House of Commons Library

Fly-tipping - the illegal dumping of waste

Published Wednesday, June 21, 2017

This Commons Library briefing paper gives a general overview of the extent of the problem of fly-tipping and the powers and responsibilities of the Environment Agency, local authorities and landowners to deal with it. In 2013/14 there was a significant increase in reported cases of fly-tipping across England and incidents increased again in following years.

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Fly-tipping is not the same as littering, which is explained further in the Library Briefing Paper on Litter.

As waste is a devolved issue, this briefing paper focuses on England, unless otherwise specified. Information on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can be provided to Members and their staff on an enquiry by enquiry basis.

What is fly-tipping?

Fly-tipping is the illegal disposal of household, industrial, commercial or other 'controlled' waste without a waste management licence. The waste can be liquid or solid. Controlled waste includes garden refuse and larger domestic items such as fridges or mattresses.

Fly-tipping is a criminal offence pursuant to section 33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (as amended).

How big is the problem?

There was a significant increase in reported cases of fly-tipping on public land in England in 2013/14 and this trend has continued to 2015/16.

The Defra 2013/14 annual statistics of incidents of fly-tipping in England show that local authorities reported around 852,000 cases of fly-tipping in England in 2013/14. This represented an increase of 20% since 2012/13. The Environment Agency dealt with a further 137 large-scale illegal waste dumping incidents.

Defra statistics for 2015/16 show that local authorities reported around 936,000 cases of fly-tipping in England which represents an increase of 4% since 2014/15. In addition, the Environment Agency dealt with a further 125 incidents.

In 2015/16, the estimated cost of clearance of fly-tipping to local authorities in England was nearly £50 million and it costs local authorities in Wales nearly £2 million per year.

Various sources have estimated the cost of fly-tipping on private land as between £50-£150 million a year.

The most common place for fly-tipping to occur in 2015/16 was on highways (50% of the total incidents) and about a third of all incidents consisted of a small van load of material or less. Just over two-thirds of fly-tips in England in 2015/16 were household waste. This was about 628,000 incidents.

Local authorities responsibility

Local authorities are responsible for investigating, clearing and taking appropriate enforcement action in relation to small scale fly-tipping on public land (including public roads and highways within their resonsibility).

Environment Agency responsibility

The Environment Agency is responsible for dealing with larger-scale fly-tipping (more than a lorry load of waste), hazardous waste and fly-tipping by organised gangs.

Private landowner responsibility

On private land, it is the responsibility of the landowner to remove the waste and dispose of it legally. Landowners should ensure that they use an authorised waste carrier to remove the fly-tipped waste.

In October 2009, Defra explained why it is the responsibility of landowners to deal with fly-tipped waste on their land:

In certain circumstances, local authorities and the Environment Agency have powers to require landowners to clear waste from their land. If landowners fail to comply, the local authoritiy and the Environment Agency also have powers to enter the land and clear it, and may seek reimbursement for costs related to this.

The National Fly-Tipping Prevention Group (NFPTG) has published a guide to assist landowners: Tackling Fly-tipping: A guide for landowners and land managers.

Powers available to require the clearance of fly-tipped waste

Local authorities and the Environment Agency have legal powers to require landowners to clear fly-tipped waste from their land. They also have powers to enter the land and clear it, and may seek reimbursement for costs related to this.

What are the penalties for fly-tipping?

Criminal prosecution

Fly-tipping is a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £50,000 or 12 months imprisonment if convicted in a Magistrates' Court. The offence can attract an unlimited fine and up to 5 years imprisonment if convicted in a Crown Court.

In 2015/16, local authorities in England carried out nearly 494,000 enforcement actions at an estimated cost of £16.9 million. Over 98% of fly-tipping incidents in England in 2015/16 resulted in a conviction. The vast majority resulted in a fine. Other outcomes included conditional discharge, community service and 18 instances of custodial sentences.

In addition to fines, those found guilty of fly-tipping may also have to pay legal costs and compensation, which can greatly increase the financial implications of illegal dumping.

For example, in 2010 a firm was fined £95,000 for the illegal dumping of waste; in 2013 two waste criminals were fined more than £80,000 for fly-tipping asbestos waste; and in 2016 an individual was fined £47,000 for allowing waste to be illegally deposited at two different sites.

From July 2014, new sentencing guidelines produced by the Sentencing Council for England and Wales have increased potential fines for serious environmental offences, including fly-tipping.

Seizing property

From 6 May 2015, the Control of Waste (Dealing with Seized Property) (England and Wales) Regulations 2015 have established the procedures which a waste collection authority, the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales must follow if they seize a vehicle or its contets because of the suspected involvement in fly-tipping.

Fixed penalty notices

From 9 May 2016, local authorities in England can issue fixed penalty notices between £150-£400 for small-scale fly-tipping offences pursuant to the Unauthorised Deposit of Waste (Fixed Penalties) Regulations 2016.

In Scotland, fixed penalty notices can be used for any fly-tipping incidences unders section 33A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

Reporting fly-tipping

Regardless of whether land is public or private, if anyone has witnessed or found fly-tipping, they can report it to the relevant authority.

In England and Wales, reports should be made to the local authority for small-scale fly-tipping; or Crimestoppers for large-scale fly-tipping. More information is available on Gov.uk.

In Scotland, reports should be made to Dumb Dumpers.

In Northern Ireland, reports can be made to Crimestoppers or the Northern Ireland Environment Agency's Environmental Crime Unit.

Commons Briefing papers SN05672

Authors: Sara Priestley; Oliver Bennett; Alison Pratt

Topics: Agriculture, Agriculture and environment, Anti-social behaviour, Countryside, Environmental protection, Pollution, Waste management

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