Supermarkets told to clean up hand car washes

01 February 2019

The Environment Agency has agreed to write to major supermarkets to remind them that hand car washes operating in their car parks must have appropriate drainage to tackle pollution, as recommended in the Environmental Audit Committee’s report.

Drainage to a foul sewer

The Committee called on the Environment Agency to make clear the need for drainage to a foul sewer. It also called on the Government to update the pollution prevention guidance. Both of these recommendations have been accepted by the Government.


The Committee voiced a range of concerns about the operation of hand car washes. They recommend that hand car washes should be licenced to prevent the exploitation of workers and tax evasion.

MPs also cited risks to water quality through waste water being allowed to flow into drains that discharge water directly into local streams and rivers. The Committee found a failure of authorities to enforce the law on combatting labour exploitation.

The Committee today publishes the Government’s response to its report. In summary, the Government:

  • Reveals that the Environment Agency has agreed to write to major supermarkets in 2019 advising them of their responsibilities as landlords to ensure hand car washes on their land follow pollution prevention advice and guidance for the protection of the environment. It will refer them to the guidelines published on GOV.UK as per the Committee’s recommendation.
  • Agrees with the Committee’s recommendation to update the pollution prevention guidance for publication on GOV.UK.
  • Rejects the Committee’s call for a trial licensing scheme for hand car washes that brings together all the major compliance requirements, including on environmental pollution, into a single, more easily enforceable, legal requirement. The response argues that this can be better achieved by a voluntary pilot approach.
  • Explains how the various departments and regulatory agencies work together to address a range of issues arising from hand car washes.
  • Outlines the steps currently being taken to address the issue of urban diffuse pollution.
  • Provides information on its actions to tackle labour exploitation and what the committee described as “widespread and flagrant rule breaking taking place at hand car washes”.
  • Explains its actions and processes to ensure enforcement of the law in relation to payment of the national minimum wage at hand car washes.
  • Sets out the tax evasion situation in in relation to the operation of hand car washes and strategies used to recover tax due.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh MP, said:

“Our highly critical report into hand car washes found widespread and alarming breaches of planning, employment and environmental laws.
“We are pleased the Government has accepted two of our recommendations, by asking the Environment Agency to write to supermarkets and promising to update the pollution prevention guidance. These are positive steps towards ending the discharge of dirty water into rivers.

“There is more to do on tackling labour exploitation. This should have been addressed by adopting our recommendation of a trial licensing scheme. It is disappointing that ministers have opted for a pilot approach that is voluntary.

“With so few minimum wage prosecutions despite the exploitation of workers being commonplace, the Government must send a strong message to car wash operators that such practices are illegal and that it will not turn a blind eye.”

Further information

Image: Creative Commons

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