New regulations have come into effect in England and Wales to target rogue traders who buy and sell scrap metal.
Metal theft is estimated to cost the UK around £220 million a year and causes huge disruption and anguish as railways, power stations and churches are regularly targeted by unscrupulous thieves.
From 1 October all scrap metal dealers have to apply for a licence from their local council to operate under the new rules laid out in the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013. This is designed to establish a single national publicly-available register of all scrap metal dealers, to be maintained by the Environment Agency.
The council will have the power to refuse licences, or revoke or suspend them if the regulations are breached. Firms have until 15 October to apply for a temporary licence to cover the interim period until full applications are processed. Enforcement of the new regulations will come into force on 1 December.
Under the new scrap metal laws, all dealers must keep detailed records of who they buy from and verify the name and address of the seller at the point of sale.
The Act extends the existing banning of cash payments for scrap metal, with the ban on trading in cash extended to include payments to mobile collectors. Magistrates will be able to issue fines of up to £5,000 on rogue dealers who buy and sell scrap metal for cash.
Crime Prevention Minister Jeremy Brown said: “Metal theft costs the UK economy around £220 million a year and it has a huge impact on our communities – from disrupted rail services to desecrated war memorials and damaged church roofs.
“Our changes, including increasing financial penalties and banning cash payments, have already helped slash metal theft across the UK.
“This new legislation will help tighten the net around rogue dealers who flout the rules and wilfully purchase stolen metal, while reforming the system to support legitimate businesses.”
Deputy Chief Constable Paul Crowther from British Transport Police (BTP) claimed the new laws marked a “very significant milestone” in the fight against metal thieves and will protect law-abiding recyclers from “unscrupulous traders”.
“It is vital that scrap metal traders are aware of the changes, including the new licensing regulations,” he added.
“Metal thieves cause misery for thousands of people, and today’s changes signal the introduction of a more robust licensing scheme to be monitored by local authorities.”
The rail industry has welcomed the introduction of the new regulations. In the financial year 2013/14, there were a reported 95 incidents of cable theft which caused 30,928 minutes of delays and an estimated compensation cost of £1,053,649.
Gary Cooper, director of operations and engineering at the Association of Train Operating Companies said: “The Scrap Metal Dealers Act is excellent progress in the fight against cable thieves, whose actions cause delays and disruption for thousands of our customers.”