29 November 2019 by Melanie Carroll

Tis the season to be upgrading your septic tank system!

As we approach December, effluent, sewage and drainage are not generally at the forefront of our increasingly ‘festive’ minds.  However, there are important new rules which will come into force on the 1st January 2020, and so now is the time to find out whether the rule changes will affect you and, if so, what you need to do to avoid a potential £100,000 fine.

Environmental issues of paramount importance, concern has been raised about the impact of septic tanks on the environment due to their effect on water pollution.  Therefore, at the beginning of next year, new rules are being introduced to counter the potentially negative effects of waste liquid being discharged into ditches, streams or rivers.

It is estimated that around 3.5M people live in homes that are not connected to the main sewage network and these homes are not exclusively located in rural areas.  Consequently, these properties must use alternative methods to treat the waste generated such as a cesspit or septic tank.  A septic tank is an underground tank where bacteria are used to treat the waste; solids sink to the bottom and the liquid flows out and soaks through the ground.

So, what’s new and what’s the urgency?
Tanks installed before 1st January 2015 –  need to act by the end of this year

These tanks were given a five year ‘window’ within which upgrade works had to be completed to the system – this exemption period expires at the end of this year, or when you sell the property, if this occurs prior to the deadline.

Tanks installed after the 1st January 2015 –  should be compliant

These tanks cannot discharge into surface water because this was made illegal by the Environmental Permitting [England and Wales] Regulations 2016.  All tanks installed after this date must comply with the ‘general binding rules’ to ensure that no pollution is caused.

What do I need to do?

 If you are the ‘operator’ of a septic tank which was installed prior to 2015 and which discharges directly into ‘surface water’ then you must upgrade the system by the end of this year by either replacing the tank with a full sewage treatment plant, or by installing a drainage field allowing waste to discharge directly into the ground instead.  You could also consider whether it is possible to connect to the mains sewer, if available?

 What else do I need to know?

In very limited and extreme circumstances, you may be able to apply to the Environment Agency for an environmental permit to allow you to continue to discharge waste into surface water.  However, the conditions must be ‘exceptional’ and this exemption should not be relied upon without professional advice.

New installations will need building regulations approval, and possibly, planning permission, and so you should contact your local authority for further advice.

Compliance with the new rules is not optional and failure to adhere could result in a significant fine of up to £100,000.

The deadline is now drawing near and whilst the time of year provides plenty of other ‘December distractions’, if you need to make changes then you must act now.

If you would like to find out more please contact Melanie Carroll on  020 7288 4798 or by email melaniecarroll@boltburdon.co.uk.

You can also contact one of our other solicitors in the Residential Real Estate team here.

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