Wood-burning stove regulations: rules across UK explained - what are the fines for breaking them?

Defra has cracked down on the use of log burners and coal fires as they are found to be the largest source of particle pollution in the UK

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Households in England will now face fines of up to £300 and even criminal records if they break new rules and regulations surrounding wood-burning stoves.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has cracked down on the use of log burners and coal fires as they are found to be the largest source of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), according to the government.

PM2.5 are small particles of air pollution which find their way into the body’s lungs and blood.

Burning wood and coal in open fires and stoves makes up 25% of the UK’s emissions of PM2.5 - in comparison to the manufacturing and construction sector which makes up 27%.

The government has implemented a tightening of the rules instead of a complete ban on wood-burning stoves as some households use them to provide heating and for cooking. Around 1.5 million homes across the UK use wood for fuel.

The new rules are part of the government’s 25-year environmental plan and drive to leave "the environment in a better state than we found it”, Rishi Sunak said.

In London, wood burners have effectively been banned in new and refurbished buildings.  Mayor Sadiq Khan has set an air quality limit in new planning guidance meaning large home and office developments can no longer use wood or solid fuels.

The guidance will only apply to new buildings and refurbishments large enough to trigger a planning application, so those wanting to buy wood burners for existing homes would still be able to do so.

Here are the new rules explained, as well as the possible fines you could get for breaching the regulations.

What are the new rules in England?

A tightening of emissions regulations has reduced the amount of smoke new stoves can emit per hour from 5g to 3g. It applies to homes in "smoke control areas" which cover most of England’s towns and cities. Anyone found to be breaking the new measures could be issued with an on-the-spot fine.

As well as reducing the amount of PM2.5 wood burners are allowed to emit, Defra said it will enable local authorities to "better enforce" smoke control areas.

In smoke control areas unauthorised fuels, such as wood, can only be burned in exempt appliances such as some boilers, cookers and stoves.

Scotland also has smoke control areas where households can’t emit smoke from a chimney unless an authorised fuel is being burned or the household is using exempt appliances.

A list of authorised fuels in each of the four nations can be found on the government’s website. You can contact your local council to find out if you live in a smoke control area.

In a bid to try and cut particulate matter, the government enforced new rules in January 2022 which saw all newly manufactured wood-burning stoves, multi-fuel stoves and fireplaces having to meet fresh guidelines called ‘Ecodesign.’

The Ecodesign mark means the stove has been tested by an approved laboratory, meeting all requirements on air quality and particulates.

Last year the government banned the purchase of house coal and wet wood in England, two of the most polluting fuels, and urged the public to move to "cleaner alternatives".

What are the fines for breaking the rules?

Defra will be allowed to issue fines of up to £300 on households whose chimneys are emitting too much smoke. The government department can also pursue a criminal case if the household does not comply.

Until recently, local authorities responsible for enforcing the rules have relied on court action for noncompliance. This has led to councils in England only issuing 17 fines over the past six years - despite receiving more than 18,000 complaints.

Now the government has ordered councils to use recently gained powers from the 2021 Environment Act to issue civil penalties ranging from £175 to £300, with repeat offenders facing criminal prosecution and larger fines.

As is already the case, householders can also be fined up to £1,000 if they are found to be burning unauthorised fuels.

What is the guidance in London?

The new Air Quality Neutral (AQN) guidance states that all new developments in London must not contribute to net air pollution. New buildings and refurbishments large enough to trigger a planning application will not be able to use wood or solid fuels.

The guidance states: “The benchmark emission rate for particulate matter is zero. Any development that uses solid or liquid fuels for primary or secondary heating will therefore not be Air Quality Neutral and will require mitigation or offsetting.”

It aims to minimise emissions from heating and transport, for example by installing solar panels or including cycle paths.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said: “Toxic air is a matter of life and death, causing around 4,000 premature deaths every year in London, and leading to asthma in the young and dementia in the elderly. I have made it a top priority to tackle London’s air pollution and the climate crisis.”

“Now developers will have to put air quality and carbon emissions at the heart of their projects from the very beginning. This will help us to continue building a better, greener London for everyone.”