Changes in Septic Tank Law for 2020

In 2020, there will be a change in the law regarding the draining of septic tanks in the UK. These rules apply to both new and existing treatment systems; the former is defined as a system that was installed and discharging on or after 1st January 2015, and the latter pertains to systems that were installed and discharging before 31st December 2014.

The new rules focus on the discharge and treatment of sewage from septic tanks. If your system is one that discharges waste directly into surface water, like a stream or river, then under the new rules, that waste will need to be treated by a small sewage plant. This ensures the sewage will be clean enough to enter the stream without polluting it.

Should the Environment Agency find that your septic tank is causing pollution, then you will have to replace it before 1st January 2020. As there is only a year to go, now is the time to act. There are several options that can apply to you, depending on your circumstances, including:

  • Connecting your septic tank to the mains sewer – where available
  • Install a drainage field/infiltration system, allowing your septic tank to discharge into the ground
  • Replace the septic tank with a small sewage treatment plant

If you’re unsure of your options, you can get in touch with the Environment Agency to discuss the matter with them. It is possible to apply for a permit to discharge your septic tank to surface water, but this is only granted in exceptional circumstances.

If you’re planning to use a conversion unit to upgrade your existing septic tank, you must ensure that your system adheres to the relevant British Standard which was in force when the tank was installed. Three ways to check if your system is compliant with the appropriate standard are:

  • It has a CE mark
  • Any documentation or the owner’s manual comes with a certificate of compliance
  • The system is on British Water’s list of approved equipment

The installation company can also confirm whether or not your system meets a British Standard. If there was no standard in place when your system was installed, you needn’t do anything else to meet any requirement.

A few other things to note are:

  • Your system must have the capacity to deal with the maximum amount of sewage it will need to treat. New small sewage treatment plants must meet the sizing requirements of British Water’s Flows and Loads 4.
  • Your system must be regularly emptied and maintained – this includes desludging the system once a year, or at a frequency recommended by the manufacturer.

If you sell your property, you must tell the new owner or the person responsible for the treatment plant in writing about the presence of a sewage discharge. This writing must include:

  • A description of the system
  • The location of the main parts of the plant, its drainage system and its discharge point
  • Any maintenance records you may have
  • Details of any changes made to the system
  • Information on how to maintain the system, including any maintenance manuals

If you stop using your system, you must make sure it is properly decommissioned; this means removing anything that could cause pollution, such as sludge. If you’re only stopping temporarily, decommissioning is not necessary.

If your system was installed after 1st January 2015, there are several rules you need to follow. You must:

  • Check if there’s a public sewer nearby. If there is one within 30 metres of the site of your potential treatment plant, the Environment Agency won’t allow you to build. For buildings of multiple properties, the required 30m must be multiplied by the number of properties.
  • You must obtain Building Regulations approval and planning permission before installing a new plant.
  • Check if the discharge point is in or within 500 yards of a sensitive area. This means places like conservation areas, protection areas, Ramsar sites, biological sites of scientific interest, and bathing water.
  • Make sure the surface water is flowing all year year round. Your system cannot discharge to areas that naturally dry up in certain seasons, and it cannot discharge to lakes or ponds.

If you’re using a partial drainage field, it must be installed within 10 metres of the edge of the watercourse, and it can only be used in conjunction with a small sewage plant, rather than a septic tank.

As you can see, there are plenty of guidelines and regulations when it comes to new septic tanks and treatment systems, and the Environment Agency will be able to provide you with more information. For all your septic tank, sewage system and liquid waste needs, from emptying to cleaning, contact the experts at Cammack & Wilcox today, and we’ll be more than happy to help.