also want evidence from your customer that rats are causing a problem, and the cause is from a different property.

EOs are not pest experts; they need professional advice to support the suspicion of pests harbouring in neighbouring properties.

This is where you, the pest professional, comes in – your report will help with this evidence.

EOs are not pest experts; they need professional advice to support the suspicion of pests harbouring in neighbouring properties.

Once the EO is happy that there is a case for enforcement, the goal will always be to solve the problem. There may be different approaches from officer to officer, but generally, the following will happen (with variations from LA to LA):

The officer will want a copy of the treatment report saying where the rat activity is suspected – this is their ‘professional witness’.

Then, a few things may happen – a letter may be sent to the suspected property, a telephone call or maybe even a visit – it will depend on current LA staffing levels, resources, etc.

They will encourage the neighbour to deal with their infestation as detailed under the PDPA, section 4, improvement notice.

If the neighbour does not comply then the EO can progress the complaint to a court, which may order the occupier to permit the work.

Sometimes LAs will provide this service and then put a charge on the property to recoup costs. Mostly, this is when you have hoarder properties that LAs have to clear out.

Plot twist: what if your customer lives in a local authority-owned property?

This is, usually, a little more straightforward as the housing department within the LA will deal with any rat and mouse issues in their properties.

Your customer should have the right contacts for their housing office. The same reporting should commence, just to a different department.

What if your customer is a commercial business with a rat problem caused by a neighbouring company?

Generally, you’ll take the same pathway. It needs reporting to the LA environmental enforcement team, and then action will be taken.

There is a possibility that a different piece of legislation will be used, such as the Environmental Protection Act 1990 or even the Public Health Act 1936, but the principles will remain the same.

A similar approach can be taken if the rat infestation is coming from a privately-owned drain or sewer that does not belong to your customer.

If you have a public sewer that is causing the emergence of rats, then your customer will need to contact their local water authority, which will take the necessary action to fix its sewer.

Is an entire block of flats an issue?

And finally, this process also works for larger-scale problems that may spread over a whole street or block; it will just take a little longer to gather the information needed.

Insect pests

The Public Health Act 1936, section 83, gives powers and responsibilities to LAs concerning verminous premises. The act provides vermin with the definition of “in its application to insects and parasites including their eggs, larvae and pupae”.

Suppose you have a property with a substantial insect problem, possibly filtering over from a neighbouring property.

In that case, you can again advise your customer to follow the same process as mentioned in the previous scenario.

Arm yourself with knowledge

LAs exist to serve their communities, and your customers are part of those communities, whether they’re a private resident or represent a business.

It’s always worth doing some research on your LA to find where such services would be requested.

Find out where you can get advice online, bookmarking those essential pages.

Make a note of telephone contact details and maybe even find your relevant local councillors’ contact details.

This research can then be part of your toolbox should you need it, and you’ll have the bonus of presenting yourself as professional and knowledgeable to your customers.

Want some help with a tricky pest problem?

If you’re a member of BPCA, our technical team is on hand to help you figure out any tricky situations you might find yourself in during your work. Get in touch.

technical@bpca.org.uk

Source: PPC105

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