Fly tipping: are you (or your neighbours) breaking the law without realising it?

Fly tipping is surging: make sure you're not disposing of your household rubbish illegally – and know what to do if others are

fly tipping
(Image credit: kelvinjay/Getty)

Fly tipping is a serious problem, with a huge number of cases reported every year – almost one million in 2017/2018. And as councils struggle with reduced funding, they're less able to respond, with prosecution rates down. So, what can be done to prevent fly tipping, and what should you do if you see it? 

Moreover, what if you yourself have fly tipped without realising it? The first thing to know is that fly tipping is a criminal offence, with potentially grave consequences: it's not like burning bonfires, which doesn't have precise laws around it. 

What constitutes fly tipping? 

Fly tipping is any disposal of household waste on a land that hasn't been licensed for waste disposal. More severe cases include industrial rubble from extension or renovation projects. If you've ever put rubble from a house renovation in a nearby skip, you have fly tipped. Basically, if the place where you've put your rubbish hasn't been pre-agreed with your local council, it's fly tipping. 

Other common cases of fly tipping involve leaving mattresses, furniture and white goods on the kerb – contrary to popular belief, the council will not simply pick these up when they are collecting ordinary rubbish. The only proper way to dispose of such waste is booking a 'bulky waste collection' with your council. Any vehicle transporting large waste items must be licensed to do so – legally, ordinary bin men cannot pick up these items. 

If you are caught fly tipping, the council can charge you with a fixed fine of between £150 and £400, depending on how bad the rubbish pile is. In more serious cases, especially if the materials dumped are hazardous to human health (eg, contain asbestos) or the environment, you can be prosecuted by a Magistrates Court and fined up to £50,000 (this action is typically taken against businesses or landlords with multiple properties). 

What if I see someone fly tipping?

The most important thing is to collect evidence: video or photographic is best. Avoid approaching the person(s) and do not touch any of the items, as they may become evidence in the case against the fly tipper. Once you have evidence, contact the environmental health department of your council. The police should only be contacted in order to actively halt a case of fly tipping, which is often not realistic. 

What to do if someone has fly tipped on my property?

Sadly, once the rubbish is on your property, you become responsible for its disposal. You'll need to contact your council to book a collection and explain the situation. Collect receipts for anything you pay for in connection with the disposal – you may be reimbursed if the case is successfully prosecuted.