2020 Septic Tanks Law Changes

2020 Septic Tank Law Changes – What You Need To Know

Although septic tank regulations may not be on your mind, if you are thinking of buying or owning a property with one, you might want to consider it.

New regulations were passed in 2015. Suppose your septic tank is found to be leaking into water sources such as streams, ditches, or rivers. In that case, you must upgrade it to a sewage treatment facility or install a soakaway system before January 2020. If you intend to sell your property prior to that date, the tank must be upgraded.

Even though this will not affect everyone, rural residents should be aware of the regulations and take steps to avoid being fined. Here’s how to prepare for the new regulations, which will be in force in six months.

What’s new?

In the East of England, homeowners could discharge wastewater from a septic tank by either draining it to: You could either drain it to:

  • A soakaway or drainage system – The water flows through the pipes and is treated by the subsoils. This allows water to be removed from the environment without polluting it.
  • A watercourse. The wastewater flows through an enclosed pipe to a local watercourse.

The General binding regulations: Small sewage discharge to a water surface. This means that wastewater from a toilet can no longer be discharged directly to a watercourse.

What is the difference between septic tanks and sewage treatment plants?

If your home or business is not connected to the mains sewer, the sewage from your property may be diverted into one of these:

  • Septic Tank – A single-chamber underground tank that holds sewage from a property. The tank allows the solids to build up to the bottom. The liquid is sucked out of the tank through an outlet pipe.
  • Sewage treatment plants – This is a more complex part-mechanical system that treats liquids so they can be directly discharged into streams, ditches, or other watercourses, or into a soakaway to disperse into the soil.
  • A cesspool. A cesspool, also known as a cesspit, is a closed tank that collects sewage. It must be emptied. To prevent overflowing, cesspools should be regularly emptied using tankers.

What changed in the regulations?

These new regulations were introduced to improve the water quality that flows into local watercourses. Separate wastewater from septic tanks was allowed to flow through a pipe into a local watercourse, such as a stream. This water is now not considered safe enough to be allowed to flow into the watercourse.

What does all this mean?

This rule is in effect for a while and prohibits East of England property owners from installing a septic tank that discharges into a watercourse. If a property already has a septic tank that discharges to a watercourse it is allowed to keep its septic tank unless the Environment Agency declares the tank to be a pollutant.

This will change in January 2020. Any property with a septic system that drains into a watercourse will need to be upgraded or replaced. This is especially important for those who are looking to purchase or sell a property. Sellers must first upgrade their systems. It is important that prospective buyers verify this information.

Additional rules are applicable to property owners who:

  • Installed a small sewage treatment plant on or after 1 January 2015
  • Had a discharge to ground before 1 January 2015 but now want to discharge to a surface water (or vice versa)
  • Had a discharge to a surface water before 1 January 2015 and want to install a new drainage pipe that discharges more than 10 metres away from the existing one, or into a different surface water.

What should you do?

You have two options to comply with the new regulations. This includes:

  • Use a sewer treatment plant – Sewage treatment facilities produce wastewater that is much cleaner than septic tanks.
  • Install a drainage field or soakaway system – This allows wastewater from a toilet to be pumped into the ground and not pollute the environment.

Only Environment Agency permits can be used for soakaway systems. They will evaluate the potential risk to groundwater on your site and decide if it is safe to use.

If you want to discharge septic tanks, you must apply for a permit.

  • To a borehole, well or other deep structure
  • Daily consumption of more than 2 cubic metres (2,000 litres)
  • Groundwater source protection zone (SPZ1)

You must obtain planning permission and approval under building regulations before you can install a new system. Both can be applied retrospectively if the system was installed prior to January 2015.

A drainage field is made up of rigid pipes that have holes and are placed over drainage stones. The septic water seeps through the holes into the ground, where it is treated with soil bacteria.

How do you maintain your septic tanks?

You must ensure that your septic tanks are regularly cleaned, maintained, and emptied before they exceed their maximum capacity. You must ensure that the tanker company that empties it is a registered waste company. Also, you should inspect for and fix any:

  • Cracked pipes
  • Leaks
  • Pipes that are blocked
  • Problems with drainage fields such as soggy ground, ‘pooling’ around tanks or soakaway

Get in touch if you have any questions regarding the plumbing, drain unblocking changes or other issues.