Guidance

Apply for a water abstraction or impoundment licence

How to apply to the Environment Agency for a water abstraction or impoundment licence.

Before you apply

To increase your chance of getting your application right first time:

  1. Check you apply for the right type of licence.
  2. Complete your application forms.
  3. Submit your application forms to us.

We’ll discuss your proposals with you.

We can provide up to 15 hours of pre-application advice free. During this time we’ll advise if you’re likely to exceed this. After 15 hours you will be charged £125 per hour.

Types of licence

The different types of water resources licence you can apply for are:

  • full licence – for most types of water abstraction over 20 cubic metres a day
  • transfer licence – to move over 20 cubic metres of water a day from one source to another without intervening use
  • temporary licence – to abstract more than 20 cubic metres of water a day over a period of less than 28 days
  • new abstraction licence - for a previously exempt abstraction (also known as a new authorisation)
  • impoundment licence – to create an impoundment structure such as a sluice, weir or dam

Apply for a licence for a previously exempt abstraction

Apply for a new abstraction licence for a previously exempt abstraction.

Application forms for all other licences

Use part A to tell us who you are when you want to:

  • apply for a new full or temporary licence to abstract water
  • vary (change) an existing licence
  • apply for an impoundment licence
  • apply to licence an existing impoundment (if you’re using the form for this purpose please contact the Environment Agency before you fill in the form)

Use part B to tell us what you want the water for when you:

  • apply for a new full or temporary licence to abstract water
  • apply to vary an existing licence

You can send us parts A and B as a pre-application or continue to part C if you want to submit a formal application.

Use part C to give us additional information such as the duration of the licence, water use and how it will be measured when you:

  • apply for a new full or temporary licence to abstract water
  • apply to vary an existing licence

Use part D to tell us about your impoundment proposal when you:

  • apply for a new licence to impound inland water
  • apply to licence an existing impoundment - if you’re using the form for this purpose please contact the Environment Agency before you fill in the form

To apply for permission for a hydropower scheme see Hydropower schemes: guidelines and applying for permission.

Abstract from a borehole or well

If you want to abstract groundwater from a borehole or well, contact the Environment Agency before you make an application. You may need to apply for a separate consent to construct the borehole or well and complete a test pumping of it.

Source owners and their contractors are responsible for ensuring boreholes or wells are designed, constructed and decommissioned without polluting groundwater.

If you do not apply for a licence

It’s your responsibility to apply for a licence if and when you need one. It’s an offence to abstract or impound water without a licence.

Find information on when you need a water abstraction or impoundment licence.

The Environment Agency may take enforcement action against you if you do not apply.

Abstraction and impoundment licence charges

Application charges

When you apply for a new licence, or want to vary your existing licence, you must pay an application fee. Fees and charges are set out in our abstraction charges scheme.

Some applications have to be advertised. If this applies to your application, you will need to pay:

  • the Environment Agency £100 – an administration fee to advertise your application in the local newspaper
  • for the cost of the advert

We publish notices of applications on our website. See our current notices of water resources licence applications.

Annual subsistence charges

You will usually need to pay an annual subsistence charge if you hold a full licence.

You will not be charged for temporary licences, transfer licences or for licences to impound water. For other limited exceptions see the abstraction charges scheme.

To estimate your annual bill, use our abstraction charges calculator.

Fees and charges may change each April.

After the Environment Agency has received your application

We will determine:

  • temporary licence applications within 28 days – this may be extended up to 56 days to consult with third parties if in close proximity to a designated site
  • all other licence applications within 4 months

We’ll let you know whether or not we’ll grant you a licence and explain our decision.

If you’re granted a licence, you’ll receive it as a PDF by email. You can also view your licence information online.

The licence will contain the conditions you must follow to legally abstract or impound water.

Compliance

We will carry out site inspections to:

  • check compliance with licence conditions
  • check abstraction returns
  • to give advice and guidance on complying with a licence

We take a risk-based approach to inspections based on the sensitivity of a water source and the potential for damage. In particular, we visit where there is a high potential for damage to the environment or where there is a poor compliance history.

Typically, reasons for inspecting include:

  • where hands off flow condition limits or section 57 irrigation bans have been imposed – our drought plans contain more information about how we will increase compliance checks during a drought
  • in response to incidents, such as reports of low flows
  • if returns suggest over-abstraction or other non-compliance

Enforcement

If you are found to have breached your licence conditions or have committed an offence, the Environment Agency may take enforcement action.

Our enforcement options include:

  • criminal sanctions – warnings, formal cautions and prosecution, with fines up to £20,000
  • civil sanctions

The options available for each offence are set out in our offence response options.

Our priority is to help you to comply with your licence. For example, if you get close to your annual authorised volume, we will discuss how you can adjust your usage to save water or apply to increase your licence quantities.

We can use enforcement options to achieve environmental outcomes, to stop offending, to correct damage, or bring abstraction under regulatory control. Any response is specific to the individual circumstances of each case and is based on the public interest factors set out in our enforcement and sanctions guidance.

We usually take enforcement action against the licence holder, so you must keep a check on anyone you allow to use an abstraction in your name.

Contact the Environment Agency

General enquiries

National Customer Contact Centre
PO Box 544
Rotherham
S60 1BY

Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

Published 8 May 2014
Last updated 3 April 2018 + show all updates
  1. Updated with new charges introduced from 1 April 2018 following the review of Environment Agency charges.
  2. All references to 'currently exempt abstraction' changed to 'previously exempt abstraction'.
  3. New information published on new authorisation licences.
  4. From 1 October 2015 the Environment Agency will provide 15 hours of free pre-application technical advice. The charge for further advice is £125 per hour (VAT exempt).
  5. First published.