New laws to tackle the UK’s metal theft problem come into force next month.

From October 1, the Scrap Metal Dealers Act will require all merchants to be licenced to trade, making it much harder for thieves to sell on stolen material.

The new Act also increases the powers of councils to refuse licences, and allows them to charge fees for processing them.

The high value of certain scrap metals such as copper and lead sparked a battery of dangerous and damaging thefts across the UK in recent years, costing the economy an estimated £770m annually.

Gobinath Thambarja’s newsagents in Hayes, Middlesex, was flooded after thieves attempted to steal his water pipes last year, while a number of convenience stores were left unable to access the internet or complete orders following copper telephone cable thefts.

The legislation also introduces a ‘suitable person’ test similar to the ‘fit and proper’ test used for taxi drivers. This requires the local authority to be satisfied that any applicant is suitable to operate as a scrap metal dealer.

Dealers will also have to keep detailed descriptions of any metals they receive, including dates and identifying marks, as well as the full name, address and vehicle registration of the individuals they received it from.