‘Unlimited fines’ proposed for water companies that pollute environment

4th April 2023

Water companies could be hit with “unlimited fines” for polluting the environment under a new plan unveiled by the UK government today.

The Plan for Water includes a proposal to remove a cap on the amount the Environment Agency (EA) can secure in penalties from polluting water companies, enabling the issue of unlimited fines, subject to a consultation.

Money raised from fines would be reinvested into a new Water Restoration Fund, which will aim to deliver “on-the-ground improvements” to water quality and support local groups and community-led schemes that protect waterways.

Today’s plan also includes a commitment to consult on banning wet wipes containing plastic, and to develop new proposals to restrict the use of ‘forever chemicals’ (PFAS) found in rivers and seas.

Furthermore, it aims to ensure water companies speed up their infrastructure upgrades – bringing forward £1.6bn of work to start between now and 2025, including £1.1bn on storm overflow improvements.

This comes after the EA recently revealed that there have been an average of 825 sewage spills per day into England's waterways over the last year.

Reacting to the plan, IEMA’s Deputy CEO, Martin Baxter, said: “Water is essential for human life and the resilience of our fragile ecosystems. Microplastics and sewage are polluting our coasts and rivers, often with devastating consequences.

“The Secretary of State has urged water companies to clean up their act; we hope there will be an honest conversation about the ambition and scale of delivery needed for clean rivers and seas, and an adequate supply of drinking water as climate change affects our weather systems.”

Today’s announcement follows the publication of the Environmental Improvement Plan in January – the government’s five-year delivery plan to protect and restore nature – which includes targets on water.

The government will also be launching a new National Policy Statement on water resources so that key water supply infrastructure – such as reservoirs and water transfer schemes – can be built more quickly.

In addition, it will aim to reduce water demand by encouraging water companies to rapidly increase smart meter installations for customers, and will be updating the memorandum of understanding between the EA and Ofwat for enhanced regulatory oversight of water companies.

Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey said: “Our rare chalk streams and world-famous coastlines, lakes and rivers are hugely important to local communities and to nature.

“I completely understand the concerns that people have about the health and resilience of our waters, which is why I am setting out this plan for a truly national effort to protect and improve them.

“That includes higher penalties taken from water company profits which will be channelled back into the rivers, lakes and streams where it is needed.

“This is not straightforward, but I take this issue extremely seriously and things need to change. That’s why we have developed this plan and we are committed to delivering the progress that people want to see.”

Image credit: Shutterstock


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

Fifth of UK food firms unprepared for deforestation regulation

One in five UK food businesses are not prepared for EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) coming into force in December, a new survey has uncovered.

16th May 2024

Read more

Regulatory gaps between the EU and UK are beginning to appear, warns Neil Howe in this edition’s environmental legislation round-up

4th April 2024

Read more

Dr Julie Riggs issues a call to arms to tackle a modern-day human tragedy

15th March 2024

Read more

The UK’s new biodiversity net gain (BNG) requirements could create 15,000 hectares of woodlands, heath, grasslands, and wetlands and absorb 650,000 tonnes of carbon each year.

13th March 2024

Read more

Campaign group Wild Justice has accused the UK government of trying to relax pollution rules for housebuilders “through the backdoor”.

14th February 2024

Read more

Digital tracking, packaging data delays and new collections provide a waste focus for this edition’s environmental round-up by legislation expert Neil Howe

28th November 2023

Read more

Environmental crimes could result in prison sentences of up to 10 years and company fines of 5% of turnover under a proposed EU law agreed by the European parliament and council.

21st November 2023

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close