INCREASING number of councils in the region are charging residents to collect their garden waste – with some residents being charged as much as £40.

It comes as the Government has been consulting on whether households should receive free garden waste collections.

Critics of the charges, which are now levied by seven of the 12 authorities in the North-East, say they go against other positive environmental initiatives and say gardeners are “increasingly being punished”.

Figures compiled by the BBC’s shared data unit says the average charge for North-East residents is £25 a year.

Among authorities that ask residents to pay for the service directly, the average charge is £35, ranging from £32 in South Tyneside to £40 in Newcastle and Northumbria. In other parts of the country, people have to pay as much as £96 a year.

Meanwhile in North Yorkshire, residents in Richmondshire pay £22 and in Hambleton £35.

Anthony O’Sullivan, managing director of Gardeners Club, said: “UK gardeners are increasingly being punished with a quiet green-garden tax which seems to go against every other positive environmental initiative the UK is trying to promote."

In Durham the charges, which were introduced in 2015, have risen from £20 to £35 in that period. Durham County Council blamed reductions in Government funding.

Head of environment Oliver Sherratt said the environmental argument might not be clear cut.

He said: “It is of course feasible to provide the service throughout much of the county service free of charge, although under the current climate, central Government funding would be required to achieve this.

“Furthermore, as this proposal is intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, careful consideration would need to be given for collections in some of our more remote or difficult to access areas, as the carbon and environmental costs of collection may outweigh benefits.”

Darlington Borough Council has never offered a free service but introduced a paid-for service this year, with residents charged £35 a year.

In Middlesbrough, where collections are free, a spokesman for the council said it wanted to encourage recycling as widely as possible and had no immediate plans to change its charging policy.

The Government says it believes providing a regular kerbside collection service is the “best way” to increase recycling of garden waste. It has asked for opinions on the possibility of all councils in England providing the service free of charge from 2023, which it says would cost £229m over seven years.

Councils do not currently have to provide a service, though only eleven do not, with about 60 per cent charging for the service.

In 2012, about a third of councils charged for the service.

Cllr Martin Tett, who is the environment spokesman for the Local Government Association, said if the government wanted a free and mandatory service, it would have to cover the cost.

He said: “Ultimately, garden waste collection has to be paid for by someone. It’s only fair that those households which have gardens and generate the waste pay for the service. This is why some councils charge for this as it’s not a universal service.”