Rat surge fears as councils in Wales cut pest control

Cuts in council pest control services could lead to an explosion in rat numbers, a health body has warned. More than a quarter of Wales’ councils now charge residents to get rid of rats, up from just one six years ago. Others charge for mice, fleas, bedbugs and cockroach services, and one council has stopped pest control entirely.

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) said it was concerned people not wanting to pay would ignore infestations.

Figures obtained by BBC Wales show that six of Wales’ 22 councils now charge residents up to £40 to eradicate rats from inside their homes: Anglesey, Cardiff, Gwynedd, Newport, Powys and Wrexham.

Nine local authorities charge people to remove mice, while more councils charge for insect pests, such as fleas, bedbugs, cockroaches and wasps. Meanwhile, Carmarthenshire stopped offering a pest control treatment service entirely in 2011 to save £82,000 and offers advice instead.

It is feared pest control will come in for more cuts in the coming year as cash-strapped councils try to make savings, with Monmouthshire council putting forward plans to scrap its free service in its April budget.

Julie Barratt, director of CIEH Wales, said some people might not be able to afford to pay the council or a private company to deal with vermin.

“People might first of all ignore the problem and hope they will go away, which is unlikely,” she said. “They wouldn’t deal with an infestation until it gets too big. Then it’s a much bigger issue. We would then see an explosion of vermin. What we’re particularly concerned about is that people would stop using a service and try to do something about it themselves. They might go to DIY stores and buy poison and traps.”

Health hazard
She said that pest control officers were experts and knew how much poison to use and where to put it.

“Members of the public aren’t experts,” she added, “If you don’t know what you’re doing you could put your children, pets and other wildlife at risk. They might put too much poison down so the rats develop immunity. If you don’t know what you’re doing you could put your children, pets and other wildlife at risk.”

Pest control is not a statutory service for councils to provide and some local authorities argue that private companies can offer the service cheaper.

But Irena Hopkins, deputy mayor of Ammanford in Carmarthenshire, argues that pests, particularly rats, are a public health hazard for which councils should take responsibility.

She claimed Ammanford had developed a problem with rats since the council stopped offering a pest control service about two years ago.

“I have seen a rat in one of the town’s car parks and I have spoken to so many people who have seen them in the town,” she said.

Fall in demand
“Ammanford isn’t a dirty town but it’s by a river so of course we’re going to get them. And they need to be dealt with as they spread diseases and are a health hazard. People can’t afford to call out private pest control companies.”

Carmarthenshire council said it stopped its pest control services in 2011 because of a fall in demand and difficulty in offering lower prices than private companies. It said that it had been monitoring the situation since and had not seen more vermin as a result.

A spokesperson added: “Regarding Ammanford, there is no evidence of any rat infestation or that householders and landowners are not treating infestations effectively.”