Some 29 councils across the UK have shut down their pest control services over the past two years as part of a drive to save money, according to a TV investigation aired this evening.
Local authorities carried out more than 700,000 jobs relating to pests like rats and cockroaches in the UK last year, but they are not legally obliged to provide the service, making it a candidate for cuts as councils seek to absorb 28% reductions in central government funding over four years.
The BBC's Panorama found evidence that the removal of publicly-funded pest control has led to some people seeking to handle the problem themselves, rather than pay private companies fees of as much as £100 for an initial call-out.
Simon Forrester, chief executive of the British Pest Control Association, said that councils provide a "safety net for society" and that if services are withdrawn, the most vulnerable people will be hit. "Many people who can't afford pest control need to find some sort of support," he said. "They're often the ones who have the worst pest problems where they live."
Unless dealt with, infestations can create a health risk to humans, said Mr Forrester. "We're talking about illnesses like with rat infestations, Weil's disease, which is Leptospirosis, a particularly nasty illness," he told the programme. "We're looking at the transfer of disease through rats coming up through sewers and into people's houses."
Cheryl Riseden and her husband, both registered disabled, told the programme that they had resorted to setting traps themselves because they were unable to pay for private pest controllers. "If the council can't do anything about it and we can't afford it, we're just going to have to live with it," said Mrs Riseden. "We're just going to have to go out and bait our traps every night, and remove the rats every morning."
The mother-of-two, of St Austell, Cornwall, told Panorama that she had to check the garden for rats before allowing her children to play there.
Pest controller Chris Woodard said that people were putting themselves and wild animals at risk by laying poison for rats. He told the programme: "Most people I see putting it down put it down in a totally inappropriate manner - thereby poisoning wildlife and doing themselves some harm."
A Government spokesman said: "Regular rubbish collections help reduce instances of pests, and the Government is working to support comprehensive weekly rubbish and recycling collections with a new £250 million fund.
"Given councils account for a quarter of all public spending, it is vital they play their part in tackling the budget deficit inherited from the last administration. However, there are many ways for councils to make sensible savings rather than the lazy option of introducing charges. Councils can protect frontline services through better procurement, greater transparency and sharing back office services."