Over the past 18 months, the pandemic and restrictions on movement have meant many commercial premises and industrial estates have been left empty – and even now some remain quiet.

We have seen an increase in vacant commercial premises being targeted for illegal raves, but incidents of illegal trespass, fly-tipping and metal theft are also on the increase.

The pandemic put commercial property owners at far greater risk of fly tipping and squatting due to vacant land and buildings.

During lockdown one, fly tipping increased by a massive 75%. Council data suggests that the trend was also on the rise pre-pandemic, as there were 55,000 fly tipping incidents involving commercial waste in 2019/20, accounting for 6% of total incidents in England. This was a slight (3%) increase from the 54,000 incidents reported in 2018/19. There were 25,000 incidents of commercial waste from black bags and 30,000 incidents of other commercial waste in 2019/20.

Such activity is often combined with the strip-out of mechanical and electrical services and any metals which can be sold on to unscrupulous scrap dealers.

Our insurer partner Zurich explains why fly tipping is a big issue for private land owners.

Why is fly tipping a big issue for private land owners?

Fly tipping often occurs when organised criminals operate waste disposal services for money. It is illegal, damaging to the environment and people and there is also a significant cost to legal disposal. The Environment Agency only clears waste where there is an immediate risk to the environment and human health – they are not funded to clean up all illegally dumped waste on private or public land.

If a commercial property has been taken over by squatters who’ve left waste, or someone has fly tipped on private land or by accessing commercial premises – the responsibility for removal, along with the cost, falls to the land owner.

Worryingly, Zurich has also seen an increase in occupied premises experiencing fly tipping and squatting.  Costs incurred as a result of damage and clean-up by these groups illegally occupying commercial premises and disposing of waste regularly average £200,000 to £300,000. This is often due to the fact that the waste includes asbestos, chemicals, oils, flammable materials, or biological waste which presents a serious environmental hazard and has to be removed by specialist contractors.

The process of evicting squatters using the civil courts also incurs substantial legal costs and, even where a criminal offence has occurred, this may be difficult to prove, and police often do not have the power to evict the trespassers. Evicting unlawful occupants can, therefore, be an expensive and time-consuming process for law-abiding property owners and landlords.

Tips to combat fly tipping and squatting

Here is some useful guidance, to help prevent commercial fly tipping and squatting:

  • Check your insurance cover. Protection for fly tipping and squatting varies within the insurance market. Brokers remain best placed to help customers understand what is and isn’t covered under their policy. Customers should also advise their broker if a commercial property becomes vacant
  • Check that all door and window locks and external site gates are secure. Temporary shutters and additional heavy duty locks, are also effective security measures
  • Consider whether access to the site can be prevented. For example, does the customer need to erect fences and gates or put barriers in place to stop access? To prevent vehicle access in open spaces, think natural barriers such as trees, banks of earth, logs and rocks
  • Carry out regular inspections. We recommend customers carry out regular inspections both internally and externally. Larger companies can benefit from on-site or mobile security
  • Ensure CCTV and intruder alarms remain in good working order. These act as a deterrent to fly tippers and squatters. Business should have a public space surveillance (CCTV) licence

Organisations must make sure that any waste collected is being disposed of legally, especially when it is potentially hazardous. All businesses that transport and dispose of waste in England have to be licensed with the Environment Agency. Anyone can check a waste carrier is licensed with the Environment Agency here.

To report any issues like the ones raised in this article, below are some contact details:

  • Crimestoppers: 0800 555 111 (Anonymously) or https://crimestoppers-uk.org/
  • In Scotland (SEPA) Dump Dumpers Stop Line: 0845 2 30 40 90
  • EA line: 0800 807 060

To arrange a review of your commercial property insurance please contact GPS Insurance Brokers on 020 3907 7866.