Fines for waste crime increase by 26%

28th September 2016

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Hannah James

The new sentencing guidelines have seen a significant increase in fines levied for waste offences, according to the Environment Agency.

Fines imposed on waste companies as a result of prosecution brought by the regulator totaled just over £707,000 in 2015, an 85% increase from 2014 (£383,000).

This is the result of an increase in the number of offences being prosecuted, from 51 in 2014 to 108 in 2015, and a 26% rise in the average fine per prosecution, the agency said in a report on waste industry regulation.

Revised guidelines on sentencing for environmental offences were issued to criminal courts in 2014 by the Setencing Council. These provided a tariff to indicate the right level of penalties dependent on the seriousness of the offence and the turnover and profit of the offender.

According to analysis by the agency, the guidelines have had a ‘marked impact’ on sentencing. ‘In very many cases this has meant an increase in the fine which might otherwise have been imposed by the court,’ the regulator said.

Fines from waste prosecutions represented 19% of the £3.6m levied for company prosecutions in 2015, compared to 12 in 2014.

Just over half the firms the agency prosecuted for waste offences in 2015 were licensed waste management operators, and these accounted for 61% of the total fines imposed on waste companies last year (£433,000).

The largest fine for waste offences by a company in 2015 was £100,000, while the highest imposed on an individual was £120,000. Five people received prison sentences for waste offences in 2015, with the longest sentence being 18 months.

The agency issued more than 200 enforcement notices to waste companies in 2015, with almost 90% of these going to licensed firms. More than three-quarters (77%) of companies receiving more than one caution or enforcement notice were involved in waste activities, up from 64% in 2014.

The number of enforcement undertakings accepted from businesses declined from 43 in 2014 to 28 in 2015. Most of these (22) were related to packaging waste offences, and resulted in contributions of £693,000 to environmental charities, organisations or projects.

The agency has strengthened its work on waste crime after receiving an extra £5m from the government and £4.2m from the Landfill Communities Fund. The extra money has be used to recruit more staff and create programmes to tackle illegal waste sites and exports, poorly performing sites and waste operators that incorrectly describe waste streams in order to evade taxation.

The agency discovered more than 1,000 new illegal waste sites in the year to March 2016, stopping activity at 989. It exceeded its target to stop activity at 45% of newly discovered illegal waste sites within 90 days by five percentage points.

The top three types of waste found at illegal sites were household and commercial waste, end-of-life vehicles, and construction and demolition waste.

Increased scrutiny of waste shipments resulted in agency officers inspecting 1,388 containers bound for export last year compared with 167 in 2012–13. The amount of illegally exported electrical and household waste from England fell by 17% between 2014 and 2016, from 206,000 to 171,000 tonnes.

Despite the delcine, the agency warned that evolving offender behaviour posed a challenge to the prevention and detection of illegal waste exports.

An estimated £160m per year of tax revenue is lost due to waste operators incorrectly describing their waste in order to pay the lower rate of landfill tax, the agency said, adding that its investigations had uncovered fraud and links to organised crime groups.

The Environmental Services’ Association’s head of regulation, Sam Corp, welcomed the agency’s focus on crime: ‘We are particularly encouraged that the agency seems to be closing illegal sites down more quickly than previously, which can only help to minimise the misery caused by such sites to local communities and the financial impact on legitimate operators.’

However, he added that, the fact that nearly 1,000 new illegal sites were found in 2015 shows the sheer scale of the problem. Tackling waste crime must remain a priority for government and regulators, he said.


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