What we can investigate

Find out more about what you can complain to us about and who we can hold to account

Overview

You can complain to us if you think that a public authority has broken environmental law.

A public authority is any person or organisation carrying out activities of a public nature, including:

  • government departments and ministers
  • agencies of government
  • local authorities (county councils, district councils, unitary authorities, and parish councils)
  • water companies
  • harbour authorities

The two most common ways in which a public authority could fail to comply with environmental law are:

  • failing to take proper account of environmental law when carrying out its activities, for example not carrying out an environmental impact assessment
  • unlawfully exercising, or failing to exercise, any activities it has to carry out under environmental law, for example not properly regulating environmentally harmful activities it is responsible for licensing

Examples of environmental law include those covering:

  • air pollution
  • water pollution
  • contaminated land
  • nature conservation
  • waste and resource use
  • climate change
  • environmental assessment and monitoring
Public authorities with environmental responsibilities

Below is a list of some of the main public authorities with environmental responsibilities. This is not a complete list. If you have any questions about whether the organisation you wish to complain about is a public authority, please contact us.

Public authorities with environmental responsibilities in England

Animal & Plant Health (APHA)
The Animal and Plant Health Agency works on behalf of the Scottish and Welsh Governments. APHA is responsible for identifying and controlling endemic and exotic diseases and pests in animals and plants, and surveillance of new and emerging pests and diseases. APHA also facilitates international trade in animals, products of animal origin, and plants. APHA protects endangered wildlife through licensing and registration and regulates the safe disposal of animal by-products.
Animal and Plant Health Agency's complaints procedure

Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (CEFAS)
The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science is a marine and freshwater scientific institution. CEFAS conducts research and collates evidence and data to apply to animal health regulation, fisheries negotiations, environmental planning and consenting decisions, conservation and environmental protection, and to respond to serious emergencies such as fish disease outbreaks, oil or chemical spills, and radioactivity leaks.
Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture complaints procedure

Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy is responsible for business, industrial strategy, science, research and innovation, energy and clean growth and climate change. BEIS supports the development and implementation of policy and law by UK Government Ministers.
Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy complaints procedure

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs is responsible for safeguarding the natural environment, supporting the food, and farming industries and the rural economy, and protecting against floods, animal and plant diseases and other hazards. Defra supports the development and implementation of policy and law by UK Government Ministers.
Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs complaints procedure

Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC)
The Department of Health and Social Care has responsibility for supporting the NHS in delivering hospital, primary and community care and securing the workforce. The department supports the development and implementation of policy and law by UK Government Ministers.
Department of Health & Social Care complaints procedure

Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is responsible for supporting and delivering housing and local government policy. The department supports the development and implementation of policy and law by UK Government Ministers.
Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities complaints procedure

Department for Transport (DfT)
The Department for Transport is responsible for working with agencies and partners to support the transport network for business, people and goods travelling around the country. DfT plans and invests in transport infrastructure across the UK. The department supports the development and implementation of policy and law by UK Government Ministers.
Department for Transport complaints procedure

Environment Agency (EA)
The Environment Agency regulates and monitors water quality, water resources, fisheries and looks after inland river, estuary, and harbour navigations, and has conservation and recreation responsibilities. They are also responsible for managing flood risk from main rivers, reservoirs, estuaries, and the sea, and are responsible for regulating major industry and waste activities.
Environment Agency complaints procedure

Forestry Commission (FC)
The Forestry Commission is responsible for protecting, expanding, and promoting the sustainable management of woodlands. FC works with two agencies: Forestry England and Forest Research. FC issues felling licences and grants for woodland creation.
Forestry Commission complaints procedure

Historic England (HE)
Historic England is the UK Government's statutory adviser and a statutory consultee on all aspects of the historic environment and its heritage assets. This includes archaeology on land and underwater, historic buildings, designated landscapes and the historic elements of the wider landscape.

Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC)
Joint Nature Conservation Committee advises the UK Government and Devolved Administrations on UK-wide and international nature conservation. JNCC is the forum through which the country-specific nature conservation bodies in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland discharge their statutory responsibilities across the UK and internationally.

Local authorities (county councils, district councils, unitary authorities and parish councils)
Local authorities are responsible for a range of services for people and businesses in defined areas. These include social care, schools, housing, planning and waste collection. Local authorities are made up of councillors who are elected by the public in local elections. Councillors work with local people and partners, such as local businesses and other organisations, to agree and deliver on local priorities. The decisions are implemented by permanent council staff.
Find your local council

Marine Management Organisation (MMO)
The Marine Management Organisation is responsible for licensing and regulating marine activities in the seas around England and Wales. MMO monitors fish quotas, licenses marine construction, and deals with marine pollution.
Marine Management Organisation complaints procedure

Ministry of Defence (MoD)
The Ministry of Defence is responsible for protecting people, territories, values, and interests at home and overseas, through the armed forces and in partnership with allies.
Ministry of Defence complaints procedure

National Highways
National Highways (formerly the Highways Agency and Highways England) is charged with operating, maintaining, and improving England’s motorways and major A roads. They do not manage all road: local roads are managed by the relevant local authority and London roads are managed by Transport for London. Traffic and transport legislation, regulations and policy are the remit of the Department for Transport.
National Highways complaints procedure

National Parks England
National Parks England brings together the Authorities which look after the ten National Parks in England. They provide a voice at a national level, shape policy & share knowledge. Their website has links to the ten English National Parks.
National Parks England

Natural England (NE)
Natural England is a statutory adviser to the Government, helping develop laws, policies, and plans. It regulates work affecting protected species and sites. It also has a responsibility for managing issues concerned with access to the countryside. NE is a statutory consultee for proposed development on protected sites. It provides technical advice on environmental farm schemes.
Natural England complaints procedure

Planning Inspectorate (PINS)
The Planning Inspectorate deal with planning appeals, national infrastructure planning applications, examinations of local plans and other planning-related and specialist casework in England and Wales. It makes decisions and provides recommendations and advice on a range of land use planning-related issues across England and Wales.
Planning Inspectorate complaints procedure.

Public authorities with environmental responsibilities in Northern Ireland

Agri-food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI)
The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute is involved in high technology research and development, diagnostic and analytical testing in Northern Ireland, and further afield.
Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute complaints procedure.

Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside (CNCC)
The Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside are a statutory advisor to DAERA on matters affecting nature conservation and the countryside. CNCC also offers advice relevant to its remit to other NI government departments. Much of the Council's advice is channelled through NIEA and Planning NI.
Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside

Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (DAERA)
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs is responsible for food, farming, the environment, fisheries, forestry and sustainability policy and the development of the rural sector. The department supports the development and implementation of policy and law by Ministers in Northern Ireland.
Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs complaints procedure.

Department for the Economy
The Department for the Economy is responsible for economic policy and energy. It also leads on employment and skills programmes, further and higher education, and employment rights. The department supports the development and implementation of policy and law by Ministers in Northern Ireland.
Department for the Economy complaints procedure

Department for Infrastructure
The Department for Infrastructure is responsible for road improvement schemes, transport initiatives, roads, public transport, water and sewerage services, ports, planning, rivers, and flooding. The department supports the development and implementation of policy and law by Ministers in Northern Ireland.
Department for Infrastructure complaints procedure

District Councils
District Councils are responsible for a range of services for people and businesses in defined areas. These include street cleaning, regulation of new buildings, planning and waste collection. District Councils are made up of councillors who are elected by the public in local elections. Councillors work with local people and partners, such as local businesses and other organisations, to agree and deliver on local priorities. The decisions are implemented by permanent council staff.
Find your local council

Loughs Agency
Loughs Agency aims to provide sustainable social, economic and environmental benefits through the effective conservation, management, promotion and development of the fisheries and marine resources of the Foyle and Carlingford areas.
Loughs Agency complaints procedure

Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA)
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency's purpose is to protect and enhance Northern Ireland’s environment and support economic growth.
Northern Ireland Environment Agency complaints procedure.
 

Our complaints criteria

In order for us to be able to help, your complaint must meet the following criteria:

  1. You suspect that an environmental law has been broken.
  2. The environmental law in question relates to England, Northern Ireland or a reserved matter (a matter on which only the UK Parliament in Westminster can make legislation).
  3. The complaint is about a public authority.
  4. You are not complaining on behalf of a public authority (a public authority cannot complain about another public authority).
  5. If the public authority has a relevant internal complaints procedure, you should have already finished that procedure.
  6. You complain within the time limits.

Time limits

You should usually complain to us within the following time limits:

  • if the public authority has no relevant internal complaints procedure, you must complain to the OEP within a year of the environmental law being broken
  • if the public authority has a relevant internal complaints procedure and you finish this within 9 months of the environmental law being broken, you must complain to the OEP within a year of the environmental law being broken
  • if you finish the public authority's internal complaints procedure more than 9 months after the environmental law was broken, you must complain to the OEP within 3 months of the internal complaints procedure finishing
Exceptions to our complaints criteria

Time limits

Complaints usually need to be submitted to us within the time limits outlined in our criteria. We do have some discretion to consider complaints outside of these time limits, but only in exceptional circumstances. For example, we might consider a complaint outside of this time period where the environmental harm caused or details of a decision taken by a public authority have only recently come to light and could not have been known about earlier.

Please contact us if you have any questions about time limits for complaints.

Completion of public authority’s complaints procedure

We will usually only consider complaints if you have completed the internal complaints procedure of the public authority you are complaining about. However, we may choose to investigate or take other enforcement action when this criteria has not been met or it is not clear whether it has been met.

We may also decide to investigate or take action where we judge it to be in the public interest. This could be, for example, where:

  • the case is urgent (for instance, serious damage could arise or increase during the period of consideration under the internal complaints procedure)
  • there is ambiguity over whether the internal procedure covers the conduct in question
  • the public authority's internal procedure appears to be open-ended, so that the complainant is unable to progress to completion in a reasonable period
  • the public authority's procedure is too complex or unclear for it to be reasonable to expect the complainant to complete it
  • the conduct in question relates to a complex matter of environmental law, a point of general public interest, or another issue more appropriately dealt with by the OEP rather than by an individual complainant

Please contact us if you have any questions about whether you need to complete the internal complaints procedure of the public authority you are complaining about.
 

Scotland and Wales

What we can't investigate

We are unable to investigate complaints related to the following matters, which have been excluded from environmental law:

  • disclosure of or access to information
  • the armed forces or national security
  • anything related to tax, government spending or the allocation of government resources

Help and support

If you are unsure whether your complaint meets our criteria or have any other questions about what we can investigate, please contact us.

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Our complaints process

Find out how you can submit a complaint to the OEP. Our service is free and open to anyone.

Submitting a complaint

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