The OEP has a mission to protect and improve the environment by holding government and other public authorities to account. Where we act, we will act strategically.
We cannot investigate every complaint we receive or offer personal redress, but the information we receive through complaints informs our work. For example, helping to identify wider thematic or systemic issues or concerns about how an environmental law is implemented which we can address through our other functions.
You can contact us if you think a public authority has broken environmental law. This allows us to consider your concerns and whether or not enforcement action would be relevant.
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
What we can't investigate
We are unable to investigate complaints related to the following matters:
- disclosure of or access to information
- the armed forces or national security
- anything related to tax, government spending or the allocation of government resources
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. You can find further information in our useful information and contacts page linked below, and you can also search for government organisations here. If you have any questions about whether the organisation you wish to complain about is a public authority, you can contact us.
Public authorities with environmental responsibilities in England
Animal & Plant Health (APHA)
The Animal and Plant Health Agency 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 a government 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.
Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy complaints procedure
Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs is a government department 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 is a government department responsible 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 a government department 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 a government 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
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. It is also responsible for managing flood risk from main rivers, reservoirs, estuaries, and the sea, and is 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.
Historic England complaints procedure
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.
JNCC complaints procedure
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. Depending on the level of the local authority, decisions are usually 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 a government department 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 (formerly the Highways Agency and later Highways England) is charged with operating, maintaining, and improving England’s motorways and major A roads. It does not manage all roads: 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. It provides a voice at a national level, shape policy & share knowledge. Its 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
The Office for Water Services Regulation regulates the water sector in England and Wales. It is a non-ministerial government department. It is the economic regulator of the water and sewerage sectors and is responsible for protecting the interests of consumers, wherever appropriate by promoting competition. They make sure that the water companies properly carry out their function and ensure that the water companies can finance their functions.
Ofwat 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)
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 is is 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 CNCC’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 a devolved Northern Ireland government department in the Northern Ireland Executive 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 a devolved Northern Ireland government department in the Northern Ireland Executive 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 a devolved Northern Ireland government department in the Northern Ireland Executive 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 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 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.
In order for us to consider information submitted to us as a complaint, the information must:
- Relate to a suspected breach of environmental law by a public authority.
- The relevant environmental law must relate to England, Northern Ireland, or a reserved matter (a matter on which only the UK Parliament in Westminster can make legislation).
- Be submitted by an individual and not on behalf of a public authority.
- Have already been subject to the public authority’s internal complaints procedure.
- Be submitted within the time limits.
You should contact us within the following time limits:
- if the public authority has no relevant internal complaints procedure, you must contact 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 contact 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 contact the OEP within 3 months of the internal complaint’s procedure finishing
Exceptions to our criteria
We do have some discretion to consider submissions outside of these time limits, but only in exceptional circumstances. For example, we might consider your concerns outside of this time limit 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.
Completion of public authority’s complaints procedure
Normally you must complete the internal complaints procedure of the public authority you are complaining about before you contact the OEP. 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. For instance, we may also decide to 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
Scotland and Wales
Find out how to submit a complaint about suspected breaches of environmental law in Scotland. This link will take you to another website.
Find out how to submit a complaint about suspected breaches of environmental law in Wales. This link will take you to another website.
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.