Alastair Dunnett provides guidance in relation to recent regulations about septic tanks
Septic tanks are a type of system used to deal with sewage from properties that are themselves unable to connect to a public sewer. There has been various changes in recent years as to the rules concerning whether septic tanks and sewage treatment plants have to be registered. The regulations are far too complex and contain far too much detail to set out in full here. However, it is worth reviewing the current position and providing a brief overview of the most recent regulations.
The current rules say that most discharges to either ground water or surface waters require an environmental permit. There are certain discharges from septic tanks or sewage treatment plants that are exempt from the requirement for a permit. These exempt tanks must instead be registered with the Environment Agency. As a rule of thumb, if there is a very small discharge from a tank or treatment plant then it is likely that that tank would require an exemption certificate with the Environment Agency. Registration with the Environment Agency is free and can be done by a simple application to them. The duty to register is that of the current occupier of the property and the exemption certificate stays with the property so if the property is sold it transfers to the new owner.
The current position arose out of the Government announcement in August 2011 whereby they stated (with the help of the Environment Agency) that it was not compulsory to register small domestic sewage discharges (including septic tanks). In October of 2013 the Environment Agency then updated its position whereby they stated it was not at that point compulsory to register any of the following discharges:-
A discharge of domestic sewage to ground water of 2 cubic metres per day or less via a septic tank or sewage treatment plant that is outside what is known as a source protection zone.
A discharge of domestic sewage to surface water of 5 cubic metres per day or less via a package sewage treatment plant.
Generally speaking, it is accepted that 2 cubic metres per day of sewage is equivalent of about 9 people occupying a property and 5 cubic metres per day is equivalent of about 31 people occupying a single property. As a result, for most single properties that have their own septic tank would appear unlikely that they would be discharging more than either 2 or 5 cubic metres per day.
There are, of course, various other requirements that any septic tank must meet in order to qualify for this exemption. These include, but are not limited to, confirmation that the sewage system is maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, the occupier keeping a record of the maintenance and the discharge itself not causing any pollution to surface water or ground water.
The most recent development came in April of this year where the Government has launched a consultation that proposes a more simplified framework. The general feeling amongst Property Lawyers is that any simplification of these rules would be most welcome because, given the number of exemptions and regulations, its not easy to keep track of which tanks require registration and which are capable of having an exemption certificate.
Until the outcome of the most recent consultation is made public its not easy to advise on the future requirements for septic tanks. What is clear is that if you are buying a property with a septic tank then you do, at the very least, need to be aware of the regulations and of the potential changes.
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