Another change (to me) in the way fines are managed. A few years ago the sentencing rules changed and water companies in particular have been paying out much larger sums in fines – often in excess of a millions pound. In another twist of the legal system there have been a wave of payments made to charities through a mechanism know as civil sanctions. The notes below highlight some recent examples. 

More than £1.5m in funding raised from civil sanctions

The Environment Agency has ordered Anglian Water and United Utilities to pay a total of £575,000 to charities for breaking environmental laws – both companies have agreed to make the payments and have pledged to make improvements to avoid future offences.

Northumbrian Water Limited has agreed to pay £375,000 for pumping raw sewage into a tributary of the River Tyne.

Anglian Water Services Limited have made two separate payments of £100,000 for causing two separate pollution incidents which killed fish.

As well as making a suitable payment to an appropriate environmental charity, each company has accepted liability, demonstrated restoration of harm and invested to reduce the risk of similar breaches occurring in future. The Environment Agency’s ability to accept Enforcement Undertakings was extended in 2015 to a far wider range of offences. The Agency is increasingly using this method of enforcement for suitable cases to swiftly restore the environment, improve practices of the offending company and avoid longer criminal court cases. However prosecutions will still be taken, particularly in the most serious cases.

Peter Kellett, Legal Director for the Environment Agency said:

“Enforcement Undertakings allow those who commit offences to restore the environment and to take steps to prevent a recurrence. When appropriate, they allow a quicker resolution than a prosecution and help offenders who are prepared to take responsibility for their actions to put things right with their local communities.”   The government has allowed the Environment Agency access to powers to apply civil penalties, known as ‘Civil Sanctions’ for certain offences. The majority of civil sanctions applied so far are enforcement undertakings, volunteered under the producer responsibility legislation. The primary purpose of the enforcement undertaking is to allow the offender to restore and remediate any environmental damage they have caused. This is a list of cases which the Environment Agency has accepted a civil sanctions enforcement undertaking (EU) for environmental offences.

For more information, see the guidance on the Environment Agency enforcement, sanctions and offences page.

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