Breakfast Seminar Series 2017

Avoid septic tank blockages when selling

This year’s housing market has been characterised by slumping prices and sluggish sales in many areas, posing a challenge to would-be sellers looking to move on.   

And for those who are not connected to mains drainage, generally in rural areas, there’s an added challenge, with many unaware of stricter rules regarding septic tank systems and soak-aways, which must be dealt with as part of the conveyancing process.

According to Sarah Avern, property law expert with Coventry-based firm Band Hatton Button: “Property owners with a septic tank or small sewage treatment plant could find themselves with a headache if they aren’t up to date on their responsibilities and meeting the latest legal requirements.”

Those are set out in the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016 and the Small sewage discharges in England: general binding rules. For homeowners, the important points relate to the amount of waste being discharged, and where it is being discharged.

If it’s domestic waste, you can discharge up to 2 cubic metre per day to the ground via a septic tank or small sewage treatment plant. If it’s discharging to a river, stream or other surface water, then up to 5 cubic metres per day is permitted, but only if a small sewage treatment plant is being used.

Any septic tank discharging to surface water will have to be replaced or upgraded by the end of 2019, or when the property is sold, if that happens earlier.

The Environment Agency has provided a simple calculator to enable homeowners to work out their estimated daily discharge, which is based on the size of the property.

If a system is being installed or upgraded, then it must be to British Standard BS EN 12566 and both planning permission and building regulations approval will be needed. Approval will not be given if public sewers are accessible within 30 metres.

Sarah added: “These approvals apply to any installations from 2015 onwards, so any system that has been upgraded in that time without planning permission and building regulations approval would have to apply for permission retrospectively, and that’s going to cause delays and problems if it is only discovered during the sale process.

“When selling, the home owner is legally obliged to tell the purchaser if sewage is being handled by a private drainage system, with a written notice that sets out details of the waste water system, its location and the maintenance requirements. There’s a legal responsibility to ensure the system is in good working order and does not cause pollution, so it makes sense to check everything is OK on a regular basis, and certainly before putting the property on the market. It is also important to be sure that all rights and obligations are in place if any part of the system is located on someone else’s property, as any gaps would be thrown up as part of the conveyancing process.”

The discharge limits do not apply to cesspits, as they are self-contained tanks, but cesspits must be maintained and emptied regularly by a registered waste carrier.

Web site content note: This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.