Residential property

Waste scams costing businesses thousands

We’ve noted a number of businesses affected by a scam where they’re asked to temporarily store material on their land in exchange for payment, only to find the person who stored the material disappears and the material turns out to be waste which needs disposed of.

Individuals and businesses that fall into this trap and accept waste without the correct licence may have committed a criminal offence, and even if not can be slapped with liability for clean up costs. These can easily run into tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds.

How does the scam work?

There are many variations but it can involve a convincing back story e.g. a need to store material temporarily because of nearby construction. The business is offered payment - usually cash - for storing the material. References or other details may be provided which appear convincing. Over the coming weeks a regular stream of deposits are made at the site. These may partially disguise the true nature of the material. The waste may turn out to be anything from construction waste, to household waste. Construction waste in particular can cause severe difficulty if it contains asbestos. Before the business becomes aware - usually after payments stop or waste escapes - hundreds or even thousands of tonnes may have been deposited on their land.

What are the consequences?

There can be criminal sanctions including imprisonment and/or fines; there are also civil liabilities e.g. for clean up costs. The law treats unlawful deposits of waste in a severe way: if someone is convicted of unlawful deposit of waste by a sheriff sitting without a jury the maximum fine is £40,000, or six months imprisonment, or both. Sitting with a jury the fine is unlimited and the maximum imprisonment is for two years. Whether criminal liability attaches to the business accepting the waste can be complicated. If you become aware you have been victim of this scam specialist legal advice should be sought immediately.

In addition, civil liability normally attaches to the person who occupies the land such as the unfortunate business, for example to remove of the waste and clean up costs. Failing that the landlord/landowner can be made liable. These liabilities can be imposed even if there is no criminal prosecution. The costs involved can be huge. SEPA also have a range of monetary penalties they can impose, without a criminal conviction. These are still in the process of being rolled out but include the power to impose a penalty of up to £40,000.

What to do?

If you’re approached by somebody who wishes to store materials on your land you should treat this with extreme caution. Can you be absolutely certain that the materials they are looking to store are appropriate for storage on your land? How are you going to monitor and enforce that? Do you have the appropriate training? Do you have necessary licences/permits? If in any doubt whatsoever, do not agree to store materials for other parties. If you’ve already accepted waste, or are concerned that material you’ve accepted is not as described you should seek legal advice without delay.

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