25 July 2018

The Environment Agency is closing in on septic tanks which drain to surface water such as rivers or streams. The Environment Agency’s General Binding Rules were introduced in 2015 but are not due to be fully implemented until 1 January 2020. The new Rules make it unlawful for discharges from septic tanks to flow directly to surface water.

If your septic tank discharges directly to surface water, you will need to replace or upgrade your system by the time the new Rules are fully implemented. You may have to carry out these works before 2020 if you sell your home, or if the Environment Agency finds evidence that your septic tank is causing pollution. This applies to both residential and commercial properties.

Who is Responsible?

As the ‘Operator’ of a septic tank or a small sewage treatment plant, it is your responsibility to check that you meet the General Binding Rules. You are considered an Operator if any of the following applies:

  • You own the property that uses the system;
  • You own a property that shares the system with other properties – in this case each property owner is considered an Operator, and you will be jointly responsible for complying with the General Binding Rules; or
  • You have a written agreement with the property owner whereby you have agreed to be responsible for the system’s maintenance. Such an agreement may be contained in a tenancy agreement, for example.

What are my Options?

If your septic tank falls foul of the new Rules, you should consider the following options:-

  • Connecting to a mains sewer, although convenient, may not be an option depending on location.
  • Installing a drainage system will allow you to divert the discharge to ground, rather than surface.
  • Replacing your septic tank with a small sewage treatment plant allows you to avoid any potentially polluting discharge.

If you decide to install a sewage treatment plant (also known as a package treatment plant) you will need to consider Planning and Building Regulations approval. In any case, you should ensure that your system meets the required standards, is installed properly and has sufficient capacity. If you do not meet the General Binding Rules, you will need to apply to the Environment Agency for a permit. A permit is only granted in exceptional circumstances and you should contact the Environment Agency to discuss your particular circumstances.

What if I Sell the Property? If you sell your property, you must inform the new Operator in writing that a sewage discharge system is in place. The General Binding Rules set out in detail what information you should include. Battens can advise you when dealing with your sale. We recommended that you check your current system now to ensure it complies with the new Rules that are coming into force on 1 January 2020. Doing so will allow sufficient time to make any necessary changes to your current system so that there are no last minute surprises.