Septic tanks – not the most glamorous of topics. However, the regulations are changing, and if you own a property with a septic tank or are thinking of buying one, you need to read on…

What are the new septic tank rules?

Waste water from a septic tank is no longer allowed to flow into a local watercourse, such as a stream, river or ditch. The rules are designed to reduce levels of pollution in the nation’s watercourses.

Under the new regulations, waste water must be released into a proper standard drainage field, where it is filtered through pipes and eventually the sub-soil. This process offers a further form of purification and limits the chance of pollution. If your septic tank already runs through a proper drainage field you should not need to take any further action, provided the tank is not within a sensitive area, such as being close to where ground water is extracted for drinking.

When does this come into effect?

Since 2015, property owners have not been allowed to install a new septic tank which discharges to a watercourse, but older tanks have been allowed to remain unaltered. This is going to change in 2020. If your property’s septic tank discharges to a watercourse and not a proper drainage field, you must replace or upgrade to a system meeting current standards by 1 January 2020 – or before that date if you are selling your property.

What are your options?

There are three main ways in which you can comply with the new regulations:

  1. Connect to the main sewer – however, this may not be an option, especially in remote areas.
  2. Swap your septic tank for a sewage treatment plant which meets the current standard of certification – sewage treatment plants produce a cleaner form of water run-off which is considered unpolluted enough to discharge straight to a watercourse.
  3. Install a compliant drainage field – this will take the waste water from your septic tank, and disperse it safely into the ground without causing pollution. However in some cases this may not be possible due lack of space, or soil type.

Selling a property with a septic tank

If you are looking to sell a property with a non-compliant septic tank, you must make sure that your system has been upgraded before you move, or have an agreement in place with your buyer. It is vital that you provide your buyer with correct information about the type of septic tank installed, and can verify that it meets the new regulations – failing to do so could cause a huge delay, or even cause the sale to fall through.

Buying a property with a septic tank

The regulations and requirements are complex and confusing. There is the risk when buying a property the seller may not be fully aware of the type and condition of septic tank installed. It is highly advisable to have the septic tank surveyed by an expert before committing to the purchase.

Author: Helen Harris, Forrest Sylvester Mackett Solicitors

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances; it is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to Forrest Sylvester Mackett Solicitors directly.