13 August, 2020
If you own property off the mains sewage network it is critical that you are aware of the changing legislation around septic tanks. The Environment Agency, in an endeavour to tackle water pollution, has laid down new General Binding Rules, which means systems will now have to be upgraded or replaced.
The Environment Agency initially updated its guidance in mid 2019 stating that all septic tanks discharging directly to watercourses had to upgrade their systems before 1 January 2020. This deadline was later removed in October 2019. However, the requirement for septic tanks that discharge directly to watercourses to be upgraded or replaced does still remain but rather than the deadline of 1 January 2020, the guidelines now indicate that the Environment Agency requires plans to be in place to carry out the work within a reasonable timescale, typically 12 months.
If you are the 'operator' of a septic tank meaning you either own the property that uses the system or you own a property that shares the system with other properties you must check that you are compliant with the General Binding Rules associated with it.
Under these rules you can no longer discharge sewage or liquid waste directly into watercourses. If the septic tank discharges directly to a watercourse such as a river or stream, you will need to do one of the following as soon as possible:
You also need to ensure that your system is sized and installed correctly, in accordance with British Water's Flows and Loads 4 Guidance. It must be large enough for purpose, therefore if the amount of sewerage going in to the septic tank increases the volume must be recalculated, for example following an extension to the property or if connecting to a new sewage source. Furthermore, you will need to make sure your tank is regularly emptied and maintained by a registered waste carrier in line with the manufacturer's instructions.
If you are found not to comply with the General Binding Rules you could be subject to enforcement and sanctions from the Environmental Agency as any pollution to surface or groundwater is a serious offence. We therefore advise that all registered providers review their housing stock to ensure any properties with septic tanks are compliant with these rules. We find that registered providers initially established via stock transfer have septic tanks within their stock, sometimes without the benefit of any of the properties connected. These can be onerous and this tightening of regulation increases that responsibility. If you have any concerns do please let us know. Difficulties may also arise when selling any affected properties as potential buyers will require the works to be carried out prior to completion or perhaps an adjustment of the purchase price to enable them to comply as purchaser.
For more information contact Cathy Lord in our Housing & Regeneration department via email or phone on 0333 207 1130. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.