B1.17 Penalties for Non-compliance


There are various penalties that an organisation may face for breaching environmental legislation. For example:


Fines and Imprisonment

Most breaches of environmental law will be prosecuted in the criminal courts. The penalties are usually a fine and/or imprisonment. For cases tried in the:

  • Magistrates’ court, the maximum penalty was fine of £20,000 and/or six months imprisonment. However, this changed in March 2015. The maximum fine for certain crimes is now unlimited. This increase will only apply (a) in respect of offences committed after 12 March 2015; and (b) to England and Wales but not to Northern Ireland or Scotland.
  • Crown Court, the maximum penalty is usually an unlimited fine and/or two years imprisonment.

The regulators can also prosecute your business’ directors, managers, secretary or other similar officers (or person purporting to act in any such capacity), if it can be shown the offence was committed with their consent or connivance, or was attributable to their neglect.


Civil sanctions

New legislation has given regulators (including the EA and local authorities) the power to impose civil penalties on businesses, as an alternative to prosecuting. This is discussed in more detail in section B8.7.


Enforcement notices

Environmental regulators can serve an enforcement notice on a business requiring it to rectify a breach of environment law. In some cases, the regulator has the power to order the closure or suspension of the operator’s business until the breach has been rectified. Breach of any of these types of order is a criminal offence.


Clean-up notices

Environmental regulators can serve a notice on a business, requiring it to clean up any contamination (including water pollution) they have caused. Breach of this type of notice is a criminal offence.


Related orders

For more serious offences, the court can make related orders, either at the same time as sentencing or in subsequent proceedings:

  • Directors’ disqualification order. The offender can be prohibited from acting as a company director. Breach of a directors’ disqualification order is a criminal offence.
  • Recovery of assets. A prosecutor (usually the EA in environmental cases) can refer cases to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) after a conviction, asking SOCA to confiscate assets equal to the financial benefit gained from the criminal environmental activity.
  • Serious crime prevention order. A serious crime prevention order (SCPO) can be made after a person has been convicted of a serious offence. A “serious offence” includes a number of environmental offences (for example, disposing of waste without a permit). An SCPO can be made against an individual or a business and may last for up to five years.


Adverse publicity

A conviction for an environmental offence may lead to adverse local and, in some cases, national publicity. The EA publicises environmental convictions on its website as part of its “name and shame” policy. Local press sometimes also sit in on criminal court proceedings. There may be damage to your business’ reputation, even if it is found “not guilty” at the end of the proceedings.



A conviction could increase your business’ insurance premiums.


Regulatory relationship

Your business’ ongoing relationship with the regulator may be undermined.


Future sale of your business

A poor environmental compliance record, particularly prosecutions and convictions, can cause difficulties if you decide to try and sell your business, especially if the buyer requests additional environmental warranties and indemnities.


Publication of Prosecution Information

An organisation cannot hide the fact it has been prosecuted. The Environment Agency includes details of prosecutions on their website, which is publicly available for all to see.





SEPA do the same in Scotland: