SCRAP merchants say a Government crackdown on the industry could create a black market for stolen metal.
Cash payments to sellers could be banned under new proposals.
But reputable firms fear it will only drive unscrupulous traders and criminals underground.
Matthew Evans, business manager of Crossley Evans, said: “It will be a mistake. Rather than tackling the underlying issue it will encourage it to become a more illicit, black market operation.
“This is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the country, but as with any industry there are bound to be people who do not operate within the legislation.
“Adding another layer of legislation isn’t going to tackle that.”
The company, which has a processing site in Adelaide Street, Halifax, requires sellers to produce ID and records details of each transaction in line with the law.
It also carries out further checks on anyone with suspicious goods. “If somebody comes in a car with household items such as a washing machine or old pots and pans then it makes sense,” said Mr Evans.
“But if they bring in a bootload of cable we’re immediately suspicious and ask them to justify where they’ve got it.
“If they can’t prove this we either call police to check the material, or hold on to it and give the seller a receipt until they can come and check it over.”
The proposed new measures could also mean people have to register before they can sell scrap.
But Mr Evans believes making them set up a trading account may put people off recycling.
“In other countries that have gone towards a cashless transaction system, there has been a fairly significant drop in the rate of recycling – in some cases as much as 50 per cent.
“Obviously some of that will be because it’s gone through a more black market operation, but that means it goes from a legal and controlled system to underground where it is almost impossible to regulate.”
Metal theft is estimated to cost the UK economy £770 million each year.
Det Chief Insp Mabs Hussain said: “We are using the full range of legislation to reduce offences and bring those responsible to justice. We welcome any changes in the law which will make it more difficult for metal thieves to operate.”
Anyone who spots a metal theft should call police on 101.