Septic Tank Regulations 2020
The two most important regulations that govern the design and use of septic tanks are the General Binding Rules and the Building Control Regulations.
WCI are here to help when it comes to the Septic Tank 2020 Regulations
The two most important regulations that govern the design and use of septic tanks are the General Binding Rules (GBR) and Building Control Regulations. Under the GBR, anyone with a septic tank discharging into a watercourse must replace it or upgrade it by 1st January 2020, or sooner if the property is sold before this date, or if the EA finds that it is causing pollution.
There are other factors, such as British Water Flows and Loads 4, British Standards (BS) and Pollution Prevention Guidelines (PPG) which WCI will take into account when designing and installing sewage treatment systems, but will not be covered here.
WCI receives questions regularly about the Environment Agency’s GBR, the so called “2020 rule” and the legality of septic tanks. In the blue boxes below you will find a very useful FAQ on the General Binding Rules and details on the Building Regulations and their use in sewage treatment design and installation.
Registration of septic tanks and private sewage disposal systems in both England and Wales was introduced in 2010. However a Government review completed in October 2014 introduced new regulations which came into effect in January 2015. These regulations – the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2014 – introduced a set of General Binding Rules.
The rules were designed to end the illegal practice of septic tanks discharging into surface waters e.g. ditches, streams, rhynes and rivers, thus reducing the pollution in our nation’s watercourses.
Common Questions About The Septic Tank 2020 Regulations
The rules were designed to end the illegal practice of septic tanks discharging into ditches, streams, rhynes and rivers thus reducing the pollution in our nation’s watercourses. Under the GBR, anyone with a septic tank discharging into a watercourse must replace it or upgrade it by 1 January 2020, or sooner if the property is sold before this date, or if the EA finds that it is causing pollution.
WCI receives questions daily about GBR, 2020 and septic tanks. Here are the most common and our answers:
I’ve been told septic tanks and soakaways are illegal in 2020?
No. If you have an existing fully functional and GBR compliant septic tank and drainage field (termed soakaway colloquially) then you can meet the EA’s General Binding Rules.
I’ve read that my septic tank which discharges into a stream is illegal on the 1st of January 2020?
Yes. No discharges to a watercourse or ditch are allowed, new or existing – no matter how historic!
I read that as my system was built after 1983 I don’t have to comply with General Binding Rules? My system is as old as the house!
This is incorrect. General Binding Rules states that “If your treatment system was installed before 1983 there was no British Standard in place. You do not need to do anything to meet the British Standard requirement.” BUT “You must still meet all the other general binding rules”.
I’m purchasing a property with an illegal septic tank. The owner must replace it before we exchange contracts?
No. It is up to you and the vendor on how to agree how the system will be brought up to standard. General Binding Rules states “Where properties with septic tanks that discharge directly to surface water are sold before 1 January 2020, responsibility for the replacement or upgrade of the existing treatment system should be addressed between the buyer and seller as a condition of sale”. Many of our clients negotiate a reduction in the sales price of the property and agree to carry out the works post sale.
We have a septic tank and drainage field. There is a pipe from the drainage field to the field ditch but this is only in operation in the wetter winter months. Is this legal?
No. A septic tank must have a drainage field which has no relationship with a surface water (watercourse or ditch).
Is my only option to replace my illegal septic tank with a sewage treatment plant?
In a nutshell no. If your site conditions lend themselves to installing a new drainage field that can be a way of legalising your existing septic tank discharge but what I would caution is getting a professional to look at your options. Drainage fields on clay soil with a marginal porosity/vP can be more expensive than a package sewage treatment plant.
I want to replace my illegal septic tank which discharges to a seasonally dry ditch. Do I need a bespoke EA permit for the proposed new package sewage treatment plant discharge?
No. GBR are split into two sections rules 1-14 for existing discharges and 15- 21 for new discharges. New discharges must also meet rules 1-14. If you have an existing discharge from a septic tank and you are going to replace that septic tank with a new package sewage treatment plant and use the same discharge point then you meet rules 1-14 and DO NOT need an EA permit for the installation. You will need to install the system under a Building Control Notice and check that planning is not required.
I have an existing septic tank discharging to a rhyne. I am not planning on selling the property and don’t have the money to replace the system now. What is the likelihood I will be caught and what is a suitable timeframe to plan on getting the situation sorted?
The GBR state “If the Environment Agency finds evidence that your septic tank discharging to a surface water 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 agreed on a case-by-case basis”. The bottom line is that unless you are selling or polluting a well frequented surface water, or someone reports you, the pollution incident is unlikely to be picked up quickly. This does not mean you should ignore it. If you can demonstrate the EA that you are aware of the problem, an expert has come to assess and quote for its remediation and you are budgeting for the works, the EA should work with you to impose a mutually acceptable timeframe in which the works can be completed.
How much is 2,000L day? A septic tank can discharge into a drainage field 2,000L of septic tank effluent a day but what does that mean in the real world?
The Environment Agency calculate (using British Water Flows and Load 4) foul water production from a person in a domestic situation as 150 litres/per person/per day. Therefore 2000 litres equates to 13 people’s domestic wastewater production per day. Non-domestic flows are calculated differently and WCI can help.
I am building a new house and I want to put in a new septic tank and be independent of the public foul sewer. I’m sure it is cheaper to have a septic tank. My property boundary is less than 30m from the nearest public foul sewer. I can have a septic tank, right?
No. If your property’s boundary is within 30m (for one property only, 60m for two properties etc.) then under the Building Act as reference by General Binding Rules you must connect to the public foul sewer.
Some key guidelines within the Building Control Regulations that govern septic tanks
- Septic tanks should only be used in conjunction with a form of secondary treatment (e.g. a drainage field). Septic tanks should be sited at least 7m from any habitable parts of buildings, and preferably downslope. For more details, please read the Environment Agency Septic Tank 2020 Regulations.
- Where the septic tank is to be emptied using a tanker, the septic tank should be sited within 30m of a vehicle access provided that the invert level of the septic tank is no more than 3m below the level of the vehicle access. This distance may need to be reduced where the depth to the invert of the tank is more than 3m. There should also be a clear route for the hose such that the tank can be emptied and cleaned without hazard to the building occupants and without the contents being taken through a dwelling or place of work.
- Septic tanks should have a capacity below the level of inlet of at least 2,700 litres (2.7m3) for up to 4 users. The size should be increased by 180 litres for each additional user. As a guide, a 2800L septic tank will serve a maximum of 4 persons, a 3800L serves 10 people and a 4600L is a 14 person tank.
- To learn more about the Building Regulations in England for foul water drainage and disposal, please read the Ministry of Housing’s Drainage And Waste Disposal Documentation.
WCI work within these regulations day in day out. If you have any questions or just need some clarification on the regulations and how they apply to your property please call us on 01984 623404 or get in touch via our Contact Form.
If you believe your septic tank is illegal, WCI can help. Please contact Naomi directly on 01984 623404 (ext 26) or via our contact form below to arrange your free site visit today.
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If you have any questions or just need some clarification on the regulations and how they apply to your property, please call us on 01984 623404