The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has said that environmental regulators will be allowed to charge polluters unlimited penalties and the current limit of £250,000 has been scrapped.
Following consultation and “widespread public support” Defra has imposed this and now the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural England can hand out large financial penalties.
Defra said that the penalties will be subjected to sentencing guidelines and the extent of the pollution, harm the degree of responsibility and the ability of a company to pay the fines.
Environment Secretary Therese Coffey said: “Polluters must always pay. We are scrapping the cap on civil penalties and significantly broadening their scope to target a much wider range of offences – from breaches of storm overflow permits to the reckless disposal of hazardous waste.
“It builds on action being taken right across Government to stand up for our environment – tackling pollution, protecting delicate ecosystems and enhancing nature.”
Environment Agency chair Alan Lovell said: “We regularly prosecute companies and individuals through criminal proceedings, but these new powers will allow us to deliver penalties that are quicker and easier to enforce, even though the most serious cases will continue to go to court.
“That should be an important deterrent – boosting compliance across a range of sectors, driving down pollution and safeguarding the ecology and prosperity of our natural world.”
A Water UK spokesperson said: “We welcome this announcement. It is right that regulators have all the powers they need when things go wrong.
“With 99% of sewage works fully compliant with their legal permits, enforcement will only ever be one part of the solution.
“Bringing about the transformation we all want to see requires hard work, innovation, and investment – which is why we are proposing to invest £10 billion in the biggest overhaul of our sewers since the Victorian era.”