Guidance

Council powers to control leafleting causing a litter problem

How councils can control leafleting which is causing a litter problem, the places and leaflets that are exempt and the fees they can charge.

If you’re a district or county council, you can restrict the distribution of flyers, pamphlets, stickers, cards or other leaflets if they’re causing a litter problem.

Unless their leaflet is exempt, individuals or groups who want to leaflet in these restricted areas must then apply to you to get permission.

You can apply this restriction to any land you’re responsible for keeping clear of litter and refuse (‘relevant land’). Restrictions also apply to leafleting from vehicles in that area.

These restrictions don’t apply to posters and other fixed advertising.

Places where you can’t restrict leafleting

You can’t restrict leafleting:

  • on private land or premises, eg flyers handed out at a venue
  • on public transport, eg leaflets left in stands on buses
  • through letterboxes
  • in newspapers or other publications

Exempt leaflets

Freedom of speech is important. You can’t ask people to apply for permission or restrict the distribution of leaflets that are:

  • by or on behalf of a charity (if the leaflet is intended to benefit the charity)
  • for the purposes of a religion or belief
  • for political purposes

Giving out offensive material can be a criminal offence (for example, stirring up racial hatred). If you think someone is committing an offence you should consider reporting it to the police.

Before you restrict leafleting

Consider the cause of the problem. Your approach must be in proportion to the litter problem. Before restricting leafleting in an area, find out:

  • whether the litter is from one promoter or several
  • whether the leaflet is designed to make a profit for anyone
  • whether the distributor is a marketing company or an individual or community group

You may want to treat leaflets promoting community or small-scale cultural or music events differently from leaflets that promote commercial or for-profit events as any restrictions can have a greater impact on small or voluntary groups.

You should make sure any restrictions are consistent with how you apply other legislation. For example, if an event doesn’t need an entertainment licence you should consider whether it’s appropriate to require permission to distribute leaflets about it.

Voluntary schemes

Try to work with the community and set up a voluntary scheme before imposing restrictions. A voluntary scheme could ask distributors to agree to:

  • stand near bins when handing out leaflets
  • pick up any stray leaflets when they have finished
  • only give leaflets to people who want them
  • include an anti-littering message on their leaflets

You could also offer to help to promote events in other ways so that fewer leaflets are necessary, for example by promoting events online, in council buildings or in your newsletter.

Restrict leafleting

If voluntary schemes don’t work, you must take certain steps before you can restrict the distribution of leaflets in an area:

  1. Collect evidence showing that leaflet litter is a problem in the area (you may need to prove that any restrictions are in proportion to the problem - it’s unlikely you’d need to restrict leafleting across a whole local authority or city).
  2. Publish notice of your plans in at least one local newspaper and on the land affected, including:
    • a map of the area affected
    • when the restriction begins (this must be at least 28 days after the notice is published)
    • how people can comment and when they need to do this by (you must allow 14 days for comment after the notice is published)
  3. Consider comments and objections and record your reasons if you reject them.
  4. Publish when you’ll start to restrict leafleting at least 14 days in advance on the land and in at least one local newspaper.

You should also publish this information on your website.

Once restrictions are in place, publish information on:

  • the areas that are restricted
  • how to apply for permission to leaflet
  • how long it takes to process an application
  • fees
  • exemptions
  • any ‘general consents’ that are in place - eg if you have given permission for ‘any leafleting that promotes live entertainment in a small venue’
  • when you don’t need permission

Allowing leaflet distribution in restricted areas

Unless their leaflet is exempt, people wanting to leaflet in a restricted area must apply to you to for permission.

You can give permission to:

  • the person applying
  • someone leafleting on the applicant’s behalf (applicants are responsible for making sure they comply with rules)
  • specific employees in a company or members of a group
  • groups (for example, all performers in a festival or all events at the same venue)

You should write back to applicants and tell them whether or not you’ve given them permission, conditions that apply and any fees.

Fees

You can charge applicants a fee. You should make it clear what the fees are, for example, by publishing them on your website.

Total fees over the year must be limited to covering all reasonable costs associated with operating and enforcing the restriction, including:

  • the area survey
  • administering applications
  • notification procedures
  • monitoring and enforcement of restrictions

You can’t use the fees to cover cleaning costs.

Your fees should be structured so that distributors only pay for what they need. You can reduce or remove fees altogether, for example you may decide to waive fees for distributing a small number of leaflets, or for leaflets advertising small-scale community or cultural events.

Allowing leafleting with limits or conditions

If you give a leaflet distributor written permission you must explain any limitations or conditions that apply to protect the area from litter.

For example, you can limit:

  • where you’re allowing them to leaflet (you can limit the area, ask them to stand near bins or specify other reasonable limitations)
  • the times of day or night you’re allowing them to leaflet at
  • how many leaflets you’re allowing them to give out
  • the type of leaflet you’re allowing them to give out (you can include conditions relating to the format and the content)

You can also impose conditions, including requiring them to:

  • collect any leaflets that have been dropped when they’ve finished
  • show that they have consent to leaflet when asked by an authorised officer

If you change the permission conditions, you must tell any affected distributors.

Refusing or revoking permission to leaflet

You can refuse permission to leaflet if it’s likely to lead to littering.

You can refuse permission if the applicant has been convicted or fined for a leafleting offence in the last 5 years.

You can revoke permission if the applicant:

  • doesn’t comply with conditions
  • has been convicted or fined for distributing leaflets without permission

You must tell the distributor if you plan to revoke an existing permission to give out leaflets.

Appeals

Applicants can appeal to a magistrates’ court if you:

  • refuse permission to leaflet
  • impose limits or conditions
  • revoke their existing permission

Penalties

If people knowingly distribute leaflets or ask someone to deliver leaflets in a restricted area without permission, you can do one of the following:

  • issue a fixed penalty notice of £50 to £80 (the default fine is £75)
  • prosecute them in court (they can be fined up to £2,500)

You can also seize leaflets. You must keep these until legal proceedings are complete or dropped as you’ll need to return them.

You can only dispose of seized leaflets if any of the following apply:

  • you don’t know who the owner is
  • you don’t know where they are
  • the court gives you permission

Ending the need for permission to leaflet

You should remove the requirement to get permission to leaflet if the restriction isn’t having the desired effect or is no longer necessary.

If you decide to do this you must publish a notice in at least one local newspaper and in the places where the restrictions applied. You should also publish this information on your website.

Published 24 March 2015