If your house or business is not connected to the mains sewer, your sewage will go to one of the following: a septic tank, a small sewerage treatment plant or a cesspool.
What is a Septic Tank?
A septic tank is an underground tank made of concrete, fiberglass, or plastic through which domestic wastewater flows for basic treatment. The underground chamber allows for solids to sink to the bottom and liquids to flow out and soak through the ground.
If your property benefits from and you are an operator of a septic tank or small sewerage treatment plant you must follow the general binding rules:
1) The sewage must be domestic in nature, for example from a toilet, bathroom, shower or kitchen of a house, flat or business.
2) The sewage must also not cause pollution. The onus remains with the operator to ensure the system is not polluting and in good working order.
There are other rules depending on whether you are releasing sewage to the ground for example in your back garden or to surface water, for example a river or stream.
As the operator of a septic tank or small sewage treatment plant you must check you meet the general binding rules above and you must apply for a permit if you do not.
You are an operator if you own a property that uses the system or you own a property that shares the system with other properties – in this scenario each property owner is an operator, and you are jointly responsible for complying with the general binding rules and lastly if you have a written agreement with the property owner that says you are responsible for the system’s maintenance, for example you are renting and it is in your tenancy agreement.
You will need a permit if you do not meet the general binding rules. The form you need to fill in depends on where you discharge the sewage and how much you discharge.
There has now been an update to the General Binding Rules and from the 1st January 2020 you will no longer be able to discharge effluent (the partially cleaned water from the septic tank) into surface water. Any septic tank that does discharge directly into surface water needs to be replaced or upgraded by that date. Surface water in this instance includes watercourses such as rivers, streams, ditches as well as ponds and other standing water.
With just over three months until this date, if you own or operate a septic tank that discharges into surface water you must review your current system imminently and consider the best way to upgrade or replace the system as is necessary to comply with the updated regulations. It is imperative that you comply with the new rules to avoid any potential enforcement action from the Environmental Agency.
If you have any queries regarding options available, it is advisable to discuss these with the Environment Agency who will be able to assist you with advice and guidance on compliance. If you have any queries in respect of your current system, please raise these with your local installation or maintenance company.
The government is recommending that if a property is sold before 1st January 2020 the responsibility for either upgrading or replacing the system is addressed by the purchaser or seller as a condition of the sale, however please be aware that the ongoing responsibility rests with the operator.
If you have any concerns about selling or purchasing a property with a septic tank in respect of compliance, permits etc please contact the property team who will be more than willing to assist.
*Please note that these regulations only apply in England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate regimes which apply.
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