COVID-19 and abstraction returns, irrigation inspections and abstraction charges

An irrigation sprinkler head close-up

The Environment Agency has released a statement on its regulatory approach to abstraction returns, irrigation inspections and abstraction charges resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak.

Abstraction returns deadline postponed

The Environment Agency has postponed its ‘abstraction returns’ deadline date of 30 April. This applies to winter licences and all year licences where abstraction volumes actually used before the end of March 2020 would normally be submitted now. The EA announcement is part of its COVID-19 response and is in line with government advice. The Environment Agency will make direct contact with licence holders to explain further the approach being taken. This is an administrative change.

Abstractors will be formally notified by the Environment Agency of the requirement to submit their returns for the reporting period 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020 later in the year. Meanwhile, abstractors registered to manage abstraction licences online can continue to submit their returns should they wish to do so.

Potential help with abstraction charge payments

The EA has also issued a statement to customers about paying invoices. It recognises that some businesses may struggle to pay bills arising from disruption caused by COVID-19. Currently, when it sends invoices to abstractors and other customers, the EA will invite those businesses to ask about alternative payment arrangements such as payment plans. Further information for abstractors will be included with bills arriving on farm.

Reduced on-farm irrigation inspections

Furthermore, the EA has released an operational note to explain its priorities for enforcement activity during the current COVID-19 event. Regulatory visits to farms and other sites are being reduced and it is not currently envisaged that officers will set foot on farms. The EA will continue to carry out regulatory visits to sites that could cause serious environmental harm. The EA expects abstractors (and the rest of regulated industry) to take all reasonable steps to comply with all relevant environmental legislation, and to prepare for any foreseeable impacts as far as practical to reduce the impacts on people and the environment. It will consider the appropriate regulatory response to any unavoidable non-compliance in line with its enforcement and sanctions policy. Current practices will be kept under review in accordance with evolving government COVID-19 guidance.

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