Fly-tipping has been “effectively legalised” under the Tory Government, the Liberal Democrats have claimed as they highlight research suggesting just one in 500 cases leads to prosecution.
The party is the latest to accuse ministers of failing to tackle rising levels of dumped waste amid competing efforts to be seen as tough on crime in the run-up to local elections.
Data from local authorities across England shows more than a million fly-tipping incidents were recorded in 2021-22, though fewer than 2,000 resulted in legal action, the Lib Dems said.
Fly-tipping is an offence under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and can result in a warning, formal caution or prosecution.
This amounts to an average of just 77p in fines being issued for every fly-tipping incident in the country, the party said.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the 77p figure is inaccurate, and that it does not take into account 91,000 fixed penalty notices issued in 2021/22, with each containing a fine of up to £400.
It said there were 4% fewer fly-tipping incidents in 2021/22 than in the previous 12 months, while enforcement action and the number of penalty notices both increased.
Defra also said the number of court fines rose from 621 to 1,798 in the same period, with the total value of fines more than doubling to £840,000.
The Lib Dems want the Government to increase court fines and put the money raised into a fly-tipping fighting fund to give greater support to local authorities.
Party spokesman for the environment and former leader Tim Farron MP said: “The fact that fly-tipping is going unpunished is simply appalling.
“If people aren’t being fined, it’s no wonder that they think they can dump their rubbish on the streets without consequence.
“Brits do the right thing with their waste but a badly behaved minority is spoiling our environment.
“The lack of action on this issue from the Government sends out the message that they do not take it seriously enough. They have effectively legalised littering through their inaction.
“The Lib Dems (would) take more action against fly-tippers by increasing the cost of the fine and using the profits to crack down on fly-tippers.
“With local elections around the corner, communities must vote to clean up the mess that the current Government has created.”
Conservative party vice chairman Paul Holmes said: “The Lib Dems’ record speaks for itself – they charge more in council tax than Conservatives while delivering poorer services for local residents.
“Meanwhile, the Conservatives are tackling fly-tipping through our anti-social behaviour action plan, including fines of up to £1,000 for fly-tippers, while helping deliver new CCTV across the country to catch offenders and restore pride in communities.”
It comes after Labour pledged to force fly-tippers to remove litter as part of “clean-up squads”, highlighting research showing there are nearly 3,000 incidents of dumped waste per day in England.
As both main parties ramp up commitments on law and order ahead of May’s elections, the opposition pointed to Government data on fly-tipping showing cases have risen by a third over the last 13 years under the Conservatives.
The number of incidents of rubbish blighting highways and footpaths rose from 819,571 in 2010 to 1.09 million in 2022, according to the figures.
That amounted to an average of 125 incidents an hour, or 2,989 a day, Labour said.