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Septic tank changes – know your obligations

The information below relates to properties in England

If you own or are looking to purchase a property that is not connected to mains drainage and is instead served by a septic tank, there are changes coming in that you need to be aware of.

Currently, where a property is served by a septic tank, the owner and users of the tank need to comply with a number of general binding rules which were introduced in 2015. A summary of these can be found here.

However, as of 1 January 2020, things will change for certain types of septic tanks and you must be aware of the changes.

Where a septic tank drains to a water source (such as a river or stream) there will be a requirement for the tank to be upgraded or replaced:

  1. By 1 January 2020 for owners (or earlier if the Environment Agency finds evidence that the tank is causing pollution to a water source), or;
  2. Upon a sale of the property which occurs before 2020.

This will be the case for all septic tanks that drain to surface water, even those that have an existing exemption from the Environment Agency.

The reason for the change is because the water that flows from a septic tank is not considered clean enough to flow into a water source without causing pollution.

What options do you have as a homeowner?

  1. Consider whether it would be possible to connect to mains drainage. This is likely to depend on the distance of the nearest public sewer from your property, however, where your home is located within 30.48 metres (100 feet) of a public sewer, Local Authorities already have the ability to require it to be connected to that public sewer.
  2. Replace your septic tank with a sewage treatment plant. As the name suggests, the contents that enter a sewage treatment plant are mechanically treated so that the water flowing from it is considered clean enough to flow into a local water source. This form of discharge will still be permitted following the rule change in 2020.
  3. Install a soakaway system in the grounds of your property - this will allow the water from your septic tank to flow safely into the ground rather than into a water source.

You can apply to the Environment Agency for a permit to discharge (existing or new) to a water source, however, a permit will only be granted in exceptional circumstances. You should contact the Environment Agency to discuss this if required.

If you own a property that drains to a septic tank located on a neighbouring property, the tank will still need to be replaced when your property is sold even though it is not located in the boundaries of your property. You should discuss this with your neighbour as they may not be aware of the requirements and may be reluctant to incur costs.

Any new septic tank installation may fall under the requirement to obtain planning permission and Building Regulations Approval.

For specialist legal advice on all conveyancing matters, please contact our Conveyancing Team by phone or by calling in to one of Wards Solicitors' 11 local offices.

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