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Industry welcomes new dealer penalties to combat scrap metal theft

Image CC credit West Midlands Police photographed in February 2012 as their Sandwell Metal Theft team visited scrap metal merchants to deter metal theft and educate staff about the tell-tale signs of stolen materials

From today, 3 December, metal dealers will no longer be able to trade in cash and will face tougher sanctions for rogue trading. The new measures have been welcomed by industry, which has suffered at the hands of professional thieves who have seen illegal metal dealing as easy-pickings and have targeted homes, businesses, churches as well as essential phone and electrical cabling, causing  widespread inconvenience and extensive damage estimated to cost the UK at least £220 million a year.

The new legislative changes will remove the ‘no questions asked’ cash payments, which have allowed unscrupulous traders to evade checks; increase financial penalties – illegal traders will now face fines of up to £5,000 – and give police new powers of entry to tackle illegal trading in metal yard.

Zurich, one of the largest UK property insurers, has found that theft of metal from empty properties has lead to a 2,500% increase in the cost of these types of insurance claims, to over £25,000, since 2004.

The insurer notes that it is the damage caused by thieves attempting to get to the metal which is proving the biggest problem for property owners. The insurer, Zurich, regularly sees metal theft claims where the damage caused is approaching 20% of the total value of the whole property.

Ian Parker, Zurich Real Estate business manager, said: “While any theft or break-in can be infuriating, it’s the damage caused by thieves trying to get to the metal which creates major problems for property owners. We have seen cases where theft of cabling has disrupted asbestos in ceilings meaning the whole lot then needs to be professionally removed.

“The removal of pipes can lead to the escape of water, which might mean anything from a small leak to major flooding. If this goes unnoticed for sometime the building can become saturated. This can affect the electrics, rot flooring and will also take longer to dry-out.”

English Heritage welcomed the new measures, which have come in to force in England and Wales today. The body’s own research shows that around 6% of all listed buildings were harmed by metal theft last year. That is around 22,000 of the UK’s nationally important historic buildings suffering damage every year from metal theft alone.

Churches and war memorials, it says, are the worst hit. According to the research 14% of churches suffered metal theft in 2011. Ecclesiastical Insurance says it has received some 9,000 claims from churches for metal theft in the last four years alone, at a cost of over £25m. Claims on their policies reached a new high of 2,500 in 2011.

In a speech to the House of Lords, Baroness Andrews, Chair of English Heritage, said: “Heritage crime is not just a financial crime where profits and insurance companies suffer the only loss, although there is often a very significant financial cost as well. This is crime that erases history, threatens the viability of churches, defiles the memory of our war heroes and melts away our great art and artefacts.”

Furthermore, in June this year, a survey of local authorities by the Local Government Association (LGA) survey revealed the cost to local authorities of metal thefts had soared by an estimated 26 per cent in a single year. One council was left out of pocket by £100,000 in 2010/11.

The LGA’s survey of 157 councils found that metal thefts across England and Wales left a £4.6 million hole in town hall budgets in 2010/11 – an amount equivalent to that spent keeping opening 20 libraries or employing 260 care workers to look after the elderly.

Cllr Mehboob Khan, chair of the LGA’s safer and stronger communities board, commented on the survey results: “This mindless crime is spiralling out of control and has cost councils millions of pounds per year replacing memorial plaques, manhole covers, metal gullies, children’s playground equipment, street signs and lead from schools, council offices and crematoriums.”

Crime prevention minister, Jeremy Browne, said: “Metal theft affects everyone and the impact on our communities is immense. From loss of power to homes and disruption in rail services to desecrated war memorials, all our lives are blighted by this national problem.

‘This is why the government is acting to tackle it. These measures are designed to reform the industry to support legitimate dealers and tighten the net around those who flout the rules.”


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