Septic Tank Regulation Reminder for Rural Property Owners

Property owners with a septic tank are reminded that they may be legally required to upgrade their systems within the next two years.

Septic tanks are very common in rural properties and most homeowners find them a relatively easy solution to the problem of dealing with waste water and sewage where no mains drainage is available – so long as they are regularly emptied and maintained.

Lucinda Thompson

Lucinda Thompson

However, property and land management specialists Strutt & Parker is reminding rural property owners that the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2014 came into force on 1 January 2015 and created General Binding Rules (GBRs) for septic tanks or small sewage treatment plants for domestic use.

Lucinda Thompson, assistant land agent in the Northallerton office of Strutt & Parker said:
“The rules are basically designed to reduce the level of pollution from sewage in the nation’s watercourses.

“As such, the government is seeking to end the practice of septic tanks discharging directly to a local watercourse, such as a river or stream.

“This means, anyone with a septic tank discharging into a watercourse must be replace it or upgrade it by 1 January 2020, or sooner if the property is sold before this date. They must also act more quickly if the Environment Agency (EA) finds that it is causing pollution.”

Systems can be replaced by:

  • Connecting to a mains sewer (where available),

  • Installing a drainage field (infiltration system) so that the septic tank discharges into the ground or,

  • Replacing with a small sewage treatment plant.

  • In exceptional circumstances, a permit can be applied for to allow discharge to surface water.

  • Septic tank conversion units can be used to upgrade an existing surface water discharging septic tank, but a permit is required for this and evidence must be provided that it will treat to the equivalent standard as a sewage treatment plant.

Miss Thompson said it was the ‘operators’ of septic tanks and small sewage treatment plants that were defined as responsible for GBR compliance.

“The operator may either be the owner of the property/land where the septic tank or sewage treatment plant is located or the user (even if the system is located on a neighbour’s land). It could also be the tenant or leaseholder where there is written agreement with the owner of the system explaining what maintenance must be carried out in order to comply with the GBRs.”

It is also recommended that all sewage treatment systems are checked to ensure that they:

a. Met the relevant British Standard when installed or have a CE mark. If installed pre-1983, this requirement does not need to be met

b. Have sufficient capacity

c. Were installed in line with the manufacturer’s specifications

d. Are maintained at least once a year/in line with the manufacturer’s specifications

e. The sewage release is below the ‘mean low water spring mark’ if in a tidal area

f. Are repaired or replaced if not in good working order by a competent person.

Strutt Parker

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