04 Dec 2017

How self-builders can avoid falling foul of ‘little-known’ septic tank legislation

Did you know about the legislation surrounding septic tanks that are causing costly problems for home-builders, developers and owners? No? According to Richard Leigh, Group Development Director at Lanes for Drains, you’re not alone.


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In this article, Richard explains what self-builders outside of the sewage network need to know about this important, but little-understood, legislation to avoid breaking the law.

What are the general binding rules?

In 2015, the Environment Agency introduced ‘general binding rules’ that state certain septic tanks are, by law, no longer allowed to be discharged into a watercourse such as a river or a canal.

By 1st January 2020, all homes that do this must either connect to the main sewage network, create a drainage field or replace the existing septic tank system with a small sewage treatment plant.

However, despite being in place for over two years now, we have seen that public awareness of the regulations is worryingly low.

What are small sewage treatment plants?

For most people who own a home that discharges into a watercourse, the most practical thing to do is to install a small sewage treatment plant.

This system, also known as a package treatment plant, is a part-mechanical system that treats the liquid from the septic tank so that it is clean enough to go into a watercourse without polluting it. However, these systems can cost anywhere between £750 to £2000 to buy and install, depending on the size of the plant that your property requires.

In addition, any new (after 1st January 2015) sewage treatment facility installed on your property will need to have both planning permission and Building Regulations approval.

What are the relevant British Standards?

If you are installing a new septic tank or small sewage treatment facility, it must meet the relevant British Standard that was in use at the time when it was installed. Your system will meet British Standards if:

• It is on British Water’s list of approved equipment
• It has a CE Mark
• There is a certificate of compliance with a British Standard on the manual or documentation that was supplied with your septic tank.

The British standards that are currently in use for new systems are:
• BS EN 12566 for small sewage treatment plants
• BS 6297:2007 for drainage fields.

What happens if I don’t adhere to the regulations?

If you do not meet the general binding rules, you will need to maintain a permit from the Environment Agency. The documents you will need to complete and the type permit that you will require depends on two things: how much sewage is discharged, and where you discharge the sewage.

If you are not compliant and do not have the relevant permit by 1st January 2020, you will be acting illegally and be faced with as-yet-uncommunicated punishment from the Environment Agency.

This is one of the main problems with the binding rules – it has caused ambiguity and confusion because the details of any penalties or punishments that have not yet been disclosed.

In addition, awareness of the regulations remains worryingly low among both the public and professionals in related industries. As a result, we at Lanes for Drains have seen that this lack of awareness has affected, and will continue to affect, property buyers because they will have to cover the additional costs of ensuring the property is compliant – even though it was technically the responsibility of the seller.

Similarly, sellers who are unaware of the legislation until it is flagged up in a homebuyer or drainage survey would have to pause the sales process and take the relevant steps before resuming the sale.

Other important regulations surrounding septic tanks

There are other rules and regulations that self-builders should be aware of when it comes to septic tanks.

Building Regulations 2010 – drainage and waste disposal

These regulations deal with septic tank installation regulations and the owner’s responsibilities, including making sure that:

• The tank is in the right place
• Its capacity is adequate for the property it serves
• It won’t pollute local watercourses
• The system is suitable for local ground conditions – particularly important for drainage fields (or soakaway)
• The tank is emptied and maintained regularly
• Local authorities have the powers to test systems and take legal action if they find any issues.

Environment Agency PPG4 (Pollution Prevention Guidelines)

While it was withdrawn from use in December 2015, the Environment Agency’s PPG4 can help you to decide what type of off-mains drainage is best for your property, including what the EA will allow and when you need to get consent.

Public Health Act, 1936

You may be prosecuted by the local authority if you allow a septic tank to overflow or leak.

Be prepared

The best advice I can give to self-builders that are not a part of the main sewage network is to do your research and be prepared before installing any septic tank or sewage facility. There is a lot of guidance and rules surrounding these systems because of their potential to pollute, which means the Government and Environment Agency both take the issue very seriously. Make sure you know what is required well in advance to avoid falling foul of the many related guidelines, rules and regulations surrounding this issue and your self-build project should be considerably less painful and costly.

Further information....

More Information

• Permits – www.gov.uk/permits-you-need-for-septic-tanks/apply-for-a-permit
• Building Regulations 2010 – drainage and waste disposal – www.planningportal.co.uk/info/200135/approved_documents/71/part_h_-_drainage_and_waste_disposal
• Environment Agency PPG4 (Pollution Prevention Guidelines) – http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/

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