Don't fall foul of new septic tank rules
Owners of rural properties where main sewage connections are not available may be in for unexpected costs if they have not already taken heed of the 2015 Environment Agency septic tank general binding rules.
In 2015 new rules came into force to regulate discharges from small septic tanks in England. If your system was installed and discharging before December 31, 2014, you have an ‘existing discharge’. If your system was installed and discharging on or after January 1, 2015 you have a ‘new discharge’.
Those rules are to be tightened with effect from the January 1, 2020, so that a septic tank that discharges directly into surface water, which includes rivers, streams, ditches and pools, will no longer be allowed.
Under the new Environment Agency septic tank general binding rules, if you have a specific septic tank that discharges into surface water, you are required to upgrade or replace your septic tank treatment system to a full sewage treatment plant by January 1, or when you sell the property, if it’s prior to this date.
Essentially these rules will cover all systems that treat waste water and sewage, unless the systems are connected to the mains. The rules are designed to reduce the level of pollution from sewage into the nation’s watercourses, and if that is the case, these systems need to be upgraded prior to January 1.
Where a septic tank discharges directly into surface water, the operator must take action to replace or upgrade it by January 1. The owner/operator is defined as a person who owns the land or has control over the operation of the sewage treatment plant.
Works to upgrade or replace a septic tank might include:
• Connection to a mains sewer, where available;
• Installation of a drainage field or infiltration to the septic tank, so that it can discharge to ground instead;
• Replacing the septic tank with a small sewage treatment plant
Where a property with such a septic tank is to be sold before January 1, the question for the responsibility of the necessary works should be addressed by the parties in the contract of sale. The Environment Agency advises that where a property is sold, the seller must tell the new owner or the person responsible for the sewage treatment plant in writing that a sewage discharge is in place and must include a description of the treatment plant and drainage system.
Alasdair Barne, Director of Madeleys Chartered Surveyors Ltd, Much Wenlock.