Open-access content Thursday 21st February 2013 — updated 1.53pm, Tuesday 5th May 2020
The Scrap Metal Dealers Bill has just passed its final reading and is about to become law. Simon Alderson from VPS explains the impact it could have for FMs in the UK.
22 February 2013
It began life as a private member's bill in June 2012, proposed by Richard Ottoway, MP for Croydon South.
On February 12 this year, the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill passed its third and final reading in the House of Lords. Without any further amendments, the bill is ready to be given Royal Assent and become law, probably before Easter. Its purpose is to curtail the surge of scrap metal theft that has risen sharply over the last decade.
Stealing the limelight
Scrap metal theft is an international problem, increasingly undertaken by members of organised criminal gangs. In January, the Home Office released its figures for its Crimes Against Business survey, which reported 67,000 metal thefts from commercial properties in 2012. Estimates put the monetary cost to the UK as somewhere between £770 million and £1 billion every year.
Why the new bill?
Special regulations have applied to scrap metal dealers since at least the late 1800s in order to help tackle the theft of metal. The current legislation is set out in the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964, which places specific controls on scrap metal dealers, such as a requirement to register with the local authority.
As a trade, scrap metal dealers themselves have often have been victims of these crimes,
but the bill has come about because some dealers are willing to pay cash for scrap metal offered to them by anyone. The government made a key amendment to the 1964 act by prohibiting the purchase of scrap metal through cash payments.
However, the new bill goes much further: under the legislation, dealers will be required to ensure that there is an auditable trail for goods bought. This means that all sellers of metal must provide verifiable ID at point of sale, and the onus is on dealers to record and retain records of each purchase.
Also, the new act provides local authorities and the police with new powers to enter and inspect sites, and to vary and revoke licenses - this latter facility in particular is absent from the current law.
Any individual or organisation that conducts business as a scrap metal dealer must complete an enhanced application process to get a licence; local authorities can refuse unsuitable applicants and can revoke licences. The worst breaches of the act, including trading in cash, failing to keep accurate records of deals, and unlicensed trading, will face unlimited fines.
The definition of a scrap metal dealer will also include motor salvage operators, bringing that licensing scheme within one new scrap metal licensing regime.
Will it work?
It is too early to say how much impact these new powers will have on metal theft. Some indicators have shown a drop in these crimes since the amendment last autumn. However, the prevalence of metal theft is closely tied to the price of metals on international markets, which is expected to rise until at least 2015.
Organisatsions within the sector are monitoring the number of thefts reported in the press closely and, to date, this crime remains a significant issue.
Vacant property risk
Vacant properties are particularly at risk as criminals target them to steal an abundance of copper plumbing, electric cables, generators, boilers and lead roofing. York stone and roof
tiles are also common targets. Consequently, metal theft continues to play a significant
role in the management of vacant properties. Certainly, FMs have been among the first professionals to witness the catastrophic water damage and flooding often caused during the removal of metals, such as when copper pipes from the water or central heating systems are stolen. Often, sadly, the cost of repairs significantly outweighs the actual value of the metals stolen.
Metal theft will continue to be an issue for facilities managers, but it is hoped that the new bill will help assuage the problem. A tougher stance on rule-breaking dealers should, it is hoped, discourage those involved in the transaction of stolen metal.