Water polluters could face ‘unlimited’ financial penalties

Water polluters can be hit with unlimited financial penalties from today as the government scraps the £250,000 cap on Variable Monetary Penalties (VMPs).

The change will affect all firms that have environmental permits, including water and waste companies as well as the agricultural sector and process industries.

Environment Agency executive director John Leyland said the uncapped penalties will polluters, including water companies “to account”.

“The threat of uncapped financial penalties should boost compliance with environmental laws – helping us provide stronger protection to the environment, communities and nature,” Leyland added.


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This summer saw a “scandalous cover-up” as water companies continued to dump sewage in UK rivers. Last month it was revealed that Thames Water pumped 72 billion litres of sewage into rivers over the past three years.

The range of offences include:

  • Breach of permit conditions from sites that discharge into rivers and seas – for example from sewage treatment works and permitted storm overflows
  • Illegal discharges to water where there is no permit, such as in the event of agricultural pollution from slurry stores
  • Illegal waste offences, such as from illegal scrapyards or unpermitted waste management facilities
  • Permit breaches from manufacturing industries and power stations which contribute to air pollution.

Environment secretary Steve Barclay commented: “Polluters should be in no doubt that if they harm our precious habitats and waterways they will pay.

“By lifting the cap on these sanctions, we are simultaneously toughening our enforcement tools and expanding where regulators can use them,” Barclay added.

“These changes will deliver a proportionate punishment for operators that breach their permits and cause pollution.”

Climate crisisNature and the environmentNewsPolicy

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