Paul Crowther, deputy chief constable of British Transport Police said: "The new laws that come into place today change a number of issues in respect of scrap metal. First of all it increases the sentences that are available under the existing legislation.
"It provides powers to the police to end unlicensed scrap metal dealers for the first time and introduces a new criminal offence of trading in cash for metal, which is a very significant measure in tackling metal theft at the point where it's sold into scrap metal yards."
The new legislation is supported by strengthened law enforcement activity and £5 million which the government has allocated to a dedicated metal theft taskforce.
Some of this funding will be made available to police forces to ensure the new legislation is enforced and will provide a more level playing field for scrap metal dealers who abide by the law.
The government is also working with Richard Ottaway MP to ensure his Scrap Metal Dealers Bill delivers a stronger and more effective licensing regime for the scrap metal industry. The Bill is expected to receive parliamentary approval in the New Year.
From today, metal dealers will no longer be able to trade in cash, and will face tougher sanctions for rogue trading.
The measures are designed to stamp out the illegal metal industry, which costs the UK at least £220 million a year. From 3 December, legislative changes will take effect to:
- remove the ‘no questions asked’ cash payments which have allowed unscrupulous traders to evade checks;
- increase financial penalties – illegal traders will now face fines of up to £5,000;
- give police new powers of entry to tackle illegal trading in metal yards.
Cash transactions for metal at recycling yards will be outlawed under moves aimed at cracking down on cable theft.
The crime has plagued the railway industry for the past few years, disrupting train services across the country.
Amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo) will close loopholes which have allowed criminals to make money from the theft of metal.
British Transport Police (BTP) said the new measures will "seriously curtail" the market for stolen goods.
Incidents of railway cable theft have dropped from more than 2,600 in 2011 to under 1,300 so far this year, but the figure is still high compared to past years.
Under the legal change, all cash transactions for metal at recycling yards in England and Wales will be outlawed.