Softer sanctions for polluters

The Environment Agency and Natural England have been given new civil powers that will give them greater flexibility to enforce environmental law.

The range of new civil powers, given under the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008, will increase the options available to regulators and include fixed and variable monetary penalties and compliance notices.

The sanctions will provide an alternative to criminal prosecutions for regulators, which is more proportionate and reflects the fact that the majority of non-compliance by businesses is unintentional.

The Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008, part 3, contains the enabling powers to introduce four new civil sanctions:

Fixed monetary penalty notices – under which a regulator will be able to impose a monetary penalty of a fixed amount

Discretionary requirements – which will enable a regulator to impose, by notice, one or more of the following a variable monetary penalty determined by the regulator; a requirement to take specified steps within a stated period to secure that an offence does not continue or happen again (compliance notice); and a requirement to take specified steps within a stated period to secure that the position is restored, so far as possible, to what it would have been if no offence had been committed (restoration notice);

Stop notices – which will prevent a business from carrying on an activity described in the notice until it has taken steps to come back into compliance;

Enforcement undertakings – which will enable a business, which a regulator reasonably suspects of having committed an offence, to give an undertaking to a regulator to take one or more corrective actions set out in the undertaking.

Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, said: "These new powers will help make the system fairer for the law-abiding majority of businesses and will give regulators a practical and effective alternative to prosecution. The Environment Agency and Natural England, the first bodies to be given these powers, will have access to flexible and proportionate sanctions that will strengthen the protection of the environment and human health when tackling businesses who break the law."

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