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Septic Tanks – New Legislation

Published on 3 October 2019 | Modified on 15 May 2023

Written by Stacey Bennett

A change in the landscape – quite literally because if you are discharging into a water course, you may be digging up your Garden to fit a treatment plant.

New Legislation came into force in 2015 and the sanctions become live on the 1st January 2020. This legislation prohibits discharging into any water source. The legislation has given a grace period for 5 years before sanctions apply to allow this to be done.  It is therefore really surprising that most of the people we talk to do not know this information.

There are two main ways in which you can comply with the new regulations:

  1. Swap your septic tank for a sewage treatment plant- sewage treatment plants produce a cleaner form of water, and it’s considered clean enough to discharge straight to a watercourse. Costly – but necessary and probably the more realistic choice for most people.
  2. Install a drainage field- this will take the waste water from your septic tank, and disperse it safely into the ground without causing pollution. This is likely to be both complicated and expensive. You cannot use a soakaway (designed for draining rainwater), well or borehole for discharging effluent to ground. Instead you must either upgrade to a drainage field or apply for a permit so that the Environment Agency can assess the risk of using this sort of system in your location.

Your new treatment system must meet the right standards

Your treatment system must meet the relevant British Standard in force at the time of installation. The standards currently in force for new systems are:

  • BS EN 12566 for septic tanks and small sewage treatment plants
  • BS 6297:2007 for drainage fields

Your septic tank or treatment plant met the British Standard in place at the time of installation if:

  • it has a CE mark
  • the manual or other documentation that came with your tank or treatment plant has a certificate of compliance with a British Standard
  • it’s on British Water’s list of approved equipment

You can also ask the company that installed your equipment to confirm that it complies with the British Standard that was in place at the time the equipment was installed.

If there were no British Standards in place when your treatment system was installed (that is before 1983) you do not need to do anything else to meet this requirement.

The ramifications for not doing this are many and varied, they can include;

  • issuing a warning;
  • statutory enforcement notices and works notices;
  • prohibition notices;
  • suspension or revocation of environmental permits;
  • variation of permit conditions;
  • injunctions;
  • carrying out remedial works;
  • civil sanctions;
  • other civil and financial sanctions including Fixed Penalty Notices;
  • issuing a formal caution;
  • prosecution and orders ancillary to prosecution; and
  • sanctions used in combination.

The approach that is going to be favoured is a firm but fair regulation with the principles of:

  • proportionality in the application of the law and in securing compliance;
  • consistency of approach;
  • transparency about how we operate and what those we regulate may expect from us;
  • targeting of enforcement action; and
  • accountability for the enforcement action we have taken

These principles are to be used in all circumstances as the approach will be very much dependent on risk and cost of any action.

All of the above is if you intend on keeping your house. However if you decide to sell then in simple terms, if you sell your property, you must tell the new operator (the owner or person responsible for the septic tank or small sewage treatment plant) in writing that a small sewage discharge is in place.

Then also Include:

  • a description of the treatment system and drainage system
  • the location of the main parts of the treatment system, drainage system and discharge point
  • details of any changes made to the treatment system and drainage system
  • details of how the treatment system and drainage system should be maintained, and the maintenance manual if you have one
  • maintenance records if you have them

That said, there are many property buyers who do not want the hassle of purchasing a property that needs a new system. There have been significant delays in the conveyance due to these issues and in some case sales have fallen through. It is also the case that sellers are having to drop the price of the sale due to the obvious costs that will be incurred in fitting a new system.

How will it be policed?

as yet the Environment Agency but they have finite amount of people. That said, what one will have to consider that when ‘Septic Tank Guy’ comes to empty it, if he believes it is not up to standard he can refuse to empty it as he could lose his licence. He could also tip off the Environment Agency and that maybe a way for the Environment Agency to seek out what needs doing.

We will have to wait and see about the impact of this on everyone. If you do have difficulties or need your questions answered then call Poole Alcock LLP and speak to one of our experienced Solicitors.

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