New UK powers to curb illegal scrap metal trade
Scrap metal dealers in England and Wales will be forbidden from today for paying cash for scrap metal in a bid to curb a multimillion pound racket that has seen sculptures stolen, cemeteries raided and church roofs stripped.
Police will have new powers to raid scrapyards, while illegal traders will face fines of up to £5,000 under the changes to be brought in by the home office to curb theft, which, according to police, costs the United Kingdom £770 million annually.
Explaining the need for changes, the home office said: “Cash transactions for scrap metal are often completed without any proof of personal identification or proof that the individual legitimately owns the metal being sold.
“This leads to anonymous, low-risk transactions for those individuals who steal metal. In addition, the widespread use of cash facilitates poor record-keeping by the metal recycling industry and can support tax evasion activity.”
Aside from the desecration of monuments, thieves have caused major disruptions to railway traffic and electricity supplies, when they tried to rip out copper wiring – sometimes at the cost of their own lives.
A major police campaign this year has cut the number of thefts of cable from railways in half, though the number still runs to 1,300 a year.
The new rules will cover all scrap dealers already liable to the scrap metal dealers Act, 1964, regardless of whether or not they are registered with their local authority. Trading without a registration is already a criminal offence.
Dealers will have to keep more detailed records to be able to link, to the satisfaction of local authority inspectors, particular pieces of scrap metal to individual payments.
Last February, the home office said the widespread availability of valuable metals such as copper and lead, which could be traded anonymously, had led to 7,000 crimes a month in England and Wales.
The home office believes tighter rules could increase tax revenues from dealers. The British Metals Recycling Association estimates “two-thirds of transactions are currently completed without cash”.