Rats, Traps, Bugs and Cutbacks Panorama

Rats, Traps, Bugs and Cutbacks

Budget cuts mean some councils are disbanding pest control teams and others are charging for previously free services. Will this lead to more pests and the diseases they carry?

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Stoo Rats. That's it, under the rubbish, under the blue bin,


there's a rat. Cockroaches. That's actually in the


door lock in the frame. They are firmly settled in there. Bedbugs.


The stuff of night mares. Oh God! All this black stuff is bedbug


dropings. There's a nice big adult. These will turn up in the poshest


hotels and houses. The pest controllers on the front line,


trying them to stop invading our homes. Happy days, cockroach again.


As budget cuts bite and councils cut back on pest control... Do you


fear your job is at risk? Yeah but there's plenty of pests out there.


We go undercover to test how easy it is to become a pest controller


and get hold of dangerous chemicals. Whoever sells there, where we've


just been, do not understand the consequences of what this can do.


We meet the pests fighting back. The lowest point was when I found a


family of rats living in the poison bag, living there happily. We ask,


are we in danger of losing the war? We've got the world's most


resistant rat in this part of the world, and increasingly that


No-one knows how many rats there are in the UK. It could be anything


from 6-20 million. It's oven said we're never more than ten feet away


from one. But this man, Peter Roy True. What counts as a rat


infestation. On the floor, you get a lot of these down here, which are


rat dropings. These things? That's dropping, they're fresh as well


because they're still skwishy. Peter is a pest controller with


Southwark Council in south London. Today he has rats in his sights.


When I open the chamber last week, about 10-15 rats come running out


at me so. You might see a couple, out of the bin chamber. No sign of


any rats so far. Just a corpse. Normally, they're decome posed in


about five days. When the rat is eaten the poison, its body because


boys news, so you couldn't chuck it in a normal bin. You're going to


take that with you now? Yeah. I'll get a cab I think. Yeah. I've


a lovely van I have. But it isn't long before a live rat makes a


break for freedom. Under the rubbish, there's a rat. It didn't


So, to get a better look we set up It wasn't long before we saw that


this block of flats has a serious problem. Rats don't like the


daylight, but here there were so many of them, they were happily out


searching for food. It's driving the residents to despair. Saw them


up the drain, I thought it is kittens, it is awful. It is


absolutely awful. To me, they're dirty things. And they multiply so


quickly. Is it embarrassing? It is embarrassing, so long as you don't


see them you're safe. Once you see them coming, it is like invasion.


It is absolutely vile. Peter is going to try and kill the rats


using poison. Left unchecked, they can cause real harm. Including in


extreme cases liver and kidney infections. We're talking about


illnesses like, with rat infestations, wiels disease, a


particularly nasty illness. The transfer of disease, through rats


coming through sewers and into people's houses. It is a broken


drain, that will need to be repaired that allowed the rats to


come up from the sewers in Southwark. In the meantime Peter


will continue to put poison down. Last year, council pest controllers


in the UK made nearly 300,000 rat- related visits to people's homes,


according to the British pest control association. While that


helped, manage their impact on us, no-one really knows what it is


doing to the overall rat population. Councils deal with all sorts of


other pests. And no-one is immune. In Stevenage, council pest


controller, Chris Woodard is getting reacquainted with an old


friend. The bedbug. You do not want these feeding on you at night.


but eradicated in British homes after the Second World War, they're


back. Thanks to our world travel and it is a easily spread. It will


have to be washed. Oh God. All this black stuff. That's bedbug dropings,


and there's a nice big adult there. This bits moving here. Bedbugs like


nothing better than waiting until you fall asleep and then feasting


on your blood. This is no relationship to hygiene or anything.


Nothing to do this at all. These will turn up in the poshest houses


and hotels. The same with all the pests, rats, mice, cockroaches.


Back in Southwark, Peter's turning his attention to another pest.


Cockroaches in this one, we have avenue had reports on this one.


Southwark looks after more council properties than any other borough


in the capital. Council pest controllers made almost 20,000


cockroach-related visits last year. This flat has such a bad pest


problem that the person who lives here has had to move out. That one


up on the doors, they're coming out to say hello now. One there, one


there. When you consider one egg can up to 38 cockroaches in it, it


can be out of control very fast. Southwark's 24 pest controllers


make up the biggest team in the country. Last year, they made


60,000 visits. What are they? are even more bedbugs here, they're


live and come back to. Council tenants here in Southwark, get the


service free. Peter's been dealing with outbreaks like these for six


years. How do you keep positive, when this is your Dail routine?


know I can get rid of them and make it better, so it is like that,


these won't stay like this once I finish with it. You get a sense of


satisfaction? Yeah, it is something I enjoyed in my working life. If


you made someone happy in your day's work, you did good no matter


what you get paid. Cockroach again. They're attracted to you. They love


me. For several years councils have been reducing their pest control


teams in order to save money. For now, Southwark is continuing to


fund its pest control service. But since the Government's


austerity drive the rate which they've been cut by councils has


increased. To keep theirs some felt forced to introduce charges, like


here in Stevenage, where they brought in a �47 fee last year.


When the council introduced charges, what impact did that have? Dropped


by 50% on the public health stuff, yeah. Why do you reckon that is.


think the people just felt, I'll try and deal with it ourselves, and


we'll go out and buy poison for a few pounds and try to deal with it


themselves. You've seen rats up here then less? I've noticed them


for two or three months x Today, Chris has come to help Les Benford,


he's fighting a rat problem, and at the moment he's losing. What have


you done to control them, have you put down poison? I virtually,


filled the holes in with bricks and stones, hoping it would deter them,


but it hasn't workeded. Face with the having to pay, many people try


to get rid of pests themselves. But as less found out, it is not as


easy as you might think. And using poisons can be dangerous. Most


people I see put it down, put it down in a tollly inappropriate way,


poisoning wildlife and doing themselves some harm. The �47


charge here in Stevenage gets you as many visits as you need.


Callouts have increased this year. But Chris is not taking his job for


Four to two. Do you fear your job is at risk. Of course, who wouldn't


in this day and age, in the way the public sector and private sector,


jobs have been lost. Of course it is a risk. But they're still loads


of pests out there. Cutbacks like those are worrying environmental


health experts. Resources to actually deal with the problem,


around the country, are diminishing. And so, I believe, that the problem


will get worse. Populations will increase. Damage, and the potential,


loss of well being, will be increased as well. Some councils


are going much further, than just charging for a service which had


been once been free. They're disbanding their teams altogether,


in the last two years, 29 councils have completely shut down their


service. Cornwall, council here got rid of the pest control service


last year, as one family found out toity cost. When did you realise


you had a rat problem, rather than the odd rat here and there? When I


saw three or four of them scurrying on the patio, I thought, actually


this is getting silly and starting to smell out here of rat pee.


year-old Miriam and Moses love playing in the garden. Their mum,


Cheryl who is tpwhot so keen because of the last 18 months


they've had rats. We have to risk assess our garden to make sure


there's no dead rats in the traps or doesn't smell of rat pee. I wipe


the table, and wipe down the slide with spray disinfectant, because I


don't know where the rats have been, have they been on my table, I don't


know. No longer able to call on the council, they considered hiring a


private firm. We were quoted �100 to look at the ground and see what


they wanted to do. And then, for each time they come back, it would


be more money. On the money that my husband and myself both bring in,


because they're registered disabled, we don't have that much money to


start w we live hand to mouth. Because they couldn't afford the


private company, they bought traps and managed to kill a few rats


themselves. But that's not got rid of them. Councils have to keep


their land free of rats and mice, and in extreme circumstances, they


can force you to do the same. But they aren't legally obliged to


If you can afford it, go through a professional. If you can't. You say


those who can, go through a professional, if they can't? It is


the grey area, that the cuts affect somebody, I would still expect my


staff to give advice. I don't like this, it and I wouldn't expect the


public to like T but I can only deliver what I can afford.


those who can afford to shop around, there are 47 firms in Cornwall and


hundreds across Britain. Neil Parker works for one of them.


it is Cleankill. Business is good for his London-based firm. Up 9% on


last year. There are at the males amongst that


lot. This job is part of a new contract


with a housing association. Neil believes the tenant may have


been living like this for sometime. There's a harbourage and


conservation of cockroaches, that's in a door lock in the frame. If you


can see them, they are, firmly settled in there. Cockroaches can


contaminate food and trigger allergies and asthma attacks.


is the gentleman's bedroom. You see the markings on the mattress,


There's a bedbug. So not only has he a German cockroach infestation,


he has bedbugs as well. He's living with the insects, so when he's


sleeping, they're feeding and when he's awake, they're sleeping. It is


a relationship, it is a vicious circle in the end. While some firms


can compete with councils on cost, others can't. One leading private


contractor is confident companies can pick up some of the slack


Council cutbacks. There's nothing sacred about a pest cell team, for


a number of years now, we have had an erosion, and the sky's not


fallen out. There's not a sudden outbreak of pestness the locations


that have had private contractors. There's no evidence using a private


contractors will be inferior. so, their services may be out of


reach for some of the most vulnerable. Local authorities are,


the safety net for society. And many people who can't afford pest


control need to find some sort of support. They're oven the ones that


have the - often the ones that have the most serious problems near and


where they live. There were 57 complaints about pest control


companies in the last flee months and experts worry some are driven


to the cheapest end of the market. To cowboys. Like me. You don't need


any qualifications or license to become a pest controller. So I set


up shop in an area that's done away with the council-run pest control


teams Some phone numbers in a newsagent's window, and ads in


local papers, and I'm almost set to g - go. Within the week the phone


was reining. Unsuspected customers expecting a cheap and effective


service, lucky for them, I passed on a pest controller, qualified to


deal with the problems. In a matter of days, I proved how easy it is to


set up in the pest control business. There's low barriers to entering in


pest control. My concern is those people untrained and unlpsed and


unregulated and uninsured, are going in people's houses and could


potentially cause serious problems around health issues, up to and


including something that could be lethal. I got the van, I know I can


get the customers. Now, I'm going in search of the chemicals the pest


controllers use. Some of them are incredibly dangerous. And as a


cowboy, I shouldn't be able to get hold of them. The most dangerous on


sale is in the same class as arsenic and strychnine. It is


called aluminium phosphide. It is illegal to sell it to someone


untrained like me. It is used to gas rats. We went under cover to


test how well the law is being upheld. They should ask to see my


ID and proof I know how to use this stuff safely. I visited eight shops


Here I was turned away. It was the But at this shop it was a different


Here the salesman asked me lots of I can't show a license, because I


don't have one. He should see some proof I know what I'm doing. But


after giving a false name and address, he sells it to me anyway.


Aluminium phosphide is so dangerous, we're not allowed to transport it,


so we have a pest controller who is qualified to carry it on hand to


take it off us. This is seriously dangerous stuff. Very, very


worrying. This stuff as you can see, it explains everything on here, it


is incredibly dangerous to the environment, it's been known in the


past to actually kill pest controllers who have not handled it


in the long way. Locked out of Here, fewer questions. Again I


She too, appears to be breaking the law. In total, we bought this


poison from three of the eight shops we visited. I can't believe


it. I can't believe it. These people clearly don't realise, what


this stuff is. They, whoever sells this, where we've just been, do not


understand the consequences of what this can do. Just one onity own,


never mind two. It is crazy. Untrained, unlicenseed and


unqualified. There's absolutely no way, that someone like me, should


be getting hold of products as dangerous as this. After visiting a


few shops and answering very few questions, here we are. Tighter


regulations will be up and running by the end of next year, to


preprevent the unlawful selling of product like these. They want to


Of people's homes. The pest control industry is an important one.


Because pest controllers should be our front line of defence against


the bugs and residents that can have a serious impact on public


health. But what happens when the pests fight back? You've always had


rats here. Always had rats here, ever since I've been here and


before. In the countryside, rats come with the territory. But two


years ago, thousands of them nearly cost farmer David Cripps his


livilihood in West Berkshire. How bad it was, at its worst, the rat


problem. There wouldn't have been a building on the farm we wouldn't


have seen a rat in. At that time. We were buying poison, at a fast


rate of knots, and we just weren't killing the rats. What he didn't


know then was his farm was in the middle of an area where rats had


become resistant to the only poisons he was allowed to use.


lowest point was when I found the family of rats living in the poison


bag, and living there quite happily. They were eating a feeding it, and


it was just like giving them Kandy, sweets. The problem began because


of the genetic mutation in a smul number of rats which made them


resistant to poisons, so their population grew. We got the world's


most resistant rat in this part of the world. And inceasingly that


resistance is spreading. Stranger rat reaistance has been found in


areas from Kent to Scotland there. Are three stronger poisons he could


use, but he's banned from putting them outdoors, because of the risk


they poise to wildlife like this Red Kite. The problem is the


resistant rat spread all of the country, and we're in a situation


where you can use the three compounds at the present time


you're not allowed to use. Although their use is controversial, the


Health and Safety Executive is launching a consultation, about


allowing the use of the stronger In the meantime, David's had to


resort to extreme tactics with his war with his rats. This is a


standard, air, 22 rifle, so it is running on 12 roupd and this is a


night scope, which is ideal for the job. He's hireed local pest


controllers, Stephen and Graham to shoot them. It's worst, team of


three guns and the first night it was over 300 we shot. In one night?


In one night. Did that make a dent in the population here? Not for the


first week. Nothing at all. It's taken a long time to get to where


we are now. But with rats the battle is never over. Stephen and


Graham regularly bring their rifles So, resistant rats, rogue pest


controllers and council cutbacks, they could all pose a serious risk


to public health according to some experts. And they want a battle


plan. They are a number of Government departments that have an


interest in public health. Particularly with regard to pest


control. The question is are they being co-ordinated in any shape or


form. My view is no they're not. We don't know what the numbers are. We


don't know whether or not we have the same populations of rodents now


as we did 20 years ago. That data isn't available. Why not? We ought


to be selecting it. - collecting it. We tried to find out who is taking


the lead on pest control and public health. The Department of Health


said it wasn't something for them. So we went to the Health Protection


Agency, who passed us on. To here, the department for the environment,


food and rural affairs, who told us that pest control wasn't really


their problem. So they, like the Department of Health, sent us here,


to the department for communities and local government. They didn't


seem to want to take the lead either. They said, pest control is


a matter for local councils. So, with no-one seemingly at the helm,


and at a time of cutbacks, it is feared we may have to live with


more pestness the future. If the cats can't do anything about it,


and we can't afford it, we have to live with it, and bait our traps


every night and remove the rats every morning As far as public


health pests go, they would be out of control t would take


considerable time and that's the problem of course. None of this is


measureable quickly, it is going to be a long-term approach. If


something will happen, it will be over, three, five, perhaps ten


years. If you hadn't got the rat problem under control, what impact


would it have had on your business? I wouldn't be in business t would


have taken the business, because they would have won. Without a


Rats, bedbugs, cockroaches: pests we may all have to learn to live with more in the future, according to environmental health experts. Budget cuts mean some councils are disbanding their pest control teams while others are now charging for services which had been free. Will this lead to more pests and the diseases they carry?

Panorama goes bug busting with pest controllers, and tests how easy it can be to get into the pest control business.

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