Tanks Bogged Down by Regulation

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Property solicitor, Iain Robinson reviews the new septic tank legislation

Since April 2011 sewage treatment plant and septic tanks in England and Wales have been subject to a new system of environmental permits. Although the new rules replace uncertain old ones, the new scheme is costly and bureaucratic. It even creates new criminal offences.

This new environmental permit regime and especially the new criminal offences, mean that however officious the system may seem it is more important than ever to have the paperwork in order.

Septic tanks that serve only one house may qualify for an exemption and will not need a full permit. Exemptions are free to register and require only a single form to be filled in. It will be an offence not to register the exemption (or have an existing discharge consent) by the end of the year.

Tanks shared by more than one household will often require one of the two types of permit. A standard permit is available if certain conditions, relating to the tank itself, the number and size of properties it serves, and the land or water course it discharges to, are all met.

Bespoke permits are required for large groups of houses, when the discharge is to an environmentally sensitive location, and in certain other circumstances. Both types of permit attract fees of up to £885. The standard bespoke permit has a long, detailed and technical application process, whereas the standard permit has a rather shorter form to fill in.

It will be an offence to discharge without a permit, exemption or historic consent to discharge as of the start of 2012.

It has always been important to have any necessary environmental consents to your septic tank and, where you share it with neighbours, to have your rights to use this and your responsibility to maintain it properly documented. That is never truer than when you are looking to buy or sell the property that uses it. Although this new regime might make life easier for users of unshared septic tanks, shared owners could find themselves having to pay large fees and complete complicated and technical application forms.

On one construction of the regulations, it may even be an offence to flush the toilet at someone else’s house if they do not have the right paperwork! A defence is available if this was done in an emergency to protect human health, and the Environment Agency is furnished with “particulars of the act” at an early stage.” It is not clear exactly how much detail the Environment Agency will require.

If you are looking to register an exemption or apply for a permit for a septic tank or domestic sewage treatment works, or are looking to buy or sell a property that has one of these, contact Slee Blackwell’s Conveyancing or Commercial Property Department.

You can speak to Iain Robinson on 01271 372128 or contact him by email at [email protected]