Barnet Council has shaken up its fly-tipping contracts after residents claimed to have been slapped with hefty fines for leaving out their recycling.

The council has banned enforcement officers from patrolling residential areas on the afternoon before bin collections in a bid to stamp out any unfair behaviour by private firm NSL, which operates the contract.

It will also look into cutting fly-tipping penalties as part of a review of the contract, which it signed up to along with fellow London boroughs Ealing and Harrow.

The changes come in response to complaints from residents who felt the £400 fines for first offenders were being levied on people who had left cardboard boxes that would not fit into their blue bins out in the open.

Barnet Council has changed its refuse policy so that cardboard boxes can now be left next to recycling bins if they have been flattened and are no larger than a metre squared.

Cllr Geof Cooke, Labour member for Woodhouse, had asked council officers to address residents’ concerns about the fly-tipping penalties at a meeting of the environment committee in September.

He said the contracts created “perverse incentives” for NSL to patrol roads ahead of bin collections and slap fines – which are not subject to a formal appeals process – on people who had left out items for recycling.

At the environment committee last week (Wednesday, November 28), when the policy changes were announced, Cllr Cooke thanked officers for their efforts.

He added: “I am still a little concerned about people who are simply not aware of the policy. Not everyone digests every word of every leaflet they receive from the council until something in it affects them seriously and personally.

“As I understand it, for the next year and a half at least, we have a fixed penalty of £400 for someone who may be a first offender and the offence may simply be failing to fold their cardboard box properly.

“What I would ask officers to do is to think seriously about how you can protect citizens who are trying to do the right thing from a very serious fine, because it just ain’t fair.”

Chair of the committee Cllr Dean Cohen, Conservative member for Golders Green, said the policy changes would protect people from being unfairly targeted.

Cllr Cook said he doubted the new policies would be followed based on the contractor’s track record.

Members of the committee voted unanimously to approve the policy changes.