Litter wardens in Ashford have been suspended from duty after a Panorama investigation revealed they were getting bonuses for issuing fines.

The special investigation called Inside the Litter Police, which aired on BBC1’s Panorama on Monday, saw an undercover reporter working alongside enforcement officers in Bexley.

It looked into the training, behaviour and practices carried out by staff at enforcement company Kingdom Services, who are currently under contract with Ashford Borough Council, Maidstone Borough Council and  Swale Borough Council.

Kingdom wardens can issue £75 on-the-spot fines to those who litter or fail to clean up after their pets. The council takes £28.50 from each fixed penalty notice, while Kingdom Services takes £46.50.

One litter warden – secretly filmed by the undercover Panorama reporter – boasted of making nearly £1,000 in ‘bonuses’ while patrolling the streets of Ashford. The manager told the reporter that ‘every ticket over four, you get a little competency allowance”, which he described as “a bonus” when quizzed.

In a statement, Kingdom Services said that it offered a “competency allowance” but that it was discretionary and only paid if officers met all basic competencies.

At one point during the undercover filming, one enforcement officer admitted regularly pretending to phone the police in order to encourage the public to hand over personal details. Another officer said he tricked people into stepping away from dropped litter to prove they intended to leave rubbish behind.

The Panorama investigation also revealed that people in Kent were wrongly fined for tipping coffee down a drain and putting their recycling out on the wrong day.

A spokeswoman for Ashford Borough Council said: “In light of the recent Panorama programme we have decided to take this opportunity to give our wardens some important additional staff training exercises so they can continue operating fairly and effectively.

“We haven’t suspended them but they are not patrolling currently. They should be back soon, after the training has been undertaken.”

Following the broadcast, Maidstone Borough Council suspended wardens for the day on Tuesday, but they were back patrolling the streets on Wednesday.

It is not the first time councils in Kent have had problems with enforcement company Kingdom Services.

In 2016, Maidstone suspended its officers for a two-week review after a woman was incorrectly fined for littering while feeding some ducks.

Gravesham Borough Council severed ties with Kingdom Services last year and now operates its litter enforcement “in-house”.

A spokesman for Kingdom said: “Our service operates under some of the tightest legal guidelines which set the fixed penalty notice level and affords anybody the right to appeal to the council or/and challenge with the courts if they choose.”

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