2020 Septic Tank Regulations

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    Septic Tanks
    General Binding Rules

    The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2014 took effect on January 1, 2015, establishing General Binding Rules (GBRs) for domestic septic tanks and small sewage treatment plants.

    These rules aim primarily to minimise sewage pollution in the country’s water bodies.

    Consequently, the government intends to eliminate the direct discharge of septic tanks into local watercourses, such as rivers and streams.

    According to the GBRs, if a septic tank is discharging into a watercourse, it must be either replaced or upgraded by January 1, 2020. This deadline moves up if the property is sold before that date, or if the Environment Agency (EA) determines that the system is contributing to pollution.


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    Replacing your System

    You can opt to replace your system by:

    Linking up with a mains sewer, if it’s accessible.

    Setting up a drainage field (also known as an infiltration system) that allows your septic tank to discharge into the soil.

    Swapping it out for a small sewage treatment plant.

    In rare cases, you can apply for a permit to continue discharging into surface water.

    Conversion units for septic tanks are available to retrofit existing systems that discharge into surface water. However, obtaining a permit is mandatory for such an upgrade, and you must also present proof that the modified system will meet the same treatment standards as a sewage treatment plant.


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    Compliance with General Binding Rules (GBRs) falls on the operators of septic tanks and small sewage treatment plants. The operator could be the property or landowner where the system is situated, the user of the system (even if located on a neighbor’s property), or the tenant/leaseholder if there’s a written agreement outlining maintenance responsibilities needed for GBR compliance.

    It is also advised to ensure that all treatment systems:

    1. Either met the applicable British Standard at the time of installation or carry a CE mark. Systems installed before 1983 are exempt from this criterion.
    2. Have adequate capacity for their intended use.
    3. Were set up following the manufacturer’s guidelines.
    4. Receive maintenance at least annually, or as specified by the manufacturer.
    5. If located in a tidal area, discharge sewage below the ‘mean low water spring mark.’
    6. Are promptly repaired or replaced by a qualified individual if they are not functioning correctly.


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    Additional Rules

    Additional guidelines exist for new discharges stemming from treatment systems set up on or after January 1, 2015.

    These extra rules are relevant if you’re planning to switch from discharging to the surface to discharging into groundwater after January 1, 2015, or vice versa. They also apply if you want to install a new drainage pipe that discharges more than 10 meters away from an existing one installed prior to that date.

    In such scenarios, you must adhere to the following procedures:

    1. If any part of the structure serviced by your treatment plant lies within 30 meters of a public sewer, the Environment Agency (EA) won’t authorize a new discharge. This distance increases proportionally with the number of properties involved (e.g., 90 meters for three properties).

    2. If specific obstacles prevent you from connecting to this sewer (e.g., a river or hill) or if your proposed discharge point is within 500 meters of a designated sensitive area (e.g., Special Area of Conservation or Ramsar site), 200 meters of an aquatic local nature reserve, or 50 meters from a chalk river or local aquatic wildlife site, you’ll need to apply for a permit.

    3. Seek planning permission and Building Regulations approval for the installation of a new sewage treatment plant.

    4. New discharges to ditches or surface waters are permissible only if there’s enough flow throughout the year. The Environment Agency can provide guidance on this matter.


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    Further Information

    If you would like further professional advice around the 2020 regulations, please do get in touch with us by calling 0800 824 72 99 or dropping us an email. For your convenience we have provided a form here that you can complete and one of our team members will get back to you as soon as possible.