The General Binding Rules 2020 govern the use of septic tanks and are set by the Environmental Agency in a bid to protect England’s natural water resources such as rivers and streams from pollution. Under the new rules you may need to upgrade or replace your septic tank system.

What is a septic tank?

A septic tank is an underground water-tight container which collects sewage and waste water from a property where the property is not connected to a mains sewer system.

What are the General Binding Rules 2020?

The rules state that discharges from septic tanks directly to watercourses are prohibited.

This means that if you own a property with a septic tank, or you occupy and use a property with a septic tank (for example as a tenant) that discharges directly into a watercourse, you may be committing an offence unless you upgrade or replace your current system. For example:

  • connect it to a mains sewer;
  • install a drainage field (or infiltration system) or a British standard-compliant soakaway system so the septic tank can discharge to the ground without causing pollution; or
  • replace your septic tank with a British standard-compliant sewage treatment plant which will clean the water enough so that it can be discharged into a waterway.

Deadline to comply with the Rules

The original time limit to upgrade your septic tank was January 2020. However, the Environmental Agency have now extended this, and you must now carry out upgrades or replacements within a reasonable timescale, typically 12 months. Since this change to the Rules was made in October 2019, we advise that any works are carried out by September 2020.

Buying or selling a property with a septic tank

If the property has a septic tank that discharges directly into a watercourse, then the buyer and seller need to agree who will be responsible for upgrading the system.

We advise that this is agreed as a condition of sale to avoid any repercussions post-completion.

If you need further advice regarding a septic tank at your property or at a property you are considering purchasing, then our Commercial Property department will be able to help you.

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