Water management: managing your water abstraction or impoundment licence

Maintain, monitor and review your abstraction or impoundment licence.

Abstraction charges

The Environment Agency charges abstraction licence holders to fund the costs they incur in ensuring water resources are managed effectively while protecting the environment. This includes ensuring the rights of existing licence holders to abstract water are protected when granting new or varied licences.

An annual subsistence charge, which comprises the Standard Unit Charge (SUC) and the Environmental Improvement Unit Charge (EIUC), is usually payable by everyone who holds a full licence to abstract water.

Annual subsistence charges are not payable for temporary licences, transfer licences or for licences to impound water. Other limited exceptions to the annual subsistence charge can be found in the abstraction charges scheme April 2015 to March 2016.

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

Measuring and recording your abstraction

Most licences require you to accurately measure and report the quantity of water you abstract. Metering requirements will form part of your discussions with the Environment Agency during the determination of your application.

Measuring and recording the amount of water you abstract will allow you to take action to keep within the limits allowed in your licence. If you think you need to abstract more than your maximum quantity, you must contact the Environment Agency early. There is no guarantee that the Environment Agency will be able to increase the maximum quantity your licence allows you to abstract.

Most abstractors must provide the Environment Agency with accurate records of how much water is taken in order to enable them to:

  • ensure society’s need for water is balanced with that needed to maintain a healthy aquatic environment
  • allocate spare resources to other abstractors
  • charge some abstractors based on how much water they take
  • check compliance with licence conditions
  • provide information on water usage

Reporting how much water you’ve abstracted

Your abstraction licence will tell you how often you need to record the amount of water you abstract. Most licences will also ask you to submit a record of your actual abstraction (known as ‘returns’) to the Environment Agency.

Even if you haven’t taken any water, you must submit a ‘nil’ return if your licence states that you must report your water use.

If you do not submit your record of actual abstraction when required to do so, the Environment Agency may take enforcement action. If you spray irrigate and hold a two part tariff billing agreement your charges are partially calculated on the amount of water abstracted. To gain the full financial benefits of this agreement it is important that you submit your return, even if you haven’t abstracted any water.

Submitting water abstraction returns

You can submit your water abstraction returns using forms supplied by the Environment Agency or use their online reporting system called Generic Operator Returns (GOR).

Submit water abstraction returns

If you need to change your licence

If your circumstances or need for water changes, you can apply to vary or revoke your abstraction or impoundment licence.

To vary your abstraction or impoundment licence read the application guidance and complete both forms:

There is no charge to:


If the licence holder dies or is an individual who is declared bankrupt, the licence can become the responsibility of (can be ‘vested’ in) their trustee. The trustee must notify the Environment Agency within 15 months that they are responsible for the licence. If they do not notify the Environment Agency the licence will cease to have effect after 15 months. There is no guarantee a new licence could be issued, and if it could, it may be more restrictive.

Enforced changes to your licence

If your licensed abstraction is causing or could cause damage to the environment, the Environment Agency may make a proposal to change or revoke your licence. This will include adding a time limit to the licence if it does not already have one, unless you propose to make the licence change voluntarily.

The licence holder may be entitled to compensation. However, if your licence needs to be changed or revoked because it is causing or could cause serious damage to the environment, you will not be entitled to compensation.

To help you understand whether you are eligible for compensation, read the leaflet Restoring sustainable abstraction: compensation, or email the Environment Agency Restoring Sustainable Abstraction team:


Checking compliance

The Environment Agency carries out on-site inspections to check compliance with licence conditions, as well as checking abstraction returns. The main reason for inspections is to check compliance with the conditions in the abstraction or impoundment licence, but they are an opportunity to give advice and guidance on complying with a licence.

They take a risk-based approach to inspections based on the sensitivity of a water source and the potential for damage. In particular, they 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 – their drought plans contain more information about how they will step-up their 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 options include criminal sanctions (warnings, formal cautions and prosecution, with fines up to £20,000) and can also include civil sanctions. The options available for a specific offence are set out in our offence response options.

If you are found to have breached your licence conditions or have committed an offence, the Environment Agency may take enforcement action. Actions will range from giving corrective advice and guidance to prosecution in the most serious cases. Helping you to comply with your licence is the priority. For example, if you get close to your annual authorised volume, they will discuss how you can adjust your usage to save water or apply to increase your licence quantities.

Enforcement options can be used 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.

Where it is necessary to take enforcement action, this will usually be against the licence holder, so you must monitor the activity of anyone you allow to use an abstraction in your name.

Published 8 May 2014