A cash ban in the scrap metal trade could increase illegal activity, a key industry figure has warned - after the government said it was considering the move.
Ian Hetherington, director-general of the British Metals Recycling Association, told the BBC the industry supported tougher regulation but opposed the proposed cash ban:
“We do not believe that the elimination of cash transactions will have any possible impact on the thefts of metal and could increase the incidents of illegal activity,” he said.
Home Office minister Lord Henley suggested the government was moving towards supporting legislation to deal with the booming trade in stolen metal estimated to be costing the UK economy £770m a year.
Henley told BBC Radio 4’s The Report, due to be broadcast tonight at 8pm: “The idea that possibly you could go cashless is something we’re considering, as well as the idea that you should provide proper proof of identity when you get to a scrap metal yard.
“At the moment you can just go there and sign in as Mickey Mouse or whoever. We want proper ID so there’s greater transparency and a greater chain of who owns what.”
Henley said the government could lend its backing to a private member’s bill to tighten legislation, saying the 1964 Scrap Metals Dealers Act needs improving.
Hetherington said scrap merchants did not “relish” the use of cash, but that their customers demand it.
“Their customers range from plumbers [to] builders, roofing contractors, demolition contractors [and] the whole range of people whoon a day-to-day to basis sell scrap and they sell scrap for cash.”
Labour MP Graham Jones introduced his Scrap Metal Theft Bill in November. The bill would abolish cash payments for scrap, introduce a dealers’ licence fee to fund regulation, make photo ID mandatory for sellers and give police powers to search any scrapyard and close any yard where stole material is found.
Jones, introducing his private members’ bill, told MPs metal theft had reached a “crisis point” and that the current regulatory framework for metal recycling was “ineffective”. That, combined with rising international prices, created “incentives to steal metal”, he said.
Metal thefts are estimated to have caused six fatalities and over 50 serious injuries in the past year. David Cameron has said he is “determined to put a stop to this really appalling crime”.