Off Mains Drainage? Are You Affected by the New 2020 Septic Tank Regulations?

No-one really thinks about their drainage unless they are moving house or have a problem but ignoring it could soon become costly …….

If you have a septic tank or sewage treatment plant you will need to check if your system is compliant with new regulations coming into effect on the 1st January 2020.

The regulations or General Binding Rules were introduced by the Environment Agency in 2015 to reduce the level of pollution being released into watercourses. As a result septic tanks can no longer discharge untreated water directly into them.  The regulations provided a ‘grace’ period up to the 1st January 2020 for anyone affected to ensure they are compliant and to take action if necessary.

The deadline is looming so to help homeowners off mains drainage understand what action they need to take Drain Doctor Gloucestershire has compiled an overview of what the changes mean and how they affect you, especially if you are selling your property before the 1st January 2020.

Summary of changes

If you have a septic tank that discharges directly to surface water you will need to replace or upgrade your treatment system by 1 January 2020.

Owners of properties with septic tanks that discharge directly to surface water sold before 1 January 2020, are responsible for the replacement or upgrade of the existing treatment system  as a condition of sale.

Do the Changes affect You?

First of all you need to clarify whether you have a cesspool, septic tank or a sewage treatment plant:

  • Cesspool (or Cesspit) is purely a holding tank collecting and storing waste which needs regular emptying as it does not have any outlet to allow the liquid to drain away.
  • A sewage treatment plant uses aerobic digestion and usually an air blower or rotational paddles to reduce the pollution in the effluent, resulting in an acceptable quality of discharge to a watercourse, soakaway or drainage field. This needs emptying regularly and servicing to maintain efficient performance (and records kept).
Sewage Treatment plant installation
Sewage Treatment plant being installed to meet 2020 Regulations
  • A septic tank is  typically an underground tank, in which sewage is collected and allowed to decompose over time through bacterial activity. Solids will form a sludge at the bottom of the tank and the remaining liquids will discharge into a soakaway, drainage field or direct into a watercourse via a sealed pipe. The tank should be emptied regularly but frequency will depend on usage.

Do I need to take action?

If you have a sewage treatment plant:

  • Does it have CE mark as a certificate of compliance with British Standards is necessary to ensure it meets the required regulations?
  • Is it regularly emptied and serviced (and records kept) to ensure working properly and that the discharge is clean enough to comply with current regulations?
  • Any installation since 2015 should meet the above criteria as discharge to a watercourse is prevented under the new regulations.

If you have a septic tank:

  • Does it discharge to a drainage field, soakaway or watercourse?
  • For properties discharging to a drainage field, soakaway or a watercourse the Environment Agency has allowed owners to continue using their septic tanks until it is proven that the discharge is causing pollution.

Environment Agency Midlands inspecting River Leadon for pollution

Testing for pollution by Environment Agency inspectors in Gloucestershire

Image: Courtesy of Environment Agency Midlands

However, after 1st January 2020 this will change and all septic tanks draining to a  watercourse must be replaced or upgraded.

Under the new regulations discharge to a soakaway from a septic tank requires a permit from the Environment Agency. You can apply for a permit for an existing or new discharge to a surface watercourse from a septic tank but it’s only granted in exceptional circumstances.

If the Environment Agency finds evidence that your septic tank discharging to a surface watercourse is causing pollution, you will need to replace or upgrade your system earlier than 1 January 2020. You will usually have to do this within 1 year, although this will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

What are My Options?

If you are affected then possible options are:

  • connect to mains sewer (if available) or
  • install a drainage field (also known as an infiltration system) so the septic tank can discharge to ground instead – this is potentially the easiest option if you have enough suitable land but would need to meet the BS 6297:2007 standard or
  • replace your septic tank with or convert it to a sewage treatment plant. This is likely to be the only outcome for most septic tank owners and must meet the BS EN 12566 standard. It must be suitable for the size of house and will require regular emptying and servicing.
Mantair air blower for sewage treatment plant
Air blower conversion on septic tanks to ensure  compliance with 2020 Regulations

Still Unsure?

Drain Doctor is already helping numerous customers throughout Gloucestershire become compliant and are happy to undertake A FREE SURVEY to help you decide how best to comply with the new regulations.

Just call us on 0800 068 1216 and we’ll be happy to help you in any way we can!!