The UK government announced that it has scrapped a limit on penalties that its Environmental Agency can impose on companies that pollute the environment through Variable Monetary Penalties (VMPs), its civic sanctions system that can impose fines directly through regulators, and expanded the range of pollution offences covered by the system.
Prior to the revision, VMP penalties were capped at £250,000. Going forward, the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said that penalties will be proportionate to company size and to the nature of the offence.
DEFRA added that the new unlimited penalties form part of the government’s measures “to ensure there is more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement across the water system.”
Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said:
“By lifting the cap on these sanctions, we are simultaneously toughening our enforcement tools and expanding where regulators can use them. These changes will deliver a proportionate punishment for operators that breach their permits and cause pollution.”
The changes to the penalty system also include expanding VMPs to activities that are regulated under an environmental permit, which include manufacturing, power generation, waste disposal, and mining, among a range of other activities. The changes, which are now in effect, follow a consultation launched by the government in Spring 2023.
Environment Agency Executive Director John Leyland said:
“The threat of uncapped financial penalties should boost compliance with environmental laws – helping us provide stronger protection to the environment, communities and nature.”