Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Permits and licences - An overview

Business activities that may cause pollution or that pose another risk to the environment are regulated.

You must ensure that you have appropriate authorisation for the activities your business carries out. Most authorisations are issued:

  • In Northern Ireland by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), your district council or water and sewerage company.
  • In Scotland by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) or your water and sewerage company.

This guide outlines the main environmental authorisations, including pollution prevention and control permits, waste management licences, hazardous waste notification, trade effluent consents and the licences or authorisations you require for discharges to or abstractions from the water environment.

Additional resources

   

You may require authorisation, in the form of permits, licences, consents, registrations, notifications or exemptions, in order to carry out certain types of business activity. You must comply with the conditions that are part of the authorisation. These aim to control the impact of your activities on the environment.

In most cases, you'll need to apply to either:

  • In Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA). District councils and water companies are in charge of some types of authorisation.
  • In Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). Water companies are in charge of some types of authorisation.

You will need authorisation if you:

  • carry out certain listed activities at an installation or mobile plant, such as industrial activities, or carry out waste disposal or recovery activities, such as metals recycling or waste transfer stations

- see the page in this guideline: Pollution prevention and control permits and waste management licences

  • discharge anything other than clean water into surface waters or groundwater

- see the page in this guideline: Authorisations and consents for discharges

  • discharge trade effluent into the public foul sewer

- see the page in this guideline: Trade effluent consents and agreements

  • take water from surface waters or groundwater, or obstruct them in any way

- see the page in this guideline: Water abstraction and impoundment authorisations

  • transport waste, or arrange for someone else to do so

- see the page in this guideline: Waste carrier, broker and dealer registration

  • produce or move hazardous/special waste

- see the page in this guideline: Hazardous/special waste notification

  • keep, use or dispose of radioactive substances

- see the page in this guideline: Radioactive substances certificates

  • produce greenhouse gas emissions that are covered by the European Union emissions trading system or the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme.

- see our guidelines: EU emissions trading system, The CRC energy efficiency scheme and ESOS

Further information

Contact your environmental regulator

Pollution prevention and control (PPC) permits and waste management licences regulate business activities that could have an impact on the environment or human health.

PPC permits

You may require a PPC permit because of the type and size of the activities your business carries out. You can apply for a PPC permit:

  • In Northern Ireland, from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) or your district council
  • In Scotland from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

For example, you may need a PPC permit if your business carries out:

  • energy activities, such as combustion and refining
  • metals production and processing
  • mineral activities, such as production of cement, lime, glass and ceramics
  • production of chemicals, including fertilisers and pharmaceuticals
  • waste activities, such as operating a landfill site or incinerator
  • activities involving the use of solvents, such as coating, printing and dry cleaning.

You must comply with the conditions of your permit or you could be fined or even sent to prison.

PPC Permits

Waste management licences and exemptions

You may need a waste management licence from the NIEA or SEPA, for example if you:

  • store other people's waste
  • treat waste, carry out recycling or use waste mobile plants
  • carry out final disposal of waste.

You are unlikely to need a licence if you only store waste that you produce and an authorised waste carrier removes it from your site regularly. However, you must check that anyone who handles your waste has the correct permit, licence or exemption.

Your activity may qualify for an exemption from waste management licensing. Whether you need a licence or to register an exemption will depend on:

  • how long you store waste
  • the types and quantities of wastes that you handle
  • the activities carried out on your site.

If your activity is exempt, you may still need to register it with the NIEA or SEPA. You will still need to comply with controls to prevent pollution and harm to human health.

Waste management licences

Further information

Contact your environmental regulator

There are strict controls on discharging substances and materials to land, surface waters or groundwater.

Surface waters include rivers, lakes, loughs, lochs, streams, reservoirs and canals. Groundwater is all water located below the water table.

Discharging to water

In Northern Ireland, if you discharge anything other than clean, uncontaminated water you must have a:

  • discharge consent for discharges to surface water
  • a groundwater authorisation for discharges to groundwater.

These consents and authorisations are issued by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).

You must comply with the conditions of your discharge consent or groundwater authorisation.

In Scotland, if you discharge anything other than clean, uncontaminated water you must have:

  • an authorisation under the Controlled Activity Regulations (CAR)
  • an integrated pollution control authorisation or pollution prevention and control permit.

These authorisations and permits are issued by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

CAR has three levels of authorisation:

  • general binding rules
  • registration
  • water use licences.

You must comply with the conditions of your authorisation or permit.

Further information on discharging to water

See the page on environmental consents to discharge to water in our guideline: Preventing water pollution

If you discharge anything to the public foul sewer, see the page in this guideline: Trade effluent - managing liquid wastes

Discharging to land

In Northern Ireland, you must obtain < a discharge consent from the NIEA if you discharge trade effluent (liquid waste) into land or more than 2 cubic metres per day of treated sewage into land.

In Scotland, you must obtain an authorisation from SEPA for all discharges of trade effluent (liquid waste) and treated sewage into land.

Prevent pollution

You must ensure there's no risk of contaminated run-off from your premises polluting surface waters or groundwater. For example, your vehicles may leak oil, or rainwater may be contaminated by chimney emissions.

You can be prosecuted for allowing any polluting matter to enter surface waters or groundwater.

Further information

NIEA: Regulation of water discharges

NIEA: Groundwater authorisations

SEPA: CAR online registrations

SEPA: Groundwater discharge information

You must get a trade effluent consent or enter into a trade effluent agreement with your water and sewerage company before you discharge trade effluent into a public foul sewer. It's important you do this to avoid causing serious damage to the sewage system and creating a risk of danger to public health.

Trade effluent is any liquid waste resulting from non-domestic or industrial activity. It includes:

  • wastewater contaminated with oils, chemicals and solvents
  • liquid process wastes
  • detergents
  • condensate water from compressed air installation
  • cooling and wash water
  • biodegradable liquids
  • contaminated mine or quarry water.

If your effluent is hazardous, you must dispose of it as hazardous/special waste.

Hazardous/special waste

You must have a trade effluent consent or agreement if you:

  • discharge trade effluent into a public foul sewer
  • discharge any surface water run-off from oil-contaminated hard surfaces or wash substances such as oils, chemicals, food, inks or powders into a public foul sewer
  • use a sink, basin, toilet or gully for disposing of any liquid wastes or discharge wash waters into a public foul sewer, apart from domestic sewage.

If you're already discharging trade effluent to the public foul sewer without permission, you should stop immediately and contact your water and sewerage company.

You must arrange for a new trade effluent consent or agreement if:

  • the volume or composition of your discharge changes
  • you are no longer able to comply with the conditions of your consent or agreement
  • you stop the discharge for more than 2 years and then want to start it again.

You may also need prior authorisation from either the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) or Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) for effluents containing dangerous substances, or if you have a pollution prevention and control permit. You should check with the NIEA or SEPA, or your water and sewerage company if you are unsure whether you need authorisation.

Trade effluent – managing liquid wastes

Further information

Water UK: Water and sewerage operators

Scotland on tap: Water suppliers in Scotland

If you take or store surface water or groundwater from any source, you are abstracting or impounding water.

If you abstract or impound water, you may need authorisation:

  • In Northern Ireland, from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA)
  • In Scotland, from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

The type of authorisation you need will depend on how much water you take. You may need an authorisation even if you move water temporarily and return it to the source.

Surface water and groundwater sources include:

  • rivers
  • streams
  • loughs and lochs
  • reservoirs
  • estuaries
  • coastal waters
  • wells
  • springs
  • boreholes.

If you take water from the mains supply you don't need an authorisation or licence.

Check if you need an abstraction licence

Abstraction and impoundment in Northern Ireland

If you abstract more than 20 cubic metres (m³) of water a day from surface waters or groundwater, you must get an abstraction licence from the NIEA.

If you abstract 20m³ or less of water a day you must:

  • be able to demonstrate the volume of water you abstract
  • minimise water leaks
  • prevent any contamination or pollution.

If you abstract between 10m³ and 20m³ of water a day you must also notify the NIEA.

Check if you need an impoundment licence

If you impound (store) water on a watercourse, for example to create a reservoir, you may need an impoundment licence from the NIEA.

For more information about when you need an abstraction or impoundment licence, see our guideline:

Water use and efficiency

Abstraction and impoundment in Scotland

Check your level of authorisation for abstractions

If you abstract less than 10 cubic metres (m³) of water a day from surface waters or groundwater, you must comply with general binding rules (GBRs), and you will not need to contact SEPA.

If you abstract more than 10m³ of water a day, you must register with SEPA. If you abstract more than 50m³ of water a day, you must have an abstraction licence from SEPA.

SEPA's practical guide gives you more information about GBRs and guidance on the level of authorisation that you will need for your activity.

SEPA: Controlled activities regulations (CAR) – A practical guide (PDF 562KB)

Check if you need an impoundment licence

You may need a licence from SEPA to carry out an existing impoundment activity, or to build any new impoundment structures, for example weirs or dams. You may also need an engineering authorisation under the Controlled Activities Regulations (CAR).

For more information about GBRs, registrations and licences and when you need an impoundment licence, see our guideline:

Water use and efficiency

Applying for licences

To get an abstraction or impoundment licence you should contact the NIEA or SEPA for an application form and to discuss your requirements.

You should also notify the NIEA or SEPA as early as possible if you're taking over an existing licence. The licence will remain the responsibility of the current licence holder until it is transferred.

NIEA: Apply for an abstraction or impoundment licence

SEPA: CAR application forms and guidance

Further information

NIEA: Applying to abstract or impound water

SEPA: CAR information and applications

Waste carriers transport controlled waste as part of their business. Waste brokers arrange for other businesses' controlled waste to be handled, transported, disposed of or recovered. Waste dealers use an agent to buy waste from other businesses to sell it on.

Controlled waste includes commercial, industrial and household waste, as well as hazardous/special waste.

This guideline covers:

  • The regulations for Northern Ireland
  • The regulations for Scotland

Regulations for Northern Ireland

From 8 April 2011, new regulations introduced a two-tier registration system for waste carriers. Waste carriers transport controlled waste as part of their business. Waste brokers arrange for other businesses' controlled waste to be handled, transported, disposed of or recovered. Waste dealers buy waste from other businesses to sell it on. This includes dealers who do not take physical possession of the waste.

Upper tier carrier registration

If you transport other people's waste, or your own construction or demolition waste, you must register with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) as an upper tier waste carrier, unless you fall into one of the categories for lower tier waste carriers. If you had a waste carrier certificate before 8 April 2011, it will be classified as an upper tier registration. When your certificate is due to be renewed it will be replaced with an upper tier certificate.

If you do not register and you carry waste, you could be prosecuted, unless you are exempt.

Lower tier carrier registration

Lower tier registration replaces registration as a professional collector or transporter of waste.

You must register as a lower tier waste carrier, broker or dealer if you only deal with:

  • animal by-products
  • waste from mines or quarries
  • waste from agricultural premises.

You must also register in the lower tier if you carry, broker or deal in waste and are:

  • a waste collection, regulation or disposal authority
  • a charity or voluntary organisation.

You will also need to register as a lower tier carrier before 31 December 2013 if you normally and regularly carry controlled waste produced by your own business, other than construction or demolition waste.

Broker and dealer registration

If you are a waste broker, ie you make arrangements for others to have waste handled, transported, recovered or disposed of, you must:

  • register as a waste broker with the NIEA
  • make sure that any waste that you are brokering or have control of is stored and transferred in compliance with the duty of care.

If you deal in waste, i.e. you use an agent to buy waste from other businesses to sell on, you must register with the NIEA.

Waste carriers, brokers and dealers

NIEA: Waste carriers and brokers information

Regulations for Scotland

Waste carriers transport controlled waste as part of their business. Waste brokers arrange for other businesses' controlled waste to be handled, transported, disposed of or recovered. Waste dealers use an agent to buy waste from other businesses to sell it on.

Controlled waste includes commercial, industrial and household waste, as well as special waste.

You must register as a waste carrier, broker or dealer with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) if you plan to transport other businesses' controlled waste, or arrange for other businesses' controlled waste to be handled, transported, disposed of or recovered. You must also register if you want to transport your own building or demolition waste.

You must register as a professional collector and transporter of waste, rather than a waste carrier, if you only transport:

  • animal by-products
  • waste from mines and quarries
  • waste from agricultural premises.

You must register as a professional collector and transporter of waste, if you carry waste and are a:

  • waste collection, disposal or regulation authority
  • charity or voluntary organisation
  • business that regularly transports its own waste (unless it is construction and demolition waste).

It is free to register as a professional collector and transporter of waste, and your registration lasts indefinitely unless it is revoked or withdrawn.

It is a new requirement for businesses that regularly transport their own waste to register. You will soon be able to register online. SEPA recommends you delay your registration until the online system is available. If you need to register sooner, download the application form to register as a professional collector or transporter from the SEPA website.

SEPA: Registration as a professional carrier of waste (PDF, 54K)

To check if you need to register and find out about exemptions, see the pages on Waste carriers - who needs to register? and Waste brokers or dealers - who needs to register? in our guideline:

Waste carriers, brokers and dealers

Further information

NIEA: Registration of waste carriers and brokers

NIEA: Registered waste carriers database

SEPA: Waste carriers and brokers information

SEPA: Who is registered?

Waste is defined as hazardous/special waste if it is classified as hazardous in the European Waste Catalogue (or List of Wastes). Generally, waste is described as hazardous if it, or the materials or substances it contains, are harmful to human health or the environment.

If you produce hazardous/special waste you must make sure that you store, transport, treat and dispose of it correctly in compliance with the law.

Pre-notify NIEA in Northern Ireland

You must pre-notify the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) at least 72 hours and not more than one month before any hazardous waste leaves your site. You do this by filling in a consignment note.

Pre-notify SEPA in Scotland

You must pre-notify the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) before a single movement of special waste, or the first in a series of special waste movements, leaves your site. You do this by filling in parts A and B of a consignment note. The pre-notification sheet must be delivered to SEPA at least 72 hours and not more than one month before special waste is moved within Scotland, or imported into Scotland from England or Wales.

Exemptions from pre-notification

Certain types of hazardous waste movements are exempt from pre-notification. See the page on moving and transferring hazardous/special waste in our guideline:

Hazardous/special waste

Use consignment notes when moving hazardous/special waste

When you move hazardous waste from your premises it must be accompanied by a consignment note. This includes moving it to any other site that you may operate. The waste must be accompanied by a consignment note until it reaches its final destination. You must keep a copy of all consignment notes for three years. There are only a very few exceptions where consignment notes are not needed.

Further information

NIEA: Hazardous waste

Waste Thesaurus: SEPA guidance for coding waste An alphabetical list of waste types with their corresponding EWC codes.

SEPA: Special waste

If you keep or use radioactive materials and the amount of radioactivity on site, or the concentration of radioactivity in the materials you use are above the threshold values listed in the regulations, then you must have a certificate of registration from:

  • In Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA)
  • In Scotland the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA.

You must register:

  • open or unsealed sources on your premises
  • closed or sealed sources on your premises
  • mobile apparatus incorporating a sealed radioactive source
  • mobile apparatus (open sources) for use in environmental studies
  • radioactive packages stored in transit.

You must have a certificate of authorisation from the NIEA or SEPA if you are accumulating (storing) radioactive waste on your premises or disposing of radioactive waste from your premises, unless an exemption order applies. Disposal of radioactive waste includes disposal of radioactive gases, vapours, liquids and solids to the air, land, sea, surface waters (such as rivers and lakes) and sewers. You are also disposing of radioactive waste if you transfer it to other premises.

You must not keep or use radioactive materials, or dispose of or accumulate radioactive waste, before you receive your certificate of registration or authorisation. You must comply with the conditions it contains.

If you are unsure whether you need a certificate of registration or authorisation for radioactive substance activities, you should contact your environmental regulator

Contact your environmental regulator

Exemptions from certificates of registration or authorisation

You won't need a certificate of registration or authorisation if an exemption order applies to your activities.

You can find the information you need to decide if your radioactive substances or radioactive waste is exempt from the regulations in Section 3 of the Government guidance:

GOV.UK: Guidance on the scope and exemptions from radioactive substances regulations in the UK

See our guideline:

NetRegs: Radioactive substances and wastes

Further information

NIEA: Radiation

SEPA: Radioactive substances

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Permits

NIEA - Apply online

SEPA - Application forms