CHILDREN as young as one in Hampshire will be fined for overdue library books in a controversial move, branded a “reading tax” by critics.

Book borrowers face a raft of new and increased charges from next month in an attempt to rake in an extra £30,000.

Currently children’s books can be returned late without any financial penalties but fines which were dropped in 2005 to encourage use of libraries are to be reintroduced.

Under the new system, youngsters who return books after the four-week loan period will be fined 5p per day for each overdue item up to a maximum 40p per book.

Select committee councillors at Hampshire even went further than officers suggested, extending the penalty to library users under five despite a recommendation they be excluded.

There were 33,513 “long overdue” children’s books when the stock was last surveyed in 2010, according to a council report.

County chiefs say the fines will encourage the prompt return of books so there are more items on library shelves for others to borrow while also raising revenue.

But Desmond Clarke, a national library campaigner, said the local authority should be doing everything it can to encourage reading among children.

He said: “This is just a backdoor way to raise more money. I think it is very sad that the council is imposing fines for overdue children’s books.

“All the evidence is that children who read a lot do better in school and are more successful in life.”

But Councillor Keith House, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition group on the county council, said: “Charging late fees for children is a reading tax. This all covers up the more amazing fact that the county has lost 30,000 books in recent years.

“The council should concentrate on tracking down these rather than discouraging children reading.”

But Councillor Keith Chapman, executive member for culture and recreation, said the move was aimed at encouraging children and their parents to bring books back for other borrowers to enjoy. He added: “There are currently over 33,000 children’s books, which are long overdue, sitting in people’s homes. This is a huge loss for the county’s library service as well as other borrowers.

“We will be informing customers well in advance of the changes, as well as collecting borrowers’ email addresses to send out reminders that their books are due back in two days before they incur a charge.”

There are no plans to increase library fines for adults – currently 15p per item per day and already at the “higher end of the spectrum”

say council managers.

Children living in Southampton are not fined for the late return of books, up to the age of 18 Fines on overdue books for adult readers are the second largest source of income for the county library service, raising £286,800 last year.