As reported in The Guardian recently, a freedom of information request by the Liberal Democrats has revealed that just 3.6% of complaints concerning fly-tipping and other environmental damage in 2019 resulted in penalties for the perpetrators.
Fly-tipping is the only crime where the victims (private landowners) have a legal responsibility to dispose of the waste. Under current legislation, landowners can be prosecuted if they fail to remove fly-tipped waste quickly enough.
Local authorities are responsible for investigating and clearing up smaller scale fly-tipping on public land and may investigate incidents on private land. However, landowners are still responsible for clearing fly-tipped waste on private land.
In certain circumstances, local authorities and the Environment Agency/Natural Resource Wales have powers to require occupiers and landowners to remove waste from their land. If landowners fail to comply, the local authority and the Environment Agency/Natural Resource Wales have powers to enter the land and clear it, and may seek reimbursement for costs related to this.
A number of other powers exist to require the removal of illegally deposited waste, including under:
- Town and Country Planning Act 1990, ss 215–219: Local planning authorities have power to serve a notice on the owner and occupier of land to take steps to remedy the condition of the land where that land is affecting the amenity of a part of their area, or of an adjoining area.
- Public Health Act 1961, s 34: Local authorities have power to remove any accumulation of rubbish that is in the open air and that it considers is seriously detrimental to the amenities of the neighbourhood. Not less than 28 days before taking any action, the local authority must serve a notice on the owner and occupier of the land stating the steps which they propose to take.
Penalties for fly-tipping
Defra says that tackling fly-tipping “remains a priority”. It has strengthened local authorities’ enforcement powers through fixed-penalty notices and by making it easier for vehicles suspected of being used for fly-tipping to be stopped, searched and seized.
Householders whose waste ends up being fly-tipped face fines of up to £400. The government introduced new sentencing guidelines in 2014, with a maximum £50,000 fine or 12 months in prison for offenders, if dealt with by a Magistrates’ court. If a case is referred to a Crown court, the maximum penalty is imprisonment for up to five years, or a potentially unlimited fine.
What to do if it happens to you
Fly-tipping is an illegal waste crime. If you see a fly-tipping incident in progress, call 999 immediately. Do not approach the offenders, but note down how many people are involved, their descriptions and information about any vehicles being used, including the makes, colours, and registration numbers. If it is safe, take photographs.
Farmers can also use the NFU’s Rural Crime Reporting Line, in partnership with Crimestoppers, to provide information about fly-tipping by calling 0800 783 0137 or visiting the dedicated website at forms.theiline.co.uk/ruralcrimereportingline.
The National Fly-Tipping Prevention Group (NFTPG) recommends the following steps if you find waste dumped on your land:
- Exercise caution. Some fly-tipped waste can be hazardous. Do not open bags or drums and be aware that piles of soil may be contaminated or hide dangerous material.
- Record as many details as possible about the waste and when you found it. If possible take a photograph of the waste.
- Report the incident – do not move the waste or remove any evidence from it until the authorities have been notified.
- Secure the waste so that it cannot be interfered with or added to.
- Remember that fly-tippers are doing something illegal – they are unlikely to welcome people observing them. Do not put yourself at risk – if fly-tipping is in progress, call 999.
- When arranging for disposal, ensure that you use a registered waste carrier, as if it is dumped elsewhere you could be held responsible and face an unlimited fine.
- Ensure that you get documentation which includes the details of the waste and who is taking it away.
- If you take the waste to a licensed waste site yourself, make sure you are registered as a waste carrier.
- If the waste is hazardous then make sure that it is being carried and disposed of by those licensed to deal with hazardous waste.
- Keep full details of your clearance and disposal costs. Successful prosecution can mean that your costs incurred for the removal of the waste can also be recovered.
You should also contact your local authority and the Environment Agency (EA) – call 0800 80 70 60 – to see if they can offer any help and investigate an incident. You must contact the EA under certain circumstances: if the illegally dumped waste is more than 20 tonnes (about 20cu m); more than 5cu m of fibrous asbestos; more than 75 litres of potentially hazardous waste in drums or containers; or possibly linked to criminal business activity or rural crime.
Top tips to prevent fly-tipping
There are a number of measures farmers and landowners can take to prevent fly-tipping on their land, although it must be acknowledged that stopping a determined waste criminal is very difficult. The National Fly-tipping Prevention Group gives the following tips:
- Restrict access to your land with the installation of gates or barriers, as an example strategically placed earth bunds, tree trunks and boulders.
- Better site management – keep areas tidy and remove fly-tipped waste quickly. Ensure gates are closed and, if possible, locked when not in use.
- Deterrence – this can be in the form of lighting, signage, CCTV or dummy CCTV cameras, security patrols.
- Swiftly clear any waste to remove encouragement for others to add to it.
- Work with others including your neighbours, local businesses and any existing partnerships.
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Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created. Note that the information was accurate at the time of publication but laws may have since changed.