News & Views

Septic tanks – what a stink!

The law on septic tanks is changing from 1 January 2020.

Under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016 (the Regulations), it is an offence to discharge liquid into surface waters (e.g. a river, stream or lake) or onto the ground without an environmental permit or exemption. Small domestic sewage discharges could qualify for an exemption.

Since 1 January 2015, the Environmental Agency (EA) has not permitted new septic tanks to discharge into surface waters and existing septic tanks were permitted as long as they did not cause pollution. However, from 1 January 2020, such septic tanks must upgrade.

Therefore, from 1 January 2020 if you are an operator of a septic tank which discharges directly into a surface water i.e. you own property that uses such a septic tank, share it with another property (e.g. a neighbour), or are responsible for it under a written agreement (e.g. a tenancy) you must be compliant and upgrade with the Regulations.

The Environment Agency’s “General binding rules for small sewage discharges” outlines the options for you:

  • connect to a mains sewer, where available; or
  • install a drainage field, so the septic tank discharges to the ground; or
  • replace the septic tank with a small sewage treatment plant; or
  • apply for an environmental permit.

It is worth noting that sewage must be for domestic use only, must meet the relevant British Standards in force at the time of installation, be regularly maintained and have the right capacity (a permit is required if you are discharging more than 5 cubic metres (5,000 litres) per day).

Note on a sale or letting a notice must be given to the new operator. The Regulations and Guidance must be referred to when buying and selling with a septic tank located at the property.


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