Beware the new septic tank regulations

New rules around septic tanks many mean that some property owners are facing a complex and expensive problem in order to comply with the law, a leading lawyer has warned.

Rural properties that are not served by mains sewage systems normally rely on septic tanks for processing their sewage. New rules concerning the use of septic tanks, known as the General Binding Rules, will come into force on January 1, 2020, having been initially introduced in 2015 with an extended period of grace.

However, from next year, owners must ensure they are compliant and their septic tanks meet the appropriate standards and are properly installed and maintained.

Tom Wills, head of agriculture and estates at law firm Sintons, warns that enforcement may mean overcoming complex issues for some rural property owners, so it is vital it is addressed now.

“One of the main problem areas is the rule that stipulates no septic tank can discharge into a water course. I have come across clearly non-compliant septic tanks serving old mills that have been developed and small villages that once were estate villages. The properties are now in multiple ownerships, the ownership of the septic tank is often vague and it can be situated on third party land,” he said.

“If the tank is situated close to a water course, it is likely that the only possible solution is an expensive small sewage treatment plant. However, the initial work is calculating who pays for what, including on-going maintenance, and putting in place the legal structure to support the investment.

“People have had plenty of time to comply with these rules, but I still see instances where the problem seems to have been parked in the ‘too difficult’ box, with property owners hoping that it will go away. It won’t. If you are in breach of the General Binding Rules, time is fast running out to put compliance measures in place before you run the risk of prosecution.”

Anyone anticipating any issues on this topic, or who would like to explore options in greater detail, should seek advice from our specialist team of lawyers. Speak to Tom Wills, head of agriculture and estates at Sintons, on 0191 226 3796 or

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