CONTROVERSIAL charges for a waste disposal service in Wirral could be abandoned after a massive drop in its use by the public and increases in fly-tipping.

Liberal Democrats and Conservatives councillors on Wirral Council opposed the charges when they were brought in last April.

They have now called for a report into the effect on the authority's budget of scrapping charges for the "Eric" service which removes bulky waste items from people's homes.

It was revealed last week that, since the £15 charge was introduced four months ago, the number of calls had dropped by almost 80% and 58 extra tonnes of rubbish dumped illegally in the borough, a rise of 26%.

Liberal Democrat councillor Ann Bridson said a petition of 1,000 names had shown the strength of feeling about the charges and she wanted a report from council officers on whether it would cost too much to scrap the fee. At a meeting of the environment scrutiny committee, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives banded together to outvote Labour councillors and force a rethink.

Cllr Bridson said: "I know council officers say fly-tipping is on the increase everywhere, but we feel the rise in dumping here is related to the charges.

"We need to look at the council tax implications of taking the £15 charge away.

"We're not saying we should do this regardless, but we want the council officers to look at it, give us the information and we can make a decision."

At the meeting councillors voted to instruct the director of technical services to review the financial assumptions associated with charging for the Eric service and options for reversing the charging policy.

Cllr Bridson said: "Requests for the Eric service are down to 22 % on the same period last year, resulting in a £250,000 shortfall to the expected income from charges and a rise in fly-tipping of 26%.

"This is unacceptable to local people."

Wirral Council leader Steve Foulkes said the decision to charge for the service had been an extremely difficult one but necessary to maintain lower council taxes.

The Labour leader said: "If the Liberal Democrats are serious about improving the service they should have the bottle to identify where the money is going to come from - they can't just whine and moan about it."

A council spokesperson said: "Increases in the amount of fly-tipping reported cannot be directly attributed to changes in the Eric service.

"Fly-tipping has gone up nationally and does so every year. Added to that, Wirral is now recording it more effectively."