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Fly Tipping Laws and Penalties

The illegal dumping or abandoning of waste litter is an offence. It can result in imprisonment and fines handed out by district councils.

FLY TIPPING RULES UK: The authorities are responsible for keeping all relevant land and water clear and safe for public access.

It means that fly tipping laws also apply to the highways, beaches, and inland waterways around the United Kingdom.

What is the Legal Definition of Fly Tipping?

What is the Legal Definition of Fly Tipping?

‘The illegal discarding or deposit of waste materials and rubbish products on land or water contrary to the Environmental Protection Act 1990.’

Fly tippers may get prosecuted for illegally dumping any garbage. But, typical and common items that are fly tipped include:

  • Discarded shopping trolleys
  • Unwanted furniture
  • Rubber tyres
  • Black bin liner bags
  • Hazardous liquid and industrial waste
  • Construction materials

The term ‘fly tipping’ is most likely to have originated from an English expression of doing a deed ‘on the fly’. It refers to rushing to achieve something without thinking it through. Thus, being on the move or in a hurry – to reduce the likelihood of getting caught.

Duty of Councils and Authorities

The main councils with litter clearance authorities and a specific duty to keep land clear include:

  • District and county councils
  • Single-tier councils (also called unitary authorities)
  • London borough councils and the Common Council of the City of London
  • The Council of the Isles of Scilly

There are some authorities with responsibilities for litter problems on all, or certain areas, of their own land, such as:

  • Crown authorities
  • Water companies
  • Educational institutions
  • Network Rail and rail and tram operators

Note: The illegal dumping of waste or rubbish is called ‘fly-tipping’. You can report fly-tipping or illegal waste dumping to the local council (or to Crimestoppers).

What is the Maximum Fine for Fly-tipping?

The Environment Agency and local authorities are empowered to deal with fly-tipping offences in the United Kingdom. If you get caught illegally dumping garbage on land or water, the maximum penalties and fines for fly-tipping depend on the legal system used to deal with your prosecution.

You could face a fine up to £50,000 and a prison sentence of 12 months for a summary conviction. Conversely, maximum fines are unlimited with prison terms up to five years if you get convicted in a Crown Court.

Relevant Land Definitions

Council litter authorities must keep ‘relevant’ land clear and safe for public access. It falls under Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA) if the land or water (excluding sewers) is:

  • Open to the air on at least one side.
  • Under their direct control.
  • Publicly accessible (with or without payment).
  • A beach (above the average high water mark).
  • Covered by water (e.g. river, lake, reservoir).

Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have a Code of Practice on litter and refuse. Litter authorities must ‘have regard to’ the regulations on littering and refuse removal from land and waterways. Simply put, unless there are justifiable reasons why not, they must follow all littering rules outlined and follow details that would be considered to be practicable on different types of land by a court of law.

Clearing Highways

Ensuring highways are clean and free of litter or refuse falls on the area councils and according to the Code of Practice on litter and refuse.

Littering Laws

Note: The United Kingdom fly tipping law considers it a criminal offence to knowingly drop litter on any land if it is accessible to the public. This also includes private land.

A magistrates’ court can issue a fine up to £2,500 or a fixed penalty notice (FPN) for the offenders. Individuals can then get prosecuted if they do not pay the fixed penalty notice.

Fixed Penalty Notices

As a rule, fixed penalty notices will get handed out to people who:

  • Leave their rubbish out for collection at the wrong time.
  • Drops litter by accident.
  • Commit cases that are not in the public interest.
  • Offend repeatedly (they are often prosecuted too).

Public Space Protection Orders

A public space protection order (PSPO) is most used by a Council when they are dealing with problems in public spaces (e.g. the control of dogs).

Council PSPO offences also apply to dog owners who do not pick up after their dogs have fouled a public area. The same applies to owners who allow their animals to enter forbidden places (e.g. some playgrounds and park areas).

Litter Abatement Orders

As a rule, keeping publicly-accessible land clean and clear refuse is the responsibility of litter authorities. They can get taken to court for failing to do so. In some cases, the authorities will get an order to pay the costs of the complainant. Even so, an authority will avoid court action if they clear the land within five (5) days of the complaint notification.

The court may also issue a Litter Abatement Order (LAO). It means the litter authority must clear the trash within a specified time frame. Noncompliance with land abatement orders is a criminal offence. It can result in a fine up to £2,500 with extra fines of up to £125 per day if the offence continues after the conviction.

Street Litter Control Notices

A Street Litter Control Notice (SLCN) gives the council power to force businesses to clear rubbish surrounding their premises. Most councils cannot issue new Street Litter Control Notices any longer. But, they must keep a public register of any existing notices while they are in force.

Note: The public can inspect the register without charge. They can also get a copy of the register – but there may be a charge for this service.

Fly-tipped Waste Clearance

The illegal dumping waste on public land is often referred to as small scale fly-tipping. The responsibility for investigating and clearing fly-tipped waste is down to the local council. They can serve notice requiring occupiers or landowners to have fly-tipped waste removed from their land.

Road Cleaning and Clearing

Any time councils clean or clear roads of waste products, they must use signs and barriers to warn approaching traffic. They must also follow instructions on when cleaning can take place – according to the highways authorities. Councils must also apply to the highway authority for a traffic regulation order any time they need to restrict normal traffic flow.

Environment Agency

The Environment Agency deals with large scale fly-tipping incidents. It often involves more than a lorry load of waste, hazardous waste, or fly-tipping by organised gangs. Private land owners are responsible for any enforced clearing of fly-tipped waste from their private land. The offenders may get prosecuted for:

  • Fly-tipping
  • Knowingly causing fly-tipping
  • Knowingly permitting fly-tipping

Refuse Removal from Blocked Roads

Offenders can get fined up to £1,000, if convicted, for leaving anything on the road that could interrupt its use. The council (or the Highways Agency on trunk roads) should remove any road blockage immediately if it is a danger to road users. A notice to remove it within a set time frame should get issued to the owner of the object if it is not causing an immediate danger.

Councils can remove the object and apply to the magistrates’ court for a disposal order or apply to a magistrates’ court for a removal and disposal order if the owner does not remove the object.

Councils Keeping Land Clear

There are other ways that councils use their powers to maintain their land clearing responsibilities. They have the authority to remove abandoned vehicles, confiscate abandoned shopping trolleys, and control public leafleting.

Fly Tipping Legislation in the United Kingdom