Carter Jonas
Carter Jonas

Exemptions exempted from EA criteria

The Environment Agency has issued new guidelines regarding permits for septic tanks in England following an update to the rules in 2010 that saw the introduction of a regime of environmental permits or exemption registrations to replace discharge consents.

The EA has maintained the permit requirements but has waived any obligation to register for an exemption, provided that the relevant criteria are satisfied.

Broadly, the septic tank (or sewage treatment plant) must be installed according to the manufacturer’s specifications and be large enough to handle the amount of sewage expected to be produced.

It must meet the British Standard for septic tanks and sewage treatment plants in place at the time it was installed (currently BS EN 12566) and it must be repaired or replaced if it isn’t in good working order. The system must be emptied at least annually whether or not it is full and also whenever it becomes full, if that occurs more frequently, by a company that is a registered waste carrier for the sludge to be removed.

If the septic tank or treatment plant is releasing sewage into the ground then a drainage field (infiltration system) meeting the British Standard in place at the time of installation (currently BS 6297:2007) must be installed. If it is in a tidal area, then the top of the pipe that releases the sewage must be below the “low water mark”.

A permit is still required if the sewage released isn’t domestic; sewage is domestic if it’s from a toilet, bathroom, shower, or kitchen of a house, flat, or businesses including pubs, hotels and offices. A permit must be sought where more than 2,000 litres of sewage per day is released into the ground or 5,000 litres per day directly into water. Similarly if you are in a groundwater source “protection zone 1” or within 50 metres of a well, spring, or borehole used to supply drinking water or water for food production then you will need to apply for a permit. This may make it necessary to ask neighbours if they take drinking water from a well, spring or borehole.

From 1 January 2020, a permit will be required in order to release sewage from a septic tank directly into a watercourse. If you currently have a septic tank that releases into a watercourse, the EA advises that you contact them to discuss what you will need to do.

The Environment Agency has also introduced further requirements for septic tanks or sewage treatment plants installed after 1 January 2015:

- If sewage will be released into the ground in ancient woodland or within 50 metres of a special area of conservation, a special protected area, a biological site of specific interest, or a Ramsar site (a wetland designated to be of international importance), then the Agency asks to be contacted for confirmation of whether or not a permit is needed. The Agency will also tell you if you are in or near one of the designated sensitive areas.

- It will be necessary to apply for a permit if a new drainage system is to release sewage to water within 50 metres of a chalk river, within 200 metres of an aquatic local nature reserve or aquatic local wildlife site, to ditches or watercourses that don’t usually contain water throughout the year or to lakes or ponds where there is no flow. Likewise a permit will be needed if the discharge is within 500 metres of a freshwater pearl mussel population, designated bathing water area, protected shellfish water, a special area of conservation, a special protection area, a Ramsar site or a biological site of special scientific interest.

- Finally, septic tanks installed after 1 January 2015 will no longer be able to release sewage directly into a watercourse – a sewage treatment plant must be used. The only exception to this is for discharge into a small number of very fast flowing sections of river. Again the EA should be contacted for confirmation of whether or not this exception applies.

christopher turner

Christopher Turner

Associate Partner

Christopher is part of the rural team, carrying out management and professional services for private clients in the Newbury area. He specialises in the management of rural countryside estate, providin...

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