At a glance
- There are numerous risks associated with vacant commercial properties – from squatting to criminal damage
- A recent trend has seen criminals breaking into occupied commercial premises and flytipping large amounts of waste
- We look at the challenge of commercial flytipping and how to manage the risks
A combination of factors – including the increased cost of legally disposing of rubbish, reduced opening hours at municipal waste sites, and tighter restrictions on the types of material that can be taken there – has led to an increase in unauthorised waste disposal.
Individuals are now frequently visiting homes and businesses and offering to take away awkward materials that can’t be recycled at the kerbside, including asbestos and oil cans, in exchange for a small fee.
Those handing over their money may not be aware of what becomes of that waste – or perhaps more likely they are turning a blind eye. The reality is that much of this material ends up dumped in a variety of places, such as side roads, retail parks, unoccupied warehouses – the list goes on.
How criminals exploit a legal loophole
Flytipping is exacerbating the long-standing problem of commercial squatting. Unlike residential squatting, commercial squatting is not a criminal offence, and it can take weeks to remove intruders from commercial premises via civil litigation.
Paul Redington, Regional Major Loss Property Claims Manager, Zurich, says: “We are concerned that the current gap in squatters’ rights is being exploited by illegal gangs to access commercial premises and illegally dispose of waste.”
Typically, gangs will move on just before a court order comes into effect forcing their eviction.
Paul adds: “Our experience shows that costs incurred as a result of damage and clean-up regularly average £200,000 to £300,000, particularly where the waste presents a serious environmental hazard. The impact is felt both in businesses and public sector organisations alike.”
Any accessible premises is at risk
Paul says that while vacant sites have traditionally been targeted, there is now an increasing trend of occupied buildings – as well as car parks and other associated land – being used as illegal dumping grounds.
“It seems that any accessible premises is at risk,” says Paul. “Some occupied buildings are being targeted at night or at weekends when there is nobody around. Some people are being quite brazen.”
Pauline White, Underwriting Analyst (Real Estate), Zurich, says one of the biggest problems is often the nature of the material being flytipped.
“It could be asbestos, chemicals, oils, flammable materials, or biological waste,” she says.
“These hazardous materials have to be carefully removed by specialist contractors, and this takes time and money. Sometimes, site owners don’t know what the waste is, so they have to assume the worst and get specialist contractors involved because of the potential health and safety risks.”
Clean-up costs highlight the danger of underinsurance
Pauline says: “It is vital that you check what cover is in place on your insurance policy, firstly to ensure cover is there and secondly, that it is at the correct level. There have been instances where cover was not sufficient to clear the site, leaving the balance to be paid by the policyholder.
“Customers also need to think about all the land they own, not just their buildings. We have seen small open sites being targeted and the costs to remove the waste can still run in to tens of thousands of pounds.”
A “triple whammy” for commercial site owners
For Paul, the risk of commercial flytipping is part of a “triple whammy” for customers.
“Flytipping often goes hand-in-hand with metal theft,” he says. “Professional gangs are not only dumping waste – they are also stripping buildings of precious metals and fibre optics, and then moving on just before the bailiffs arrive. When you add in commercial squatting, it’s a triple whammy.”
How customers can reduce the risk of commercial flytipping
While it might be difficult, if not impossible, for customers to eliminate the threat of flytipping altogether, there a number of ways to reduce or manage the risks.
• Alert Zurich as soon as any commercial premises you own become vacant, and ensure you understand your policy details
• Carry out regular inspections of vacant buildings – both internal and external
• Consider whether access to the site can be restricted: one-way in, one-way out; height restrictions; bollards; concrete blocks etc
• Ensure all security measures, either physical or electronic, are sourced from approved suppliers
• Ensure all door and window locks, external site gates etc, are secure and that your alarm/CCTV systems are working, to record any unauthorised access to a site.
• If you have onsite or mobile security, consider deploying guard dogs or using body cameras to record any unauthorised access. Ensure your suppliers are complying with the Guard Dogs Act 1975 and that they have a public space surveillance licence.
Zurich’s commitment to supporting customers
Zurich takes commercial flytipping, metal theft and risks associated with unoccupied properties extremely seriously, which is why we have put together detailed risk guidance to help customers understand and manage the risks.
We are also actively engaging Parliament to try to close the legal loophole and make commercial squatting a criminal offence.
For more information on any of the issues discussed in this article, please speak with your usual Zurich contact.
Flytipping on the rise
In 2017/18, local authorities in England prosecuted 2,243 flytipping offences, an increase of 43% on 2016/17.
The Environment Agency also dealt with more illegal dumping incidents last year (226) than in any of the previous eight years, and also identified more than 850 new illegal waste sites.