The Liberal Democrats have accused the Conservative government of effectively “legalising littering,” after shocking figures revealed that up to a million fly-tipping incidents went unpunished in 2020-21.

1.13 million fly-tipping incidents were recorded by local authorities in England in 2020-21, a 16% increase on the previous year. However, the number of Fixed Penalty Notices issued fell by 24%, while the number of prosecutions collapsed by more than 50%.

In total, just 96,628 enforcement actions were taken beyond an initial investigation and a warning letter. That leaves up to 1 million cases going unpunished in 2020-21.

Only 57,621 Fixed Penalty Notices were handed out by local authorities in 2020-21, compared to 75,445 the year before when there were fewer incidents. Meanwhile, the number of prosecutions more than halved, from 2,945 to 1,412 – the lowest level since at least 2007.

Only 1,313 fines were handed out by courts, raising a total of £440,000 or an average of £335 per fine. 90% of fines were for £500 or less, with only 62 incidents leading to a fine of more than £1,000.

The Liberal Democrats are calling on the government to crack down on illegal rubbish dumping, by increasing court fines and putting the money raised into a “Fly-tipping Fighting Fund” for local authorities. If the average fine was tripled to £1,000, this could raise £1.3 million a year to tackle fly-tipping.

Liberal Democrat home affairs Spokesperson Alistair Carmichael MP said: “The illegal dumping of rubbish is blighting communities around the country, ruining our parks, countryside and green spaces.

“It is infuriating that while the vast majority of people play by the rules, law breakers are cashing in on this disgusting practice and getting away scot-free.

“Conservative ministers have effectively legalised littering by turning a blind eye to this fly-tipping epidemic. The buck stops with them and their failure to tackle this.

“The Liberal Democrats want to see increased fines for fly-tipping to act as a proper deterrent, and raise cash to crack down on those responsible. We will stand up for a fair deal for communities that are sick of being taken for granted by this Conservative government.”