A review into the Scrap Metal Dealers Act has found the number of thefts fell by more than three quarters in 4 years, as the Home Office announced that it will retain the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 rather than “strengthen” it.
Metal theft has fallen by more than three quarters in 4 years following action by government to tackle a spike in these crimes, according to a review by the Home Office.
A review into the Scrap Metal Dealers Act, which brought in what the Home Office calls “tough measures to crack down on the trade in stolen metal”, has revealed the number of thefts has dropped from nearly 62,000 per year in 2012/13 to around 16,000 in 2015/16, potentially saving the UK economy hundreds of millions of pounds.
Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics showed police-recorded metal thefts in England and Wales fell to fewer than 13,000 in 2016/17.
“I am pleased the Act continues to be a powerful weapon against this form of criminality and the robust measures put in place in 2013 are working to regulate the industry and deter people from stealing metal or dealing with stolen scrap metal”
At its peak, metal theft was estimated to cost the economy more than £220m per year, prompting the introduction of strict new licensing requirements for scrap metal dealers, identity checks for those selling scrap metal and the creation of a new offence for dealers to purchase scrap metal for cash.
Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Victoria Atkins, said: “Metal thefts can have a hugely negative impact on victims and the wider community, particularly when items which form part of our nation’s heritage such as war memorials, the statues in our parks and town centres, or other sites of religious, community or cultural value are callously targeted.
“I am pleased the Act continues to be a powerful weapon against this form of criminality and the robust measures put in place in 2013 are working to regulate the industry and deter people from stealing metal or dealing with stolen scrap metal.
“We will continue to work with a range of partners to identify whether more can be done to prevent these crimes from occurring and ensure that those involved are brought to justice.”
The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 was a response to an increase in metal theft between 2009 and 2011. The sectors severely affected by this crime included, power, transport and telecommunications – and the security of our national infrastructure was under threat – but religious sites and churches were also frequently targeted with metal stolen from rooves and altars.
The purpose of the Act was to enforce stricter regulations of the metal recycling sector to make it more difficult to dispose of stolen metal and reverse the upward trend in thefts.
Despite the report of falling figures, The British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) says metal theft is on the rise.
BMRA said it is “dismayed” by the news that the Home Office has chosen not to “strengthen the SMDA or fund its proper enforcement”.
BMRA said it is further dismayed that, despite the “rising incidents of metal theft”, it claims, the Home Office has chosen not to allocate funds to enforce the Act through the reestablishment of the Metal Theft Taskforce.
“Instead, Government has chosen to take the path of least resistance,” it says, “thereby ignoring the pleas by the many victims of crime to strengthen the Act. Since the review was announced, we have repeatedly warned that, as metal prices recover, the reports of metal theft will rise – and they have done, significantly.”
When the Review was announced, while BMRA supported the move to retain the Act and lobbied Government to both further strengthen and enforce the Act.
The measures it requested included:
- Creating disincentives to receive cash payments by creating a new offence of receiving cash for scrap metal.
- Expanding police powers to inspect itinerant collectors, more specifically given them the power to inspect vehicles used for the purpose of carrying on business as a mobile collector.
- Creating a more rigorous local authority licensing regime to ensure transparency and consistency by: Harmonising licensing renewals procedure; Improving application process; and, strengthening the requirement for local authorities to provide data.
“Having ignored these requests for the Act to be amended, and those made by other key stakeholders, the Home Office must be prepared to be held accountable for soaring metal theft figures, and any resulting injuries to members of the public,” it says.
“Nevertheless, BMRA will gladly take up the Home Office’s offer to help it identify what can be done within the existing legislation to address the serious shortcomings of the SMDA 2013.”