If, like us, you resent having to dig around in your purse for the correct change to use the train station toilets, you’re in luck! Network Rail has announced that loo charges are set to be scrapped.
Toilet charges in stations vary from 30p to 50p and have been a massive source of income for the company, with £4.8m being spent on train station toilets last year and £900,000 in London’s Victoria alone.
“As a customer organisation I think it is quite wrong to penalise people when they are in discomfort,” says Chief Executive Mark Carne. “Our job should be to make their life easier, not more difficult. We want to treat people with dignity and respect.”
Network Rail manages Britain’s 18 largest stations, and has told The Times that as of next year all toilets will be free to use in mainline rail terminals.
You might remember that public toilet closures is a cause close to our hearts, and we’ve been campaigning on behalf of our readers – with great success!
We took your concerns about public toilet closures to the Minister for Local Government, Marcus Jones MP, to see what is being done to halt ever-accelerating closures.
When we first raised the issue of the declining number of public toilets in Britain, we really hit a nerve. You wrote to us in your hundreds telling us how concerned you were about the impact this was having on your communities, and that you wanted something to be done.
Many of you pointed out that living with a medical condition such as IBS, bladder and bowel problems or a disability meant having access to a toilet while out and about was vital. And that without adequate toilet provision, being able to travel too far from home was a difficulty.
So in October 2016 we invited you to send in a pledge card, showing your support for keeping public toilets open and asking that they should be exempt from a business rate charge so more can stay open. And we were delighted to receive a staggering 797 responses – thank you to all those who were involved!
And so it was, armed with a bursting box of your pledges, that our senior news writer Katharine Wootton knocked on the office door of Marcus Jones MP, the Minister for Local Government, whose remit covers public conveniences, to raise the issue on your behalf.
Taking a careful look at your pledges, Marcus said the government acknowledges the problem and wants to help.
“Public toilets are a very important facility and we, as a government, are trying to help local councils with the provision of public conveniences by currently bringing through a Bill in the House of Commons. “
This Local Government Finance Bill looks at local council business rates, which are charged to all non-domestic buildings, currently including public toilets. It’s this hefty rate that some councils have said is behind their struggle to keep open public lavatories.
With this Bill local authorities will be able to grant themselves relief from business tax, with the government subsidising half of the rate cost, saving the council 50 per cent of their usual rate charge.
This Bill, expected to come into effect in April 2018 if it successfully goes through, would only apply to England. In Wales, the Welsh Government is currently debating a Public Health Bill, which would require local authorities to prepare a strategy for providing public toilets in their community. The Scottish government currently have no plans to review the business rate charge on public loos, but councils can provide their own rates relief for public toilets if they wish. In Northern Ireland, public conveniences are already considered to exempt from rates.
But for English councils who could take advantage of this Bill, will it do enough? We spoke to Raymond Martin, director of the British Toilet Association, who’s lobbied the government on this issue for years.
“We’re delighted the government are looking at the problem but we think there should be no rates at all on public toilets. Public conveniences have no commercial value whatsoever – they’re a public amenity there for the health and wellbeing of the community, so why are the councils being charged at all for them? The government can’t just say we’ll give councils 50 per cent off and well done us.
“We ideally need a think tank to come in and work out a strategy for public loos and we need to abolish the rates on toilets altogether. Sadly I don’t think this Bill currently going through Parliament will do enough.”
Certainly for the areas in the UK which now have only one or no toilets, this Bill may be too late.
“It remains to be seen whether local authorities will say they’re going to open new toilets as a result of the change in the business rates regime,” says Marcus.
“But we also need to look at the provision of toilets elsewhere now. A few decades ago there were far fewer coffee shops and supermarkets that had toilets you could access. But in many areas today deals have been struck between councils and local businesses for the public to be able to access the toilets of these businesses even if they’re not customers as part of a Community Partnership Scheme. Going forward, however, it will be critical to raise awareness among the public of how they can access this public toilet scheme and exactly where those toilets are.“
Is there any hope that it could one day be made law for councils to provide public toilets?
“We need to be mindful that if we’d have brought a law in 50 years ago saying all public toilets as they stand have to be preserved, we would have done the public both a service and a disservice because we could have ended up with thousands of public toilets that aren’t suitable for the modern day. I know in my own area that there are some public toilets which are in a condition people wouldn’t expect in the 21st century and some people have actually lobbied for certain unsuitable conveniences to be removed.
“I would encourage local councils to look very carefully at their area and assess the need there for public toilet provision and make a decision based on that.
“With this new Bill, we’ve responded to concerns that have been raised with us over the years, no doubt by many Yours readers and we do think this Bill will have a very positive effect as it will cost less for councils to run public conveniences.”
We’ll now be keeping a close eye on this Bill and whether it does enough to help save public toilets.
- For more news pick up the latest copy of Yours magazine