English environmental regulation during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

In response to the disruption caused by Coronavirus (COVID-19), the Environment Agency (EA) is having to adapt the way in which it operates and regulates business. With most frontline staff now working from home and only visiting sites that could cause serious environmental harm, normal regulatory requirements have been largely relaxed in an effort to avoid increasing risks to the environment or human health during the current situation.

In an Operational Update released at the beginning of the month, the EA stated that it would greatly reduce its regulatory inspections and only respond to the most serious of pollution incidents.

Temporary Regulatory Position Statements

To help business cope with disruption, it has published several temporary COVID-19 regulatory position statements (COVID-19 RPSs). The COVID-19 RPSs set out how the EA will not seek to enforce certain aspects of the environmental permitting regime in specific circumstances directly related to Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Each of the temporary COVID-19 RPSs sets out when they apply and the conditions which businesses must comply with. They do not exempt businesses from other regulatory and legal requirements, and it is advised to regularly check the EA website for any changes to RPSs and their applicability.

If you intend to use a COVID-19 RPS, you must comply with:

  • its specific conditions – including any requirements to notify the EA, or gain approval to use the RPS; and
  • requirements concerning pollution and harm to human health.

If these conditions are met the EA states that it will not normally take enforcement action against the business operating under the RPS.


Key COVID-19 RPSs for businesses

Social distancing when signing and handing over waste transfer and consignment notes in person: RPS C8  

This applies to those who use paper waste transfer notes and consignment notes, or an electronic system that requires a digital signature on a handset. Under this RPS you don’t have to sign and hand over paper copies of waste transfer and consignment notes in person or get a digital signature on a handset. This is to allow social distancing measures to be followed.  

When you transfer your waste, for each waste transfer and consignment note, you must meet six conditions: 

  • Condition 1: The appropriate person must still complete the relevant sections of the waste transfer note or consignment note for each transfer of waste. There is no longer the requirement to sign it; instead the responsible person should provide their full name and business contact details.  This includes a telephone number, an email address or a postal address (or all 3). 
  • Condition 2: When transferring or receiving waste, you no longer need to physically hand over the waste transfer or consignment note. You must still however provide all the information and data normally required in a note. This must be done before or during the transfer. 
  • Condition 3: For each waste transfer you must send or receive the completed paper copy (without the signature) of the waste transfer or consignment note. You must do this as soon as possible and not later than 10 days after the waste transfer. 
  • Condition 4: You must keep a record of any waste you transfer or receive during the period you use this COVID-19 RPS. These records must include all the information and data required by the waste transfer note and consignment note. 
  • Condition 5: All other requirements for transferring or consigning waste must still be complied with.  
  • Condition 6: You must make sure your activities do not endanger human health or the environment. 

This COVID-19 RPS will be withdrawn on 30 September 2020 unless the EA extend it.  

COVID-19 and packaging waste: registering as a packaging producer: RPS C9  

This applies to obligated packaging producers who have been unable to meet the requirements due to Coronavirus (COVID-19).  

Obligated packaging producers are usually required to register with the EA directly or through a compliance scheme on or by 7th April each year and provide complete and accurate information on registration. Failure to do so in normal circumstances would lead to potential enforcement action and late submission charges.  

However, if you have been unable to register or provide accurate information as a result of the pandemic under this RPS the EA will not take enforcement action or charge an additional fee if you are able to meet the limitations and conditions set out: 

  • Registration: if you have been unable to register you must document why this was the case and register as soon as reasonably practicable, and no later than 7 July 2020. Documentation detailing reasons for late registration must be retained for 12 months and be made available to the EA on request.  
  • Information provided: if information you have provided is incomplete or inaccurate, you must document why this was the case and supply the correct information as soon as reasonably practicable, and no later than 7 July 2020. Documentation detailing reasons for late registration must be retained for 12 months and be made available to the EA on request.  

This COVID-19 RPS will be withdrawn on 8 July 2020 unless the EA extends it. 

COVID-19 and delaying hazardous waste consignee returns: RPS C14 

This applies to those who receive or dispose of hazardous waste and are required to send quarterly consignee returns under the Hazardous Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2005 as amended and waste producers who receive consignee returns. Under this RPS, consignee returns due on 30 April 2020 may be submitted after this date if you cannot comply with the reporting deadline due to Coronavirus (COVID-19). For this RPS to apply you must comply with the following conditions: 

  • You must send your quarterly consignee returns, due on 30 April 2020, to the EA and the waste producer or holder as soon as reasonably practical, and no later than 31 July 2020. 
  • You must record and document fully why you needed to use this RPS and could not meet the deadline of 30 April 2020These documents must be retained for 2 years after this RPS has expired (including any extensions to it). 
  • You must ensure that all records in relation to the above are made available to the EA upon request. 

For waste producers, it is recommended that you reference this RPS and document why any consignee returns have not been received by the 30 April 2020 deadline and retain any communications with your waste contractor relating to this.  

All other requirements for hazardous waste will still need to be complied with. You must still consign hazardous waste, and you may still require other permits, licences and registrations for activities that you carry out. 

This COVID-19 RPS will expire on 31 July 2020 unless the EA extend it. 

As the situation with Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to unfold it is likely that we will see further changes to the way businesses operate and are regulated. Look out for future blog posts where The Compliance People will keep you up to date with what is happening, and what this means for you and your business.