Government Has Reviewed the Scrap Metal Dealers Act. Now What?

By Mark Harrison FSA, Head of Heritage Crime and Policing Advice, Historic England

In December 2017 the Secretary of State for the Home Department presented the findings of the Review of the Scrap Metal Dealers' Act 2013. The act was introduced as part of a package of measures designed to address the ever-increasing levels of metal theft. As part of the review process, Historic England and other interested groups and organisations were invited to provide commentary on four specific points:

  • Whether the act has been successful in providing a robust, modern, and comprehensive regulatory regime for the metal recycling sector in order to tackle the trade in stolen metal
  • Whether it is appropriate to retain or repeal the act or any of its provisions
  • Whether the requirements relating to licences and the national registers set out in the act have helped to achieve the act's objectives
  • The extent to which other requirements in the act have helped to achieve the act's objective. Requirements such as that to verify the identity of those from whom scrap metal dealers receive scrap metal; that dealers must maintain appropriate records of all transactions; and the prohibition on dealers paying for scrap metal by cash.
Man with grey hair wearing suit and tie standing next to a window in an old stately home, with curtain and window shutter behind him.
Mark Harrison, Head of Heritage Crime and Policing Advice at Historic England © Historic England

The majority of consultees indicated that the act should be retained. However, a number of respondents, including Historic England, highlighted the fact that neither the introduction of the act or the reduction in global metal prices had eliminated the problem of metal theft, in particular those crimes involving protected heritage sites and buildings, such as the theft of lead from church roofs.

In our view this type of criminal behaviour had changed from opportunistic crimes that involve small quantities of metal to serious and organised criminality, which would often result in the loss of an entire roof. In summary, fewer crimes, but with an increased impact on victims and communities.

Red iron post box in Edwardian style mounted in a brick pillar.
In our view, criminal behaviour has changed from opportunistic crimes that involve small quantities of metal such as this Edwardian post box, to serious and organised criminality, resulting in the loss of entire roofs © Historic England

It was good to see that the review specifically highlighted the impact of metal theft in the context of 'affecting the nation's heritage assets, including the theft of lead from church roofs and other thefts from buildings and sites of community and heritage value.' [1 ]

The Home Office has indicated a willingness to work with the police-led National Metal Theft Working Group, local authorities, Historic England, other partnership bodies and organisations in an effort to 'understand the nature and scale of these crimes and how best to respond to them, and to prevent them from happening in the first place.' [1 ]

The Government has under-pinned their commitment to tackling heritage crime and 'the disproportionate impact that the theft of heritage assets can have on victims and the community. This includes heritage metal, but can also include thefts involving other materials.' [2 ]

Historic England recognises this is a challenging period for the Government to legislate further on this area at the present. It's heartening that the Home Office has shown willingness and enthusiasm to work to 'identify whether there is more to be done within the existing legislation to address some or all of these issues.' [2 ]

Since the introduction of the act a range of activities and interventions have been developed and integrated in partnership prevention and enforcement programmes. Examples include:

  • The introduction of 'Operation Crucible' the national campaign to tackle the theft of heritage metals
  • Preparation of the Theft of Heritage Metal Strategy (forthcoming)
  • Protective Marking Scheme for Marine Sites (forthcoming)
  • Heritage Metal Identification Guide for law enforcement, scrap and recycling professionals (forthcoming)
  • Review of Historic England Heritage Guidance Suite (forthcoming)
  • Explore opportunities to highlight heritage status within crime recording processes

References

1. Home Office Review Scrap Metal Dealers' Act 2013 Page 10. Accessed 16 February 2018

2. Home Office Review Scrap Metal Dealers' Act 2013 Page 11. Accessed 16 February 2018

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