Can I complain?

You can complain to us if you think that a public authority has broken environmental law. Our service is free for you to use.

What can I complain about?

Can I complain?

You can complain to us if you think that a public authority has broken environmental law. Our service is free for you to use.

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

  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. 
  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. You have already complained to the public authority and finished their complaints procedure, if they have one  
  6. You must normally complain before the later of;  
  • a year after the environmental law was last broken, OR: 
  • three months after you finished the public authority’s complaints procedure, if they have one. 

You can find more details below, and on our Submit a Complaint page.

If you have any questions about the process or special requirements please let us know and we will do our best to help you.

You can contact us at enquiries@theoep.org.uk

Before you complain to us

As well as checking that your complaint meets the criteria above, we ask you to consider the following before you submit a complaint to us:

  • You should talk directly to the public authority you are complaining about. This gives them a chance to consider your complaint. If they agree with you, they can try to put things right. 
  • Do collect any evidence that supports your complaint about the suspected failure to comply with environmental law. You should submit any evidence you have gathered with your complaint. 
  • Along with this evidence, we will need to see confirmation that you have completed the relevant public authority’s internal complaints procedure. This will usually be a letter or an email from them. 
  • Please read the guidance paragraphs at the beginning of each section on the complaint form, to help you give us the information we need.
  • Do consider the questions on the complaint form carefully. You must answer all questions, indicated with *. If you don’t, we may need to ask you to resubmit your complaint.​​​
  • Keep in mind that there are some things that will fall outside of our remit.
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) that 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). 

 

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.

Legislative provisions concerning these specific topics, whether or not they are also mainly concerned with environmental protection, are excluded from the definition of environmental law. Therefore, we would not be able to investigate complaints relating to these matters.

 

What is a Public Authority?

Before you submit a complaint to us, you should first contact the public authority you believe has breached an environmental law and follow their own internal complaints procedure. This gives the public authority the chance to consider the issue and put things right if it agrees there has been a failure. We will ask for evidence that you have finished their complaints procedure when you bring your complaint to us.

If you are unsure which public authority you need to complain about, or whether the organisation you wish to complain about is a public authority, please contact us.

Below is a list (not exhaustive) of some of the main public authorities with environmental responsibilities. We have highlighted some of their main functions and given links for access to their internal complaints’ procedures. The links below will take you to the external websites of the public authorities listed.

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.

NE is a non-departmental public body sponsored by Defra.

Natural England complaints procedure

Environment Agency (EA)

As a non-departmental public body, sponsored by Defra, 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.

Agri-food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI) (Northern Ireland)

The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute is a multi-disciplinary organisation involved in high technology research and development, diagnostic and analytical testing for DAERA and other Government departments, public bodies, and commercial companies in Northern Ireland, and further afield.

Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute complaints procedure.

Animal & Plant Health (APHA)

The Animal and Plant Health Agency is an executive agency of Defra and 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.

CEFAS is a non-departmental public body sponsored by Defra.

Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture complaints procedure.

Dept for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS)

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy is a UK Government ministerial department 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. BEIS is supported by 42 agencies and public bodies.

Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy complaints procedure.

Dept for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs is a UK Government ministerial department. It 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. It is supported by 33 agencies and public bodies.

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs complaints procedure.

Dept for Infrastructure (Northern Ireland)

The Department for Infrastructure is a Northern Ireland government department 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 (Northern Ireland) complaints procedure.

Dept for the Economy (Northern Ireland)

The Department for the Economy is a Northern Ireland government department 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 (Northern Ireland) complaints procedure.

Dept for Transport (DfT)

The Department for Transport is UK Government ministerial department 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.

Dept of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (DAERA) (Northern Ireland)

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs is a Northern Ireland government department with responsibility 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 (Northern Ireland) complaints procedure.

Dept of Health & Social Care (DHSC)

The Department of Health and Social Care is a UK Government ministerial government department with 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.

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. FC is a Defra-sponsored public body.

Forestry Commission complaints procedure.

Highways England

Highways England (formerly the Highways Agency) is a UK Government company charged with operating, maintaining, and improving England’s motorways and major A roads. Highways England does 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.

Highways England 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. HE is a non- departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport.

Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC)

JNCC Joint Nature Conservation Committee is the public body that 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.

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. MMO is a non-departmental public body sponsored by Defra.

Marine Management Organisation complaints procedure.

Ministry of Defence (MoD)

The Ministry of Defence is a UK Government ministerial department responsible for protecting people, territories, values, and interests at home and overseas, through the armed forces and in partnership with allies. The MoD is supported by 24 agencies and public bodies.

Ministry of Defence 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. PINS is an executive agency sponsored by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Planning Inspectorate complaints procedure.

Local Authorities (County councils, District, 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

Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG)

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government is a UK Government ministerial government department with responsibility for supporting and delivering housing and local government policy. The department supports the development and implementation of policy and law by UK Government Ministers.

Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government complaints procedure.

Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA)

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency is an Executive Agency within the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. The agency’s purpose is to protect and enhance Northern Ireland’s environment and support economic growth.

Northern Ireland Environment Agency complaints procedure.

Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside (CNCC) (Northern Ireland)

The Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside are a statutory advisor to DAERA on matters affecting nature conservation and the countryside. Council 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

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
 

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

The Environment Act 2021 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.

 

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.

 

How will the Interim OEP manage conflicts of interest?

We have put in place measures to manage potential conflicts of interest. 

Our staff have access to independent legal advice and work under the leadership and direction of an independent Board. Complaints are handled and processed on an independent IT system.

When the OEP receives complaints, it checks if they meet the criteria within the Environment Act. We will make the final independent decision on whether to investigate, when our functions are enabled by Parliament. We expect this to be early in 2022.

Members of the public were able to submit complaints before the OEP was legally created. The OEP will also make the final independent decision on whether to investigate these complaints when our functions are enabled by Parliament. 

 

What to do next

Find out what's involved

Our complaints process is open to everybody and free to use. We will keep you updated on the progress of your complaint. There are four main stages in our complaints process.

What's involved

Submitting a complaint

Once you have read the guidance, you can complain to us if you think that a public authority has broken environmental law. 

Submit a complaint

Still unsure about something?

Our Frequently Asked Questions looks at the complaints process and the wider role of the OEP.

View our FAQs