New scrap metal law 'step in the right direction', says Church of England

PAThieves are stealing metal from churches to sell on the black market

The Church of England is optimistic that new laws on scrap metal will help to reduce the "scourge" of metal theft.

Under new laws that came into effect on Tuesday, all scrap metal dealers will be required to apply to their local council for a licence to operate.

Rogue traders who buy and sell scrap metal for cash face a fine of £5,000.

The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 also gives local authorities and police new powers to inspect premises where they suspect metal is being illegally traded and revoke licences.

Crime Prevention Minister Jeremy Browne said: "Metal theft costs the UK economy around £220 million a year and it has a huge impact on our communities - from disrupted rail services to desecrated war memorials and damaged church roofs.

"Our changes, including increasing financial penalties and banning cash payments, have already helped slash metal theft across the UK.

"This new legislation will help tighten the net around rogue dealers who flout the rules and wilfully purchase stolen metal, while reforming the system to support legitimate businesses."

Churches have been hit by a wave of metal thefts in recent years, with each theft costing thousands of pounds to repair.

Church insurer Ecclesiastical said theft of lead and other metal accounted for over 930 insurance claims from Anglican churches in 2012.

Its worst year on record was 2011, when over 2,600 churches made claims for metal theft.

Anne Sloman, Chair of the Church of England's Church Buildings Council thanked the Home Office and government ministers for their "determination" to resolve the problem.

"We believe it will be crucial in reducing the scourge of lead theft which has scarred so many of our churches in the past few years and caused such grief to congregations and communities who work hard to keep our 16,000 parish churches in good condition," she said.

"The numbers of thefts are already going down, but we cannot be complacent. Every church roof that is vandalised by thieves is one too many and we must all remain vigilant. But this legislation is a very important step in the right direction."