BMRA highlights enforcement gap in Scrap Metal Dealers Act

In light of a recent surge in copper thefts across Southern England, the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) has highlighted a “significant enforcement gap” in the Scrap Metal Dealers Act (SMDA) of 2013.  

The BMRA’s warning follows police alerts regarding the heightened incidence of copper thefts, which they link to organised crime groups exploiting the lack of oversight. A report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on metal, stone and heritage crime revealed that metal theft now costs the UK economy half a billion pounds annually. The report notes that since 2013, the economic impact of metal theft has reached £4.3 billion. 

According to the APPG, up to 60 organised crime groups are actively involved in metal theft, contributing to a rise in such crimes. For instance, catalytic converter thefts increased from 10,049 in 2013 to 27,195 in 2022, a 170% rise. Thefts of lead also saw an 8% increase over the same period. 


Antonia Grey, head of policy and public affairs at the BMRA, said: The increase in the number of copper thefts over recent weeks is being driven in part by the rise in the price of copper.  However, it is also a result of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act (SMDA) 2013 not being enforced.  

“The SMDA makes it illegal to pay cash for scrap and requires all dealers to undertake enhanced ID checks when purchasing metal for recycling. The Act also requires the dealers to be licensed with their local authority. However, since the Act was introduced, the levels of enforcement have dropped dramatically seeing operators fall out of licensing and pay cash for scrap with impunity.” 

In 2022, one unnamed organisation alone reported 334 incidents of cable theft, resulting in £5.3 million in losses and disruptions for commuters, who faced 72,000 minutes (50 days) of delays due to stolen railway signalling or overhead cables containing copper. There were 229 prosecutions for scrap metal dealer offences between 2018 and 2022. 


Earlier this year, the BMRA criticised the Home Office for being “completely disengaged” from the escalating problem and urged local authorities to address the issue more seriously. The association’s recent comments reiterate the need for robust enforcement of existing laws to curb the rise in metal thefts and mitigate their economic and social impacts. 

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