'What a load of rubbish!' - Fly-tipping on private land
Fly-tipping is a crime that has recently seen a significant increase in reported cases as noted by the House of Commons in their June 2017 briefing paper on the issue. The scale of the problem, which causes large environmental, social and financial effects, is of grave concern for private landowners. As more incidents of illegal waste tipping and storage are reported, this article acts as an overview of the offence of fly-tipping, the remedies available to private landowners and the preventative measures that can be taken.
What is fly-tipping?
Fly-tipping can defined as the illegal disposal of household, industrial, commercial or other 'controlled' waste without a waste management licence. It is a criminal activity to fly-tip and in doing so can:
- Cause serious pollution to the environment
- May be of risk to human health
- Harm wildlife and farm animals
- Blight the rural landscape
- Cost landowners an estimated £50 - £150 million each year to clear
- Undermine legitimate waste management companies.
There are a number of motives that spur on fly-tippers to commit the crime such as financial gain or saving, insufficient waste disposal facilities available and a lack of awareness or consideration for the consequences and implications of their actions.
Penalties – Section 33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990
Established in the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the penalties for fly-tipping committed on or after 12 March 2015 make fly-tipping a criminal offence punishable by an unlimited fine or up to 12 months imprisonment if convicted in a Magistrates' Court and an unlimited fine and up to five years imprisonment if convicted in a Crown Court.
Remedies available to private landowners
Although the fact that prosecuted fly-tippers will be liable to fines and custodial sentences may please some private landowners and indeed these penalties do serve as a deterrent to potential fly-tippers, landowners will still want to know what remedies are available to them. If a successful prosecution is brought against a fly-tipper, the private landowner may be able to pursue a civil claim against the fly-tipper to compensate the costs involved in removing the waste from the land.
Responsibilities of private landowners
It is the responsibility of private landowners to remove fly-tipped waste and dispose of it legally. It will be of little comfort to these landowners to hear that the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' ("Defra") reasoning for exempting local authorities of responsibility is because fly-tippers would not pay the costs of legitimate waste disposal if they knew they could fly-tip and the local tax payer would cover the clearance costs. Defra say that placing an obligation on local authorities to remove illegal waste from private land would therefore encourage illegal dumping rather than tackle the problem.
Preventative measures landowners can take
Some landowners are required to provide access to their land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which leaves them vulnerable to fly-tipping. This makes employing preventative measures difficult for landowners as they are somewhat restricted in the actions they can take. However, the National Fly-tipping Prevention Group (NFTPG) has published a guide for private landowners which lists the following physical improvements that can be made as a deterrent against fly-tipping:
- Installing gates and barriers such as boulders or bunds but making sure that public rights of way are not blocked
- Closing and locking gates when not in use
- Improving visibility so that fly-tippers are not able to hide and will be exposed when committing the office
- Install or improve signage, lighting and CCTV at vulnerable areas.
Landowners should also check their property insurance to ensure they are covered for fly-tipping related incidents and if they are not sufficiently covered seek out insurance cover to mitigate the costs of illegal waste disposal.