Unlimited Financial Penalties for Environmental Offences

“Polluters must always pay”.

Department for Environment, Food, & Rural Affairs (Defra) have announced changes to the Variable Monetary Penalties (VMPs), which are civil sanctions that are issued by the Environment Agency (EA). These sanctions are sent to companies and individuals who have breached their permits and have polluted the environment.

The range of offences that the penalties cover has been expanded, and the existing £250,000 cap on charges have been discarded. Punishment will be in a more rapid form as firms will face unlimited financial penalties if they breach their permit. The EA have stated that there will be an increasing number of penalties being delivered to hold polluters (including water companies) accountable.

A VMP with an expanded range of offences can now include:

  • Breach of permit conditions from sites that discharge into rivers and seas
  • Where there is no permit – illegal discharges to water
  • Illegal waste offences
  • Manufacturing industries and power stations that breach their permit, and contribute to air pollution

The changes impact all firms that have environmental permits, which include waste and water companies. In addition to this, the process industries and agricultural sector are all affected, the penalties that are issued will take the size of the company into consideration and the nature of the offence. The penalties will be in concordance with the Sentencing Council guidelines. Criminal proceedings will continue to be carried out for serious breaches of the law.

A new Water Restoration Fund has been established, that will receive funds raised from water company penalties, to support local investment that will restore and protect our waters. This will be achieved by tougher enforcement and stronger regulation. Defra have given Ofwat permission to ensure environmental performance is linked to water company dividends, the tightened bonus payments have been introduced by the regulator[1].

How Can WPSCC Help?

At WPS Compliance Consulting, we help our clients to minimise the impact their operations have on the environment. We will primarily keep you legal – in relation to both Environmental Law and Environmental Permit requirements (whether Environment Agency, or Local Authority issued).

WPSCC offer full Environmental Permitting services, including new permit applications, permit variations and permit surrenders, as well as providing Environmental Management Systems (EMS) at all levels. Also, we offer Waste Classification services, that include waste characterisation and documentation to accurately identify waste streams according to applicable regulations and standards. This enables organisations to ensure proper waste management practices, minimise legal and financial risks, and demonstrate their commitment to environmental responsibility.

Also, we are passionate about making a difference to your business through the provision of first-class training and development. We can help give the team the right skills and knowledge to enable good decision making, compliance with legal requirements and enable a more sustainable business.


Call us NOW on 01604 859961, or email [email protected] to ask our advice / guidance.

[1] Defra Press Office. (2023). Unlimited financial penalties for environmental offences will mean “polluters always pay”. UK Government. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://deframedia.blog.gov.uk/2023/12/11/unlimited-financial-penalties-for-environmental-offences-will-mean-polluters-always-pay/.

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