Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Consents and authorisations you will need

Consents and authorisations you will need

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.

Surface waters include rivers, loughs, reservoirs and canals. Groundwater includes all water below the water table.

You can find information on the regulation of water discharges on the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) website:

NIEA: Regulation of water discharges

You can find guidance on groundwater authorisations on the NIEA website:

NIEA: Groundwater authorisations

In Scotland:

If you discharge anything to the water environment you may require an authorisation from SEPA - See SEPA: Water - Controlled Activities Regulations (CAR).

CAR has three levels of authorisation:

  • general binding rules
  • registration
  • water use licences.

You must comply with the conditions of your authorisation.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) will advise which level of authorisation you need for your activity, and can change the level of authorisation in order to protect the water environment.

If your business discharges trade effluent to a public sewer, you must have a valid trade effluent consent from your water and sewerage company.


Certain low risk surface water discharges are authorised by GBRs. When you carry out an activity and comply with the relevant GBRs, you do not need to contact SEPA or apply for a formal authorisation.


Registrations cover activities which present a low risk individually, but which cumulatively may pose a risk to the water environment. You must provide SEPA with a description of the controlled activity and its location. You must comply with a set of basic rules described in the notification of registration.

SEPA: Applications for authorisations


Licences cover activities that are regarded as presenting a medium to high risk of impact on the water environment. You will need a water use licence if:

  • your activity needs site-specific controls
  • your activity needs to be limited in some way.

There are two types of licence application - a simple licence or a complex licence. These are based on the scale and level of risk of your activity.

You must identify a 'responsible person' to ensure that your business complies with the conditions of the licence. A responsible person can be an individual, a company or a partnership.

You can find controlled water activity guidance from the SEPA website.

SEPA: CAR Practical guide (PDF, 540K)

Farming and Water Scotland

In this Guideline

Causes of water pollution

Regulation that protects surface water and groundwater in Northern Ireland

Regulation that protects surface water and groundwater in Scotland

Consents and authorisations you will need

Notices that prevent and control water pollution

Practical ways you can prevent water pollution

Drainage system requirements to avoid pollution

Water pollution legislation

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NIEA - Apply online

SEPA - Application forms