Civil penalties for UK water companies caught releasing untreated wastewater are going to increase 1000-fold from US$286 thousand to US$286 million, announced Ranil Jayawardena, the UK’s Environment Secretary. After 2021 saw an increase from 40 to 62 pollution incidents by water companies, the UK Government is moving to push for more investment in infrastructure and a subsequent decrease in these incidents.
Although criminal action may result in unlimited penalties, these processes are lengthy and costly. On the other hand, civil sanctions called Variable Monetary Penalties (VMP) are much quicker and can be implemented directly by the Environment Agency (EA). However,VMPs have a limit of £250.000 (US$286.000), an amount the EA finds insufficient and is, therefore, raising.
In response to the increase in water pollution incidents, the EA has requested all water companies to submit plans to improve environmental performance and infrastructure. In an announcement by the EA, 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.”
Quoted by the same announcement, Sir James Bevan, the Environment Agency Chief Executive said: “Criminal prosecutions can be lengthy and costly, so we welcome today’s proposals which will make it easier for us to hold water companies to account for environmental crimes. We will now work closely with government to put this plan into action.”