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What is fly tipping?

Fly-tipping is the illegal disposal of household, industrial, commercial or other ‘controlled’ waste. The waste can be liquid or solid; controlled waste includes garden refuse and larger domestic items such as fridges and mattresses.

Fly-tipping is not the same as littering. Littering is commonly assumed to include materials, often associated with smoking, eating and drinking. More information on litter can be found in the Library Briefing Paper on Litter.

How big is the problem?

The most recent Government Fly-tipping statistics for England, 2020/21 show that:

  • For the 2020/21 year, local authorities in England dealt with 1.13 million fly-tipping incidents, an increase of 16% from the 980,000 reported in 2019/20.
  • As in the previous year, just under two thirds (65%) of fly-tips involved household waste. Total incidents involving household waste were 737,000 in 2020/21, an increase of 16% from 635,000 incidents in 2019/20.

Responsibility for fly tipping and powers to require clearance

  • Local authorities are responsible for investigating, clearing and taking appropriate enforcement action in relation to small scale fly-tipping on public land.
  • In England the Environment Agency is responsible for dealing with larger-scale fly-tipping (more than a lorry load), hazardous waste and fly-tipping by organised gangs.
  • On private land, it is normally the responsibility of the landowner to remove the 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 it. 

Penalties for fly-tipping

There is currently no minimum fine set out in law for unlawfully depositing waste under Section 33 of the Environmental Protection Act. Sentencing in individual cases is a matter for the independent courts. There are also a number of other possible penalties, including fixed penalty notices and having a vehicle seized. Householders can be fined up to £400 if they pass their waste to an unlicensed waste carrier which is subsequently fly-tipped.

Concern about costs to private landowners

Concern has been raised about the costs involved to private landowners of clearing fly tipped waste from their land and several campaigns have been launched calling for change in this area.

Government plans for reform

The Government’s December 2018 Resources and Waste Strategy committed to publishing a web-based fly-tipping toolkit to help tackle the issue. There are also provisions in the Environment Act 2021 to enable the mandatory electronic tracking of waste and the Government consulted on how this would work in January 2022. The Government has also published a technical consultation on changes to allow householders to dispose of DIY waste at household waste recycling centres free of charge. At present some local authorities charge for this service and others do not. The aim of this change is to reduce the potential risk of fly-tipping, littering and backyard burning which “create additional costs for local authorities and causes environmental issues.”

The Scottish Government published a Consultation on National Litter and Flytipping Strategy in December 2021, proposing further changes and the Welsh Government published a consultation, Litter and fly-tipping prevention plan for Wales, in 28 January 2021. A summary of responses was published in March 2022, Litter and fly-tipping prevention plan for Wales: summary of responses. In it the Welsh Government confirmed that it would include litter and fly-tipping together within a single, strategic plan. Work will also be undertaken to “identify how best to support enforcement action for fly-tipping offences committed on private and common land.”

Scope of this paper

Waste is a devolved issue. While this briefing paper focuses on England, it does provide links to further information in the devolved nations. Information on other UK countries can also be provided to Members and their staff on a request basis.

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