The Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act 2013, which comes into force in England and Wales today, will replace the legislation governing the recycling of metals for the first time in nearly half a century.

The scrap metal sector contributes £5.6bn to the UK economy but has been blighted in recent years by headlines about metal theft and the ease with which stolen materials can be sold.

Metal theft cost the Church of England £10m as the number of incidents more than trebled in certain areas in 2011.

Research from English Heritage revealed that around 70,000 listed buildings were physically harmed by crime with the demand for valuable metals, particularly copper and lead, having turned what was once a minor nuisance into a major problem for property owners. In all, the thefts are now thought to be costing £770m a year.

The new Act, which will replace the 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act, will provide tighter licensing for scrap metal dealers.

All site-based and mobile scrap dealers, including motor salvage operators, must obtain a licence from their local authority in order to continue operating legally. In turn, the licensing authority will check the criminal records and suitability of applicants to operate as a scrap metal dealer.

Last year’s ban on cash payments for scrap metal will also be extended to all metal dealers including traditional scrap yards, mobile collectors and motor vehicle salvage operators.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act made it an offence to buy scrap metal for cash or by any form of payment other than a crossed cheque or electronic money transfer.

British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) director general, Ian Hetherington, said the change in law marks progress in the fight against metal theft because it will limit the potential outlets for stolen metal and expose unscrupulous dealers who act as conduits for stolen metal.

Energy Networks Association (ENA) chief executive David Smith described the new laws as “a big step towards addressing a crime which risks the lives of innocent people and costs millions of pounds”. He added: “The networks will continue to work with local authorities and police to make their assets more secure to aid the enforcement of these new laws.”

Under the new act, dealers must verify and record the identity of anyone they buy scrap metal from. This will help to further discourage thieves who will be asked to produce photographic identification when seeking to sell stolen metal. Plus, it will be easier for police officers to enter and inspect unlicensed premises backed up by increased penalties for breaking the law such as higher fines and sentences.

The new Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act was presented as a Private Members’ Bill by MP Richard Ottaway in 2012 and is the result of a successful partnership between industry and parliament. The act will be implemented in England and Wales on 1 October and will be enforceable from 1 December 2013.

“The industry has led the way in developing sophisticated materials recycling processes and continues to do so by diverting waste metal away from landfill,” said Hetherington. “The implementation of the new Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act is a watershed moment for the industry; it’s an opportunity to rid the industry of the ‘Steptoe and Son’ stereotype once and for all.”

David Burrows

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