I am a graffiti artist. Is there any law I need to be aware of?


Graffiti is sometimes regarded as an art form by those doing it, but by members of the general public it is often seen as a nuisance, frequently associated with anti-social behaviour and gang culture. It is also costly to get rid of: recent estimates put the clean-up costs for graffiti in the UK at more than £1bn.

Often graffiti artists can showcase their work on specially made structures provided for by local businesses and local governments. However, if you are a graffiti artist and you wish to make your work available to the public, on public or private property, there are various pieces of legislation you should be aware of.

Definition of graffiti

Definitions of graffiti include:

  • drawings;
  • scribbles;
  • messages or tags.

These must be painted, written, sprayed or etched onto walls or other surfaces.

Criminal Damage Act 1971

If you’re caught doing graffiti, you will be guilty of a criminal offence under s1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 (CDA 1971). Sentences for graffiti range from a conditional discharge from the magistrates’ court for minor damage, to up to 10 years imprisonment by the Crown Court where the damage caused is more than £10,000. Alternatively, you may be given a fine or a community service order – often the case in relation to young offenders.

Under s 6 of CDA 1971, police have the power to search the homes of suspected graffiti artists in serious cases, to look for and seize articles which could be used to damage someone else’s property.

The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005

The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 (ASBA 2003), as amended by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 (CNEA 2005), gives local authorities the power to issue a fixed penalty notice for anyone caught doing graffiti.

The usual fixed penalty for this offence under CNEA 2005 is £75. The local authority can specify a higher or lower penalty however, if it deems it necessary.

Failure to comply with the fixed penalty notice will result in a criminal sanction.

Public Order Act 1986

If the graffiti includes words or images which could, for example, incite racial hatred, an offence will have been committed under the Public Order Act 1986, s 18. This carries a maximum jail term of seven years.

Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003

Powers for local councils to punish offenders and help them clear up illegal graffiti were introduced by ASBA 2003.

The Act gives local authorities the power to hand out clean-up notices to owners of graffiti covered surfaces. The notice will state that if the property is not cleaned within 28 days, the local authority will be able to remove the graffiti itself and charge the owner for doing this.

It is also an offence under ASBA 2003 to sell spray paint to people under the age of 16. It is the duty of shopkeepers to prove they took reasonable steps to determine the age of the person. If they did not do this, they can be fined.


Tagging is a form of graffiti which often carries the biggest stigma and will often be seen as anti-social by most communities. It occurs when an artist stamps a signature in a stylised way onto a piece of property – effectively claiming it as their own. Often tagging is used by gangs and in many cases it is a sign that the area may be gang territory. Consequently, there are many schemes in relation to tagging to try and stop the problem.

The Home Office launched a campaign called ‘Name that Tag’ in a number of UK cities which provided rewards of £500 to anyone who could name persistent offenders. Paying people who inform on taggers, leading to their conviction, has been taken up by a number of police forces since.

As an artist is there anywhere I can do it legally?

Free walls

Many local councils within the UK provide spaces for graffiti artists to produce their artwork legally. To find out about this and the locations within your community you should contact your local authority.

Other Important Information

*No Win No Fee

  • Although all our cases are handled on a no win no fee basis, other costs could be payable upon solicitors request. These will be fully explained to you before you proceed. Most customers will pay 25% (including VAT) of the compensation they are awarded to their law firm, although this may vary based on individual circumstances. Your solicitor may arrange for insurance to be in place for you to make sure your claim is risk free. Termination fees based on time spent may apply, or in situations such as: lack of cooperation or deliberately misleading our solicitors, or failing to go to any medical or expert examination, or court hearing.
  • *Criminal Injury Claims

  • If you want to make a claim for a criminal injury, you are not required to use the services of a claims management company to pursue the claim. You can submit your claim for free on your own behalf, directly to the Criminal Injury Compensation Authority (England, Wales, and Scotland) or the Criminal Injury Compensation Scheme (Northern Ireland).
About the Author

Nicola Laver LLB

Nicola is a dual qualified journalist and non-practising solicitor. She is a legal journalist, editor and author with more than 20 years' experience writing about the law.

When you submit your details, you'll be in safe hands. Our partners are National Accident Helpline (a brand of National Accident Law, a firm of personal injury solicitors regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority). They are the UK's leading personal injury service. Their friendly legal services advisers will call you to talk about your claim and give you free, no-obligation advice. National Accident Law may pay us a marketing fee for our services.

By submitting your personal data, you agree for your details to be sent to National Accident Law so they can contact you to discuss your claim.

If you win your case, your solicitor's success fee will be taken from the compensation you are awarded - up to a maximum of 25%. Your solicitor will discuss any fees before starting your case.