Fly-tipping: council responsibilities

How local authorities must deal with fly-tipping and the penalties they can charge.

Fly-tipping is illegal dumping of liquid or solid waste on land or in water. The waste is usually dumped to avoid disposal costs.

You need to follow different rules for litter, which is usually less than a black bag’s worth, for example food or tobacco-related litter.

Fly-tipping: your responsibilities

Assess the incident

You must gather as much information as you can about:

  • the circumstances, eg if anyone witnessed the fly-tipping, the date and time it took place and a description of any vehicles involved
  • land type, eg relevant land, privately owned
  • location, eg highway verge, back alleyway, railway embankment, in a river
  • the amount and type of waste, eg solid, liquid, gas
  • its potential effects, eg how it may harm people, animals or the environment

Fly-tipping on land

You must remove and dispose of all fly-tipped waste if it’s on relevant land.

However, you need to contact the Environment Agency if the illegally dumped waste is:

  • more than 20 tonnes (about 20 cubic metres)
  • more than 5 cubic metres of fibrous asbestos or 75 litres of potentially hazardous waste in drums or containers
  • possibly linked to criminal business activity or organised crime

Only refer small amounts of fly-tipping if you know it’s linked to crime - you may want to develop a local agreement with the Environment Agency and other partners where there is a known waste crime problem.

If you find asbestos in the waste, report the fly-tipping incident to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Fly-tipping in water

You must remove and dispose of fly-tipped waste in water. You may investigate or enforce if the waste:

  • is in an ordinary watercourse or main river
  • may cause significant flood risk on an ordinary watercourse
  • risks polluting a non-controlled water

The Environment Agency is responsible for arranging removal and disposal and may investigate or enforce when there is:

  • significant flood risk on a main river or critical ordinary watercourse
  • risk of pollution to controlled water

The Environment Agency can arrange for the removal and disposal if there is actual or imminent threat to the environment, human health or of flooding. The Environment Agency may then try to recover its costs from the council.

Investigation, penalties and prosecution

You can investigate the incident when it is on relevant land or water. Following your investigation you may choose to pursue enforcement actions.

The Environment Agency may investigate if the incident is large-scale, serious, organised illegal dumping, or immediately threatens human health or the environment.

If a landowner reports fly-tipped waste on their land you can choose whether to investigate.

Preliminary investigations

Carry out a preliminary investigation to assess whether to take further action based on:

  • how serious the offence is
  • potential costs
  • likelihood of prosecution

This might involve a review of:

  • witness claims
  • the scene
  • evidence, eg CCTV footage
  • local knowledge

Full investigation

If you carry out a criminal investigation it must be in line with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. You must carry out surveillance and investigations in line with Regulatory Investigation Powers Act (RIPA) 2000 parts 1 and 2. See the local authority use of RIPA guidance.

You can:

  • check if the offender has complied with their waste duty of care
  • seize a vehicle, trailer or mobile plant you suspect of being involved in waste crime
  • use your right to legally enter land, vehicles or premises - see the powers of entry guidance
  • serve a notice on anyone you think can provide information on the details of the driver of a vehicle used at the time when the offence was committed

Penalties and notices

You can issue a fixed penalty notice if it’s in line with your enforcement policy.

The new fixed penalty notice isn’t an appropriate sanction for:

  • operators in the waste management industry
  • repeat offenders
  • those responsible for large-scale fly-tipping or the fly-tipping of hazardous waste.

These types of incident will continue to be enforced by local authorities using existing prosecution powers.

You can serve and enforce a notice requiring the occupier of the land to remove the fly-tipped waste and remediate the land.


You can prosecute using:

  • Environmental Protection Act 1990 section 33
  • Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010, regulations 12 and 38
  • Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010, schedule 21 – water discharge activities

Convicted parties can be fined an unlimited amount or imprisoned for up to 5 years.

Tell the Environment Agency if your prosecution results in a conviction - it may need to review licences or permits.

Claiming costs

You or the Environment Agency may attempt to recover the costs spent on investigations, clean up and enforcement work from the:

  • polluter
  • occupier or landowner

Keeping records

Record the details of the fly-tipping incident, costs incurred and any action(s) taken in the Fly-tipping module of Waste Data Flow.

Prevent fly-tipping

Read the National Fly-tipping Prevention Group’s guidance on how to prevent fly-tipping and examples of local authority best practice.

Published 27 June 2016
Last updated 12 August 2016 + show all updates
  1. Changed: "You must remove and dispose of all fly-tipped waste on water and land" to "You must remove and dispose of fly-tipped waste in water"
  2. First published.