The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) is a new public body. We were legally created in November 2021, under the Environment Act 2021.
Our mission is to protect and improve the environment by holding government and other public authorities to account.
The organisations and individuals we can hold to account include:
- government departments
- government ministers
- local authorities
- some private bodies, such as water companies – but only in respect of their public powers and duties
Our work covers England and Northern Ireland. We also cover reserved matters across the UK (a matter on which only the UK Parliament in Westminster can make legislation).
How we do it
The Environment Act sets out our powers and duties, which can be split into 4 types of activities. These are:
1. Scrutinising Environmental Improvement Plans and targets
We will monitor, critically assess and report on governments' progress in improving the natural environment in line with their Environmental Improvement Plans (EIPs), goals and targets.
Government has a duty to report its own assessment of progress annually and to review its plans periodically. We will hold government to account against these obligations and government has a duty to respond to our recommendations. This cycle of assessment and scrutiny underpins the delivery of the EIPs and targets in law.
2. Scrutinising environmental law
We have a duty to monitor the implementation of environmental law. We can decide to report on any such matter, at any time. We must publish these reports and arrange for them to be presented to Parliament and /or the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The UK government and /or DAERA must respond to our reports within three months and then publish and present their responses to Parliament and /or the Northern Ireland Assembly.
3. Advising government on environmental law
We can give advice on any changes to environmental law proposed by government. This could be in response to:
- draft legislation published by government, or
- a white paper setting out proposals for future legislation
Government may also ask us for advice about any other matter relating to the natural environment.
4. Enforcing against failures to comply with environmental law
Our enforcement activities aim to identify and respond to serious failures to comply with environmental law by government and anyone else carrying out activities of a public nature.
Our enforcement powers and duties include:
- receiving complaints about potential failures to comply with environmental law by government and anyone else carrying out activities of a public nature
- conducting investigations
- commencing legal proceedings, when needed
You can complain to us if you think that government or anyone carrying out activities of a public nature has broken environmental law. Find out more about what we can investigate.
We will use our powers and duties to make the greatest contribution we can to environmental protection and the improvement of the natural environment. This includes the protection of people from the effects of human activity on the environment.
Our finalised strategy and enforcement policy was published in June 2022.
Natural Capital Committee (NCC)
The Natural Capital Committee (NCC) delivered independent advice to government on protecting and improving natural capital. In carrying out its scrutiny and advice functions, the OEP will build upon work undertaken by the NCC.