Council responsibility for abandoned vehicles on public roads

Abandoned vehicles post an environmental nuisance, can be dangerous, and are frequently involved in crime in some way or other.

What is an abandoned vehicle?

A vehicle is considered to be abandoned if it has been left in a public location, typically a road, for a long period of time without lawful authority. The most common reason behind abandoning vehicles is the fact that their value depreciate fast. If a car has been on the road for many years with high mileage, the chances are the owner cannot make any profit on a sale. So instead of disposing of the car lawfully, it is simply abandoned.

Other likely reasons for abandoning a vehicle is as a result of crime: vehicles are frequently stolen for the purposes of committing a crime – once the crime has been committed, the vehicle is then abandoned.

Whether a vehicle is abandoned is a question of fact and can be determined by considering, for example, whether it has a number plate, whether it is badly damaged or has flat tyres, or the locals can say it’s been left for a long period of time and appears to be abandoned.

Abandoned vehicles are to be distinguished from nuisance vehicles, which may create a disturbance, but have not been abandoned. For instance, a car may be parked on someone else’s land without their permission, causing inconvenience to the owner.

Whose responsibility is it to deal with abandoned vehicles?

Local councils are responsible for the removal of abandoned vehicles on a public road or other public place, in conjunction with the DVLA and the police. Local authorities have statutory power to remove abandoned vehicles on public roads under the Refuse and Disposal Amenity Act (Amenity Act) 1978, Section 99 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, and the Removal and Disposal of Vehicle (England) Regulations 2002 as amended.

How they exercise their authority varies from one council to another, so if you are aware of an abandoned vehicle that needs to be dealt with, check with your local authority as to its relevant policy and procedures.

Is it a criminal offence to abandon a vehicle?

Yes, under the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act 1978, the owner can be prosecuted by the local authority for abandoning a vehicle in public. On conviction, a fine of up to £2,500 and/or three months in prison can be imposed. However, as an alternative to prosecution, a fixed penalty notice of £200 can be issued to the owner.

In addition, the owner is liable for the costs incurred by the local authority in removing, storing and or destroying the vehicle.

Removal and Disposal of Vehicle (England) Regulations 2002 (as amended)

Under these regulations, the local authority can issue a statutory 24-hour notice on a vehicle which they believe no longer has value and has been left on public road. The owner’s failure to remove it within the given time frame will entitle the local authorities to have the vehicle removed and immediately destroyed.

The local authority is not required to contact the owner, but they can do so to reclaim the costs involved in the removal and or destruction of the abandoned vehicle.

If the local authority believes that the abandoned vehicle still has some value, a seven-day notice is given instead, and attempts to contact the owner must be made. Only after the expiration of this period can local authorities take steps to remove the vehicle and destroy it.

Can police officers remove abandoned vehicles?

The police also have statutory power to remove an abandoned vehicle, under sections 99 to 101 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and the Disposal of Vehicle Regulations 1986, if it is in a potentially dangerous position; the vehicle is causing obstruction or danger; or it is contravening a parking restriction.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.