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Metal theft is becoming an increasingly high-profile problem. The Association of Chief Police Officers has estimated that metal theft costs the UK economy approximately £770 million per year. The British Transport Police, which has lead policing responsibility for metal theft, experienced 2,000 incidents in 2010/11 compared with approximately 1,500 in 2009/10. It says that the prevalence of metal theft is closely tied to the price of metals on international markets, which is expected to rise until at least 2015.

Special regulations have applied to scrap metal dealers since at least the late 1800s in order to help tackle the theft of metal. The current legislation is set out in the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964, which places specific controls on scrap metal dealers such as a requirement to register with the local authority.

On 26 January 2012, the Home Secretary Theresa May announced that the Government would be legislating to amend the 1964 Act to prohibit cash payments to purchase scrap metal and to significantly increase the fines for all relevant offences under the Act. These changes have been legislated for in sections 145 to 147 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. It is anticipated that these sections will be commenced in autumn 2012.

The Government subsequently produced a Hand-out Bill setting out proposals to repeal the 1964 Act altogether and replace it with a new regime to regulate the scrap metal trade. This has been taken up by Richard Ottaway, who will take it through the House of Commons as the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill 2012-13. Key features of the Bill include giving local authorities the power to revoke and vary scrap metal dealer licences, requiring sellers of metal to provide personal identification at the point of sale, re-enacting and extending the cash payments ban legislated for in the 2012 Act, and giving the police and local authorities new powers to enter and inspect sites. Please see Library Research Paper 12/39 Scrap Metal Dealers Bill for a full overview.

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