Local authorities are increasingly encouraging anonymous tip-offs about businesses which may not be legally compliant. What’s happening and what are the risks?
In the post. In October 2016 Worcestershire companies licensed by the local authority (LA) received a letter from the regulator. It acknowledged the cost and time that the permit holders had taken to ensure legal compliance. It recognised that the majority of companies comply with the law and have an environmental consciousness when it comes to manufacturing their products. It went on to point out that a minority are not so concerned, or may even be unaware of their obligation and therefore, wittingly or not, have gained a cost advantage over their licensed competitors.
Caught out. The letter was triggered by the successful prosecution of a printing firm, following a tip-off from another business. The printers were found to have been operating at a significant commercial advantage for many years without pollution abatement equipment, which resulted in a fine for the company and each of its two directors. The printers were obliged to apply for a permit and invest in abatement equipment. They are now complying with the same standards as their competitors and operating on a fair footing.
Request. The letter asked for help in identifying unlicensed companies and encouraged recipients to anonymously inform the LA about any local competitors. The LA then undertook to investigate the companies to determine whether they comply with the law.
Warning. With cuts to their funding, LAs are finding low-cost ways of targeting their efforts (including asking for tip-offs), meaning more companies will be under scrutiny.
Tip. If you are carrying out an industrial activity, find out if you need a permit. A favourable view is taken of companies who seek to comply, as long as they have not been deliberately avoiding compliance as a way to make more money.
Because of budget squeezes, local authorities are adopting new tactics to uncover non-compliance. If you don’t have an environmental permit in place, don’t delay, as the likelihood of being caught out has increased.