Environmental Permitting

WCI have handled hundreds of Environmental Permit applications and we have an intimate understanding of the Environmental Permitting Regulations, General Binding Rules, Water and Groundwater Frameworks, Building Regulations and the National Planning Policy Framework.

General Binding Rules

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 – introduced a set of General Binding Rules (GBR).

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.

The General Binding Rules define a set of requirements which govern whether a discharge of sewage effluent (either treated or untreated) to the environment requires an Environmental Permit.  If the discharge meets all the relevant rules, the discharge is permitted without needing to apply for a permit.

Following the October 2023 update, the General Binding Rules consist of 23 rules that make distinctions between existing and new discharges.

More information about the individual rules can be found by visiting https://www.gov.uk/permits-you-need-for-septic-tanks.

The rules and the nuances can be complicated; why not call and speak to Naomi or Amy on 01984 623404 to discuss your questions in person.

Environmental Permitting

If a discharge to the environment does not meet all the relevant General Binding Rules, it cannot be made without an Environmental Permit.

We provide honest advice and support with preparing environmental permit applications as well as undertaking a comprehensive design and permitting service.

With permit applications typically taking six to twelve months for the Environment Agency to process, it is tempting to defer application until after planning for new developments is awarded. However, permitting is a key factor in establishing the feasibility for new developments and we recommend early advice to avoid costly redesigns.

Even if you already have planning approval, the specification of a treatment solution must take account of the anticipated treatment standard that an Environmental Permit will specify so it is equally important to seek advice on Environmental Permitting for your existing discharge.

WCI have experience of literally thousands of water discharges across the country. Our experience allows us to provide practical and accurate guidance on how to ensure ongoing compliance for your private drainage system.

WCI regularly receives questions about the Environment Agency’s General Binding Rules, the so called “2020 rule” and the legality of septic tanks, the difference between existing and new discharges and many other aspects of the General Binding Rules which are difficult to interpret. If in doubt, don’t leave your compliance to chance. Get in touch to talk it through.

Or call us to discuss your environmental permit needs
on 01984 623404.


I have a septic tank, but it was installed before 1983, do I have to meet these new Environment Agency Regulations?

Under the Environment Agency’s General Binding Rules your septic tank must meet the relevant British Standard in place at the time of installation. If different parts of your treatment system were installed at different times, each part must meet the relevant British Standard in place at the time of installation. If your treatment system was installed before 1983 you do not need to do anything to meet the British Standard. There was no British Standard in place before then. You must still meet the other general binding rules that apply to you such as Rule No. 10 ‘Make sure your treatment system is installed and operated correctly and has enough capacity.’

The current standards for new systems are:

  • BS EN 12566 for septic tanks and small sewage treatment plants
  • BS 6297:2007 for drainage fields

My septic tank discharges directly into a ditch/watercourse. Is this illegal? What can I do about it?

If your septic tank system discharges effluent (no matter how clean) to a watercourse or ditch, the system does not meet the Environment Agency’s General Binding Rules and you are committing an offence under Section 85 of the Water Resources Act 1991, rendering you liable to conviction and a fine. If your septic tank is fit-for-purpose you may be able to add on a secondary form of treatment such as a drainage field or replace it with a package sewage treatment plant.

My septic tank drains into a clinker pit or soakaway. Is this legal?

The answer is it could be depending on the date it was constructed, its current operation and whether it meets all the required Environment Agency’s General Binding Rules.

For peace of mind, get in touch to discuss your foul drainage.

What's different about the updated General Binding Rules that came into effect on 2nd October 2023?

Both of the additional binding rules affect discharge to ground or watercourses and affect only new discharges.

No. 22 states A new discharge shall not use the same outlet as any other discharge if the combined volume of those discharges would exceed the volumetric general binding rules thresholds for groundwater or surface water.

No. 23 states A new discharge shall not be made to a discharge point within 50 metres of any other exempt groundwater activity or water discharge activity.

Under General Binding Rules do I need to service my sewage treatment plant?

Yes. General Binding Rule 11 for all discharges states that you should have your treatment system regularly maintained in lie with the manufacturers instructions. Anyone who carries out maintenance on your system must be competent. Competent people include those on British Water’s list of accredited service engineers.

WCI offers service contracts on all makes and models of sewage treatment plant and pumping station. All of our Service Engineers are British Water Accredited. Service visits are tailored to your specific system, sludge levels are measured, a treated effluent sample and tested on site, replaceable parts such as air blower diaphragm, filters, vanes, gaskets and grease cartridges etc… are changed and a full report is sent following the visit. Reports should be kept for a minimum of 5 years with all other details of the installation and on-going maintenance/ emptying of your system.

Call Sara now on 01984 623404 or book a service visit. Have as much information to hand as possible (including photos or old service reports) and we will do the rest. If you don’t know what you have, don’t worry. WCI will be happy to help!

Brian Spurling

We had three companies assess how we could upgrade our drainage. WCI were by far the most professional and comprehensive – and were totally unfazed by our unique location. Our situation is a total nightmare for drainage: no mains sewerage, no space suitable for a soakaway, no watercourse, and close to a popular beach! With the General Binding Rules not applying, WCI took on the task of applying to the EA for a permit. The EA dragged it out, but WCI stayed on the case throughout, upgraded their spec to include UV treatment, and got us the permit! And being able to call Naomi and Brad whenever we need has been extremely helpful and reassuring.

Marcus Bond MNAEA - Sales Manager, Derbyshire’s

WCI were recommended to us by a solicitor and we have used them ever since. Their professionalism is second to none. Brad, Naomi and their team are experts in their field and are always keen to help and work together with us to find a solution if a system is not up to regulation. Having used a few other companies previously, we would never go back.


Thank you for seeing this through to fruition. Really grateful for all your help getting our EA permit retrospectively awarded. 

I hope I won’t have to bother you again – but also slightly sad, because it was such a pleasure dealing with you. 

Ms G Fraser - The Old Parsonage

I am thrilled with all you did here. The installation of the new drainage system was completed to my total satisfaction. It was a huge job but within a few weeks, there was no visible sign of the movement of heavy machinery or of the temporary disruption to the garden. Your staff were superb and the supervision and support from head office exemplary. I would recommend WCI to other people without hesitation.

Clair Hunt

Naomi has been helpful, friendly, professional and knowledgeable throughout the process of obtaining a permit from the EA. Despite my property being out of WCI’s area for the actual sewage plant installation, this has not deterred her from taking on this very tricky process. I’m extremely grateful and would definitely have used WCI for the installation if I hadn’t been out of area. Thank you Naomi.


We had a couple of companies out to assess how we could comply with the new rules on sewage discharge into water courses. They stood out for their professional approach, the time they took to discuss all our options and questions even before we’d agreed to use them, and then they turned out to be cheaper too!! We have nothing but praise for the quality of service we received from WCI – both from the office (supporting our planning application for instance) and from the guys on site being very considerate. We would be happy to talk to any potential customers of theirs to describe our experience in more detail….. (WCI can provide our contact details).