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The general binding rules 2020 make it a legal requirement to upgrade or replace your home’s septic tank if it discharges directly into surface waters.

This article explores the general binding rules and what you need to do to comply with them, particularly if you are buying or selling a property with an outdated septic tank system.

What is a septic tank?

A septic tank is an underground tank that collects sewage from buildings not connected to mains sewerage.

Although decay reduces the volume of solids, they still build up over time and must be periodically removed.

Only clear fluid can escape the tank and spill into a drain or seepage field away from surface waters such as rivers, ditches or streams.

Complying with the general binding rules 2020

Owners of septic tanks must comply with the general binding rules, which are legal requirements.

The general binding rules make it your responsibility, as a homeowner, to ensure that the tank is properly maintained and does not cause pollution. These rules also forbid septic tanks discharging directly to surface waters.

If your current septic tank system does not comply with the general binding rules 2020, you can either upgrade or replace your current treatment system.

You can upgrade your current septic tank by installing a British standard-compliant soakaway system or drain field, which will take the wastewater from your septic tank, and discharge it safely into the ground without causing pollution.

Alternatively, you can replace your existing tank with a full sewage treatment plant that comes with full British Standard documentation. The water produced will then be clean enough to discharge directly into a waterway.

When do you need to upgrade my septic tank system by?

In October 2019, the Environment Agency removed the original January 2020 deadline to replace or upgrade your outdated waste treatment system. You must carry out the septic tank upgrade or replacement ‘as soon as possible, typically within 12 months’. We advise that you do so before the end of September 2020.

What if you are buying or selling a house with a septic tank?

If you are selling a house with a septic tank, you are required to provide your buyer with written details of the discharge and a description of the waste system. In most cases, this will be included within the property information forms completed as part of the conveyancing process.

If the tank discharges directly to surface water, the general binding rules suggest that responsibility for replacing or upgrading the existing system within the extended timeframe should be dealt with between the buyer and seller as a condition of the sale. This work will still need to be done within a reasonable timescale, typically 12 months, but we advise that you check the timeframe and negotiating any terms of directly with the Environment Agency. The agreed terms can then be added to the contract between you and the buyer. It may be that this is dealt with as a simple price reduction unless the cost of the works required is already included in the agreed purchase price for the property.

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