In our Autumn 2011 newsletter we discussed The Environmental Agency’s review of environmental permits for small sewage discharges and the government’s proposals to establish a simpler regulatory framework. The proposals have been taken forward and on 1st January 2015 the legal requirements for small sewage discharges were amended.
DEFRA summarise the position neatly thus:
“In rural areas and other parts of the country where there is no public sewer, householders and other property owners usually treat their sewage using septic tanks or small sewage treatment plants. The treated effluent is then discharged either to ground through use of a soakaway, or into a river or stream if using a sewage treatment plant. Discharges are measured by volume. If the discharge is up to 2m3 to ground or 5m3 per day to water, this is known under environmental legislation as a small sewage discharge (SSD). For larger discharges, different rules apply.The risk of pollution from small sewage discharges is usually low provided the septic tanks or small sewage treatment plants are properly maintained and regularly emptied (known as desludging). However, if systems are not properly maintained or are incorrectly installed they can pollute water, cause odour and pose a threat to health if they contaminate drinking water supplies.”
The new rules set the conditions that septic tanks and treatment plants will need to meet in order for them to be used and installed without an environmental permit. In very general terms, the new rules mean that as long as the septic tank or sewage treatment plant is properly used and maintained, (and properly decommissioned at the end of its life) then an environmental permit will not be required.
Naturally, there are very detailed specific requirements. Different rules apply to SSSIs, ancient woodland, Special Protection Areas, and similar.
The onus is on the property owner to either be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the system themselves or have a written agreement with another person to do so. Sellers are still required to provide information to any proposed buyer about the waste water system and will need to disclose any defects in the system. In the light of this requirement we still encourage record keeping as good practice.
The property owner will also need to ensure that their system is not causing pollution and guidance on how to look after your septic tank or sewage treatment plant can be found on the British Water website.
If you would like advice on any aspect of property law, please contact the partner at Hunters having responsibility for your legal matters, or (for new enquiries) please contact a member of our Property team.