The Government wants to raise the civil penalty for water companies who pollute the environment from £250,000 to up to £250 million.
The move comes as part of a push for water companies to invest more in preventing pollution and securing water supplies for future generations. Last year there were 62 serious pollution incidents by water companies – up from 44 in 2020.
At present, if water companies fail to uphold the law or cause environmental harm, the Environment Agency can pursue both criminal and civil prosecutions as part of their enforcement regime.
Whilst fines handed out by the courts through criminal prosecutions are unlimited, these can be a lengthy and costly process. Civil sanctions called Variable Monetary Penalties imposed directly by the EA rather than the courts can offer a quicker method of enforcement.
VMPs can be issued for more serious offences, including when there is evidence of negligence or mismanagement or when there is an environmental impact.
It’s claimed increasing the cap for fines up to £250 million will simplify and speed up the process of enforcement by allowing the EA to directly hand out penalties to water companies.
Environment Secretary Ranil Jayawardena said: “I have been clear that if water companies don’t do what is expected, there will be consequences. Bigger financial penalties will act as a greater deterrent and push water companies to do more, and faster, when it comes to investing in infrastructure and improving the quality of our water.
“This 1,000-fold increase sends a clear signal that we want clean rivers and coastlines, and that the duty falls to the water companies to deliver – the polluter must pay.”