Scrap Metal Dealers Bill comes into effect

The Scrap Metal Dealers Bill, which officially became law on 28 January this year, has come into effect today (1 October).

The bill, tabled by Richard Ottaway MP, has replaced the ‘outdated’ 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act and put in place a licensing system for scrap metal dealers.

As part of the new law, all site-based and mobile scrap dealers, including motor salvage operators, are required to hold licences in an attempt to clamp down on rogue traders. In turn, the licensing authority will check the criminal records and ‘suitability’ of all applicants, and local authorities and the police will now have the power to revoke licences if they suspect a dealer of illegal activity.

According to the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA), the new legislation will help Britain’s £5 million metals recycling industry to shed its ‘outdated’ image and help foster a ‘positive new era’ for the sector.

The law has been implemented in England and Wales today (1 October), but the enforcement date of the act will be delayed until 1 December 2013.

Bill details

The Home Office estimates that there are around 1,000 metal thefts every week, costing the UK £220 million each year.

Under the new law, operating without a license or breaching the license conditions could result in heavy penalties, with magistrates being able to impose unlimited fines on offenders.

In addition, the bill now means that:

  • an ‘enhanced’ application process for scrap dealers is to come into force;
  • anyone selling scrap metal to a dealer must provide identification at the point of sale, which will then be recorded and retained by the dealer;
  • police will be able to close unlicensed premises through the courts;
  • a single national publicly-available register of all scrap metal dealers will be established;
  • in an attempt to close loopholes, motor salvage operators will be brought under the banner of scrap metal dealers, whilst ‘itinerant’ dealers will no longer be able to deal in cash; and
  • compulsory vehicle and site badging will come into effect.

The bill will also extend last year’s ban on cash payments for scrap metal 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.

‘A watershed moment for the industry’

Speaking of the new bill, Ian Hetherington, Director General of the BRMA, said: “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.

“Metals recycling is a British success story; it contributes £5.6 billion to the economy whilst increasing the UK’s share of the global market for recycled metals. The industry has led the way in developing sophisticated materials recycling processes and continues to do so by diverting waste metal away from landfill.” 

He added: “Metals recycling has become increasingly modern and professional in recent years. There are major metals recycling businesses operating on an international scale in Britain which make a significant contribution to our economy and help the UK reach the EU’s environmental recycling and recovery targets.”

Moreover, the Energy Networks Association (ENA) has welcomed the new law as a ‘big step’ towards addressing ‘costly’ crime and tackling ’disreputable’ scrap recyclers and metal thieves.

David Smith, Chief Executive of ENA, commented: "The tough licensing scheme and the powers for enforcement to stop this mindless and destructive crime will deal a firm blow to those who wish to cut essential supplies to homes and business and risking the lives of innocent people.

"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. ENA will also be hosting a Scottish Parliamentary Metal Theft Summit on 31 October in Holyrood to help inform the development of new laws in Scotland to stop the selling of metal north of the border."

The Metal Theft Summit will hear from organisations, charities, companies, and other victims of metal theft, as well as Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who will set out his hopes for new legislation to be debated during the next Scottish parliament.

Read more on the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill.