Septic tanks: How will the new regulations affect my property?

Many rural home or landowners won’t be unaccustomed to septic tanks being their solution to dealing with wastewater and sewage where there isn’t mains drainage available. However,  what many may not be aware of is if their septic tank was built, installed and in use after 31st December 2014  it will need to be upgraded to comply with new regulations from January 1st 2020 – even if they’re selling their property.

The new regs brought in by the Environment Agency will affect both buyers and owners regarding the upkeep of their septic tanks and has been introduced to help stop water pollution due to the harmful effects of discharge waste from septic tanks on the environment.

So, from January 1st 2020, if your septic tank was installed and in use after 31st December 2014 and, if your existing septic tank empties into a watercourse – ie ditches, stream or river, you will need to ensure it has a small sewage treatment plant to treat any waste before it empties into a watercourse.

By the way, these aren’t strictly new regulations, they were brought into effect in January 2015 – and known as General Binding rules: small sewage discharge to surface water’ but applied only to new septic tanks. However, from January 1st 2020 the regs will apply to both new and old septic tanks.

The onus of compliance with the new rules lies with the operator of the septic tank. The operator could be the owner, tenant, leaseholder or the user of the property/land where the septic tank is located.

Below are a few scenarios to help you through the regs. I discussed some of the following with Commercial Property Solicitor, Julie Trimble to get a legal perspective too.

I’ve got a septic tank and I want to sell my property, how do  I make sure I comply with the new regulations?

·         Where properties with septic tanks that discharge directly to surface water are sold before 1 January 2020 according to Gov.UK, responsibility for the replacement or upgrade of the existing treatment system should be addressed  between the buyer and the owner as a condition of sale

·         You will then need to – update your tank

·         Once you’ve updated your tank, tell the new owner in writing that you’re responsible for the septic tank discharge

What do I need to include in the written declaration?

·         Full description of the septic tank

·         Location of the septic tank

·         Any changes to the septic tank

·         Description of any maintenance that’s needed

·         Record of maintenance – backdated to 7 years

Help – I’ve seen a property I like but it’s got a septic tank what do I do?

·         It will be imperative that those involved in the purchase of a property establishes if the septic tank is not connected to mains drainage.

·         The buyer needs to make full enquiries to establish where the tank drains to.

What will the impact be on a sale if the septic tank isn’t compliant?

There are several issues that will need to be considered.

·         Firstly,  the cost of making the system compliant and who will bear this cost. It might be that the system will need to be replaced and a seller may be asked to either do the work or more likely, to agree on a reduction in the purchase price to avoid delaying the transaction.

·         Lenders may take a harder line on properties with private drainage arrangements, insisting on a more detailed (or separate report) on such systems and retention for non-compliant systems.

·         A seller will want to try to resist price reductions and costly works but will be faced with the argument that non-compliance is a criminal offence with criminal sanctions. Such sanctions are likely to be financial (and the EA have indicated an intention to work with, rather than against property owners to encourage compliance). In practice, Environment Agency intervention is unlikely on most domestic properties however a there may need a financial mechanism to deal with potential issues, i.e an amount that is set aside on a sale to deal with such works that might be required.

·         Sellers will be required to provide detailed information about the systems that serve their property. Many of the properties that use septic tanks/ STP are rural and established.  Often soakaways are not located within the boundaries of the property that they serve, but on adjoining land in the ownership of a family member or accommodating neighbouring farmer and without the necessary easements for repair and maintenance this can cause problems. It is frequently the case that enquiries are not raised regarding the location of soakaways because the septic tank is located within the boundaries of the property being sold and those who are not used to more rural properties are unaware of how these systems work, and that the septic tank is only part of a wider system. So, sellers/buyers may find that with a more inquisitive approach to private drainage that other, more difficult issues arise. Some that are not so easily solved with a price reduction. The best advice to sellers is to understand the system that serves your property, make sure it is working properly and shows no sign of pollution. If there appears to be an issue, take professional advice and ensure that everything is in working order. If the system is not working and time or funds are not available then be prepared for a price reduction to accommodate any necessary works, but better still have a quote for works so that a buyer is not able to take advantage of the situation. If you suspect that part of the drainage system is situated on other property it is best to discuss this with your solicitor. They should then be able to ascertain the position to see whether further work needs to be done to regularise the position and avoid further costs and delays.

I’m not selling my property but need to make sure I comply, what do I need to do?

·         Replace your tank for a sewage treatment plant or

·         Install a drainage field or soakaway system

Do I need to consider a building regulation application?

Yes, drainage is classed as a controlled service, therefore, any works to drainage will be subject to a building regulation application and will need to comply with the regulations and approved document H.

So, any good news about septic tank regulation?

There’s still over a year to get your septic tank sorted or look into the best approach for those buying a property with a septic tank, so don’t panic. Also, the new regs help stop polluting your local waterways for future generations. If there were no British Standards in place when your treatment system was installed (that is before 1983) you do not need to do anything else to meet this requirement.

Further reading

PS. Did you see this news report on “Concreteberg” I was amazed to read about the London Sewer battling with the 100m long and 105 tonne mass!