Councils must enforce new licences for scrap

Following the implementation of the 2013 Scrap Metal Dealers Act, BMRA's Ian Hetherington explains how the new legislation provides the opportunity to clamp down on criminal activity if vigorously enforced.

The new Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act 2013 was implemented on 1 October 2013 and became enforceable from 1 December across England and Wales, replacing the outdated legislation from 1964. It will limit the potential outlets for stolen metal, expose unscrupulous dealers and enable the authorities to shut down illegal operators who undermine the UK’s £5 billion metals recycling industry.  

A new licensing system has been set up by local authorities for scrap metal dealers operating in their area which replaces the discredited registration system. Previously registered site-based and mobile scrap dealers should have applied for a licence from their council by October 15 2013 in order to continue operating legally. 

Each licensing authority has the power to reject, revise and revoke licences. Processing applications involves checking the background and suitability of all applicants to determine whether they are fit to operate as a scrap metal dealer or not. For example, having a criminal record may result in an application being refused. 

Establishing and running a new scrap metal licensing scheme from scratch in just a few months has been a huge challenge for local authorities and was not helped by the delayed publication of official guidance from the government. We have estimated that as many as 10,000 licences could be issued across England and Wales to both site-based metal recyclers and mobile collectors, many of whom will require a licence for each of the areas in which they collect.  

After a lot of hard work, most local authorities had their new licensing procedures up and running by the end of October and for that they should be applauded. A number have been unable to process applications for licences in the limited timeframe set out by the government (from October 1 until December 2013). However, licences should be processed and issued to scrap metal dealers by the end of January which is when active enforcement is expected to start. 

Individual local authorities have set a fee for scrap metal dealers to apply for a licence in order to cover the costs of processing applications and enforcing the licensing provisions. There have been a number of complaints about the variety of fee levels from council to council and we will be paying a lot of attention to the ability of licensing authorities to discharge their responsibilities under the Act in relation to the fees that have been set by them. 


Under the new Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act, there are higher penalties for breaking the law such as operating without a licence, not recording the identity of scrap metal suppliers or paying in cash. It will also be easier for police officers to enter and inspect unlicensed premises. However, the legislation will only achieve its objectives of protecting legitimate businesses, ridding the industry of unscrupulous dealers and reducing metal theft if it is enforced effectively. 

The BMRA hopes to see the active enforcement of the Act in 2014 and we will work closely with the police and councils to help them. The legislation can only be robustly enforced if there are sufficient resources for local authorities and the police to carry this out. The effective enforcement of the new Act comes into question when decreased budgets and the decline in the focus on metal theft are taken into account. 

Figures recently released by the Home Office from police forces in England and Wales show a steady decline in metal theft offences in 2012/13 and a 40% fall between April to June 2012 and January to March 2013. These figures demonstrate that coordinated and effective enforcement through initiatives such as the National Metal Theft Taskforce can be effective at reducing metal related crime. Unfortunately, funding for the Taskforce will be withdrawn in March and it will be disbanded. 

If adequate resources are not committed by the police and councils to enforce the Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act properly now, metal theft will increase in the long term and the authorities will be unable to cope. Therefore, the BMRA will continue to call for the Act’s vigorous enforcement. 

Ian Hetherington is director general of the British Metals Recycling Association.

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