Law guide: Complaints and disputes

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Fly-tipping in England and Wales

Fly-tipping is the illegal disposal of waste without a waste management licence and is a wide-ranging offence. It covers dumping of a single black bin bag, up to thousands of tonnes of waste. Fly-tipping can be dangerous, pollutes land and waterways and costs the council tax payer significant amounts of money to clear away. The legislation tackling fly-tipping is complex and can generally be found in the Environmental Protection Act 1990, as amended by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005.

Fly-tipping legislation deals with all matters relating to 'controlled waste'. 'Controlled waste' means household, industrial and commercial waste including:

  • General household waste
  • Larger domestic items, such as fridges and mattresses
  • Garden refuse
  • Commercial waste such as builders' rubble, clinical waste and tyres

Fly-tipping is a criminal offence which is committed if controlled waste is:

  • Deposited, or caused or allowed to be deposited, in a way or place not allowed by a waste management licence
  • Kept or managed in a way that is likely to cause pollution or harm to human health

It is an offence to transport controlled waste without being registered under Section 1 of the Control of Pollution (Amendment) Act 1989. There is also a Fixed Penalty Notice of up to £300 for failure to produce registration documents on request.

Note that employees of businesses who are caught transporting or handling controlled waste for profit in a vehicle without the business being a registered carrier of controlled waste, cannot use the defence that they were acting under their employers' instructions.

The deliberate mis-description of waste and the abuse of the exemptions regime available to people or companies in the waste disposal business are also offences.

In addition, there is an obligation on any producer of waste to make sure that waste is disposed of properly. This extends to an obligation on householders to take reasonable measures to ensure that their waste is disposed of lawfully, by providing it to a local authority or business that has registered itself with the Environmental Agency. When disposing of waste to anyone other than your local authority, you should ask for the waste disposer's 'waste carrier number' which can be checked on the Environment Agencies Public Register. Anyone breaching this obligation could face prosecution and a fine.


The harshness of the penalty for fly-tipping depends on the seriousness of the offence, its impact on the environment and the cost of cleaning and dealing with any resulting pollution.


Householders can face a fine if they do not take reasonable measures to ensure that their waste is lawfully disposed of. Repeated fly-tipping may result in an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) being made against an individual in Scotland and Northern Ireland or an injunction.

A fixed penalty of between £150 and £400 can be made against any householder who fails to comply with a notice issued for failing to properly use the facilities available to them to legally dispose of their waste. This includes failing to follow publicised collection arrangements, leaving waste out on the wrong day and/or at the wrong time or in the wrong receptacle. The local authority will need to ensure that collection arrangements have been well publicised and are reasonable. Most local councils provide waste disposal sites and recycling centres where you can safely and legally dispose of unwanted items.


Minor offences, such as failing to provide required documentation or failure of a small business to register as a waste carrier, may result in a fixed penalty of between £150 and £400.

A breach of a business's duty of care to ensure that its waste is disposed of properly may result in a fine. Repeated offending may result in an ASBO (Scotland or Northern Ireland), an injunction and/or forfeiture of a vehicle to interrupt or prevent the illegal activities of the business (usually done if the driver of the vehicle could not be identified) and/or the removal of a driving licence.

Vehicles used for fly-tipping

The Environment Agency has the power to seize and dispose of vehicles used for fly-tipping. Local authorities can stop, search and seize vehicles they suspect are being used for fly-tipping (this must be done in the presence of a police officer). Vehicles which have been used for fly-tipping can also be forfeited to cover the local authority's costs for investigation, enforcement and cleaning-up of any pollution caused by the fly-tipping.

Payment of the authority's enforcement costs

The courts may order an offender convicted of fly-tipping to pay costs in relation to the enforcement authority's costs.

What to do about fly-tipped waste

If you discover fly-tipped waste, do not:

  • Touch the waste - it may contain syringes, broken glass, asbestos, toxic chemicals or other hazardous substances
  • Disturb the site - there may be evidence that could help identify the fly-tippers and lead to their prosecution


  • Visually try to work out what the waste consists of and how much there is
  • Make a note of the day, date and time you saw the tipping, its exact location, what was tipped and how much and whether it is in or near water
  • Take details (name and address) of any witnesses

If you see someone fly-tipping

  • Do not approach them
  • Make a note of how many people are involved and what they look like
  • Make a note of the details of any vehicles involved including make, colour and registration number if possible

Report fly-tipping

If you have witnessed anyone fly-tipping or know someone who does so, then you should report it to:

Fly-tipping in Scotland

Fly-tipping is dealt with under the same legislation in Scotland and Ireland - the Environmental Protection Act 1990. However, cases in Scotland would be heard in the Scottish courts system (i.e. probably the sheriff court).

Fly-tipping can, however, also be dealt with by a fixed penalty notice issued under the Antisocial Behaviour (Scotland) Act 2004.

Because there is such a strong overlap with littering, fixed penalty notices can now be issued for fly-tipping offences too. The fine is the same – £50 – but Scottish ministers can vary this amount, up to £200. Again, it is no longer necessary to catch the culprit in the act of fly-tipping, and a fine can be issued if it is clear who the fly-tipper is from the items they have left. Local authority officers, officers of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the police, have powers to issue fixed penalty notices.

In Scotland, the maximum penalties for fly-tipping are a £40,000 fine and/or six months' imprisonment in courts of Summary Procedure. Fines are unlimited, with imprisonment of up to five years if the case goes to a court of Solemn Procedure. If you see anyone dumping rubbish illegally in Scotland, then call the Dumb Dumpers Stop Line on 0845 2 30 40 90 or visit Dumb Dumpers

Fly-tipping in Northern Ireland

The main powers of the authorities dealing with fly-tipping are held in the Waste and Contaminated Land (Northern Ireland) Order 1997, Article 5, the Pollution Control and Local Government (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, Article 5

The Controlled Waste (Registration of Carriers and Seizure of Vehicles) Regulations (NI) 1999 provides for seizure of vehicles involved in fly-tipping.

Fly-tipping can, however, also be dealt with by a fixed penalty notice issued under the Antisocial Behaviour (Northern Ireland) Act 2004.

You should report any instances of fly-tipping directly to the local council, but the Northern Ireland Environment Agency is the authority responsible for prosecuting fly-tipping offences.

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