Dozens of people across Hastings and Rother have been left facing £300 bills after Hastings Council used a private enforcement agency to crack down on litter.
Fines are generally in the region of £80 but high prosecution costs claimed adds a staggering £220 to the amount that has to be paid. Most of those convicted are fined in their absence.
The Observer has reported on a huge number of cases this year in the weekly court listings.
Notably, the vast majority of the enforcement actions have taken place directly outside either Hastings or St Leonards Warrior Square railway stations, suggesting that enforcement officers are waiting to pounce on people dropping their cigarette butt before they catch a train. Some of those hit by the penalty have been visitors to the town.
People have been quick to point out that this is often a higher financial penalty than handed out for some violent crimes or drink driving offences.
A Hastings man convicted of endangering life by throwing furniture on railway lines was fined just £30.
SEE ALSO Man endangers lives by throwing furniture om rail line
Now Citizens Advice is taking it up as an issue following the number of people who have come to them unable to pay the huge fine and costs.
A Citizens Advice volunteer commented: “There are people in Hastings who are facing real financial hardship and they simply cannot afford a penalty that is this high.
A Hastings Borough Council Spokesperson said: “Smoking related litter is a serious issue in Hastings and is one of the commonest types of litter that needs to be cleaned up in areas such as the town centres and seafront.
“Over the years the council has run several awareness raising campaigns about this and handed out a lot of free ‘butt boxes’ to help smokers dispose of their litter responsibly.
“In late 2016 early 2017 the Council ran a social media campaign about littering, and received a lot of positive feedback urging the Council to take more enforcement action against litterers and irresponsible dog owners in relation to fouling.
“The Council operated a pilot with a specialist enforcement contractor to assess the impact that approach could have on littering in the borough, and to learn more about how that enforcement delivery model could operate in Hastings in the longer term.
“The pilot lasted for 12 months and ended early in July this year. The majority of Fixed Penalty Notices issued by the contractor were for smoking related littering, and the Council’s legal services team have been prosecuting offenders who failed to pay.
“The Council’s warden service is our main street scene enforcement service and has resumed littering enforcement now that the pilot is over, and the Council is considering the options for this type of enforcement in the future.”