We realise that the phrase “septic tank regulations” is enough to bore someone into a slumber, but if you own or are buying a property with a septic tank installed, you need to read on to find out what changes are coming in for new septic tank building regulations 2020 in the UK.

As you will know, the stuff that goes into a septic tank isn’t particularly nice, so it is understandable that the Environment agency is very keen that it stays inside the tank and doesn’t float down your local stream. This means that there are many existing rules and regulations that govern septic tanks and their installation – from where they can be installed to where the water that leaves the tanks can be dispersed to. Some of these rules are more like guidelines for best practice which should be followed. However, others are legislation that must be followed to the letter or you will find yourself in a lot of trouble.

In 2015, the latest regulations were published and are called ‘General Binding Rules: Small Sewage Discharge to A Surface Water’. Yes, it’s not exactly the easiest title to say, but it is very important for property owners to follow if they have a septic tank on their property.

Previously, you were allowed to discharge the separated water from your septic tank in one of two ways:

  1. To A Septic Tank Soakaway System– In this system, the wastewater from your septic tank percolates through a number of holes or slots into the pipework which disperses it in the surrounding soils. The method is preferred as it there is a point where the water is treated and it allows for water to be safely dispersed without causing pollution.
  2. To A Watercourse– In this system, wastewater flows through a sealed pipe and is dispersed directly into your local river or stream.

So, what’s changing under the new regulations?

The new regulations basically mean that number 2 (above) is no longer an option for wastewater discharge. This is because the quality of the water that is dispersed is no longer considered clean enough to flow into a stream or river without causing pollution.

Of course, this isn’t a brand new rule entirely. For many years, property owners who have a septic tank installed haven’t been allowed to have one that discharges straight into a stream or river. However, if you already had a septic tank installed that discharged into a stream or river, the EA had to identify that it was causing pollution otherwise you could keep it.

This practice will all be changing in 2020 though. If you’re a property owner who has a septic tank that discharges directly into a stream or river, not a soakaway or drainage field, you are required by law to replace or upgrade the system by January 1 2020. Additionally, if you are planning on selling a house with a septic tank, this replacement or upgrade needs to be done before your property can be sold.

What are your options under the 2020 regulations?

To ensure you are abiding by the new septic tank legislation in the UK. There are two options if you need to make changes to your septic tank setup:

  1. Swap Your Existing Septic Tank for A Sewage Treatment Plant– Modern domestic sewage treatment plants are refined to produce a cleaner form of water that is considered clean enough to be discharged into a stream or river.
  2. Install A Drainage Field or Soakaway System On Your Septic Tank– Installing one of these will allow the water to be dispersed from your septic tank safely into the ground without causing pollution.

Don’t think that it’s all doom and gloom though, as there’s still plenty of time to replace or upgrade your septic tank system. The new legislation shouldn’t be thought of as a negative because it means that marine life in the streams and rivers will enjoy the much cleaner water. This change in legislation is positive for the environment.

Who is responsible for complying with these regulations?

Previously, compliance was the responsibility of the occupier or owner of the land where the actual discharge took place. However, it is now the responsibility of the owner of the property or land where the septic tank or treatment plant is located and is being used.

The owner of the property bears the onus to either operate and maintain the system themselves or hire a professional and have a written agreement with them for those responsibilities instead. The general binding rules for this state that responsibility is placed on the “operator”.

Of course, the operator is defined as the person who has control over the operation and maintenance of the septic tank or a small sewage treatment plant and can be one of the following people:

  1. The owner of the septic tank or sewage system.
  2. A person who uses the septic tank or sewage system, even though the system itself is located on neighbouring land.
  3. A tenant or leaseholder who agrees to take over the responsibility of operation and maintenance of the system through a written agreement.

All written agreements between tenants and landlords must explain any maintenance that needs to be carried out by the signee in order for it to comply with the rules that are set out in the new regulations. Additionally, if there are several properties that share the same septic tank and they all benefit from using the system so the maintenance is a shared responsibility and therefore there is more than one operator.

What must be done in order for a property to be sold?

If you are selling a property, you have a legal right to inform future buyers in writing about any septic tank or small sewage treatment plant on the property, including its location and any maintenance that is required.

This will usually be passed on during the property information form that is exchanged during property conveyancing.

You are required to repair any defects in the system or negotiate for the buyer to do so as part of the sale of the property, in the same way, that other property defects would be dealt with.

However, septic tank and sewage treatment systems are no longer required to be registered by law for a property to be sold.

Who needs a permit for septic tanks or sewage treatment plants?

In most cases, people will be able to follow the new rules and use their septic tank or sewage treatment plant.

Although, if your property is in an area that is designated as environmentally sensitive, you may be required to acquire a permit in order to protect England’s most precious natural habitats.

If you are unsure, you can check this with the Environment Agency.

How do people comply with the rules?

The 2020 septic tank regulations are easy to comply with – there are a few main things that operators need to do:

  • Regularly empty/desludge septic tanks and small sewage treatment plants and ensure you are not causing pollution
  • Repair any faults or problems with your septic tank immediately
  • Septic tank systems are limited to discharging a maximum of 2,000 litres of sewage per day into the surrounding soil or 5,000 litres of treated sewage per day into flowing water – if you intend on discharging any more then a permit is required.

We have created a simple guide to Septic Tank Installation, Septic Tank Surveys and everything surrounding them to help our lovely customers know exactly what to do.

We have over 40 years of experience in the industry and, as a result, we have acquired a team of experts in septic tank installation, maintenance, repairs and groundwork. We ensure that all work is carried out the high standard we hold ourselves to which gains recommendations from customers to potential clients. We specialise in many areas within the industry. If your question isn’t answered here, please call us on 01274 023898.