About complaints 

What can you complain about?

Your complaint must relate to a suspected failure to comply with environmental law.  The Environment Act defines environmental law as any legislative provision (other than devolved provisions in Scotland or Wales) to the extent that it is mainly concerned with environmental protection.

Environmental protection means any of the following:

  1. protecting the natural environment from the effects of human activity
  2. protecting people from the effects of human activity on the natural environment
  3. maintaining, restoring or enhancing the natural environment
  4. monitoring, assessing, considering, advising or reporting on anything under points (1) to (3).

The natural environment means any of the following:

  1. plants, wild animals and other living organisms
  2. their habitats
  3. land (except buildings or other structures), air, water and the natural systems, cycles and processes through which they interact.

Examples of environmental law include legislative provisions covering:

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

If your complaint does not relate to environmental law, we will not be able to consider it because it falls outside of our remit. However, we may be able to advise you on what you could do next (for example, whether you could complain to a different body).

If you have a complaint about environmental law in Scotland please contact Environmental Standards Scotland. Their website and contact details can be found at: www.environmentalstandards.scot.

If your complaint relates to Wales please see: https://gov.wales/raising-concern-about-functioning-environmental-law


What is an excluded matter?

The Environment Act defines excluded matters as 

  • disclosure of or access to information
  • the armed forces or national security
  • taxation, spending or the allocation of resources within government.

We are not able to investigate complaints relating to these matters.


Is there a time limit on complaints?

You can complain about an event that has happened at any point in time, even if it took place before the OEP started operating. However, please keep in mind there is no guarantee that the OEP will investigate any individual complaint, and the OEP may choose not to prioritise investigations into historic matters.

Complaints should normally be submitted within certain time limits and the OEP should only exceptionally consider complaints outside of these limits. The time limit is whichever is the later of:

  1. a year after the environmental law was last broken, OR:
  2. three months after you finished the public authority’s complaints procedure, if they have one. 


Who can I complain about?

Your complaint should relate to a “public authority”. The Environment Act defines a public authority as a person carrying out any function of a public nature, apart from certain bodies which are specifically excluded such as a court or tribunal, or Parliament. Public authorities therefore include central and local government, government agencies and other public sector organisations. They can also include private or third sector organisations, but only if they are carrying out functions of a public nature. 

How might a public authority have failed to comply with environmental law?

The Environment Act describes two ways in which a public authority could fail to comply with environmental law.   Firstly, a public authority might unlawfully fail to take proper account of environmental law when exercising its functions. For example, a public authority could fail to carry out an environmental impact assessment that is required by law.  Secondly, a public authority might unlawfully exercise, or fail to exercise, any function it has under environmental law. An example of this would be an authority responsible for licensing environmentally harmful activities failing to properly regulate those activities (for instance, by applying standards that are less rigorous than the law demands).

What if more than one public authority is involved?

If your complaint relates to more than one public authority, you only need to submit one complaint. However, you should list all the authorities you think are involved. Please also submit any evidence you have about all of the authorities that you identify. 

Do I need a lawyer to help me submit a complaint?

No. The complaint form has been designed to be filled in by anyone.

How will the Interim OEP manage conflicts of interest?

We have put measures in place to manage potential conflicts of interest before we are fully established and while we continue to use services provided by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

These include that the OEP’s operations work to the leadership and direction of its independent Board. We handle complaints on a separate IT system, which is only accessible to OEP team members. We also have access to our own independent legal advice.  All of the complaints that we receive, together with our initial assessments of them, will be considered by the OEP once it is fully independently established.


About OEP

When will the OEP be fully operational?

OEP was legally created in November 2021. We expect the government and Parliament to take the steps needed for our functions to be made available to us early in 2022.


What was the Interim OEP?

From July until November 2021, the OEP was set up in an interim, non-statutory form. This allowed it to work as independently as possible in advance of being legally created.


What is the OEP doing?

Ahead of the OEP being fully established, we are:

  1. getting the organisation ready, including our independent strategy, systems, processes, people and resources
  2. collecting complaints about potential breaches of environmental law (we will officially investigate these when we gain our powers)
  3. monitoring the government’s progress against the 25 Year Environment Plan, in preparation for publishing a non-statutory report early in 2022
  4. undertaking preparatory work so that the OEP is ready to scrutinise and provide advice on environmental law
  5. supporting decision-makers in Northern Ireland to help them decide whether they want the OEP to operate there
  6. building relationships with public authorities and non-governmental organisations​​​ 


What is the OEP’s role in Northern Ireland?

The Environment Act gives the OEP a remit to cover England and UK-wide reserved matters. The Act provides for us to also cover Northern Ireland, subject to the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

We are are able to receive complaints from Northern Ireland in order to avoid any gap in coverage between now and when the Assembly makes its decision on our remit in the coming months.