General binding rules for small sewage discharges

November 06, 2020

For anyone who has a septic tank or small sewage system in England, then there are binding rules you must adhere to.

There are official rules on the GOV.uk website, but it can be quite complicated to get your head around, so we’ve got everything you need to know right here.

Binding rules for small sewage discharges

Binding rules are in place to ensure that you and your environment are kept safe. Pollution can have long-term, devastating effects on your surroundings and even affect your health, so check must be done monthly to ensure everything meets the requirements.

You also need to ensure you keep a record of your checks and maintenance, as well as getting your septic tank emptied at least once a year.

There are also different rules that apply, depending on whether your system discharges to surface water or discharges to the ground. See, we told you it can get complicated!

Glossary of terms

To help you better understand the binding rules, we’ve put together a quick glossary of terms to make things clearer.

Septic tank – an underground tank where the solids sink to the bottom and the liquid flows out and soaks through the ground.

Small sewage treatment plant – a part-mechanical system that treats the liquid so it’s clean enough to go into a river or stream.

Cesspool – a sealed tank that collects the sewage. (You do not need to comply with the general binding rules or apply for a permit for this. However, you must keep it maintained.)

Non-standard system – can be either a reed bed or a trench arch system (You need to contact the Environment Agency to find out if you need a permit for a non-standard system.)

Desludge – the removal of the sludge that builds up in your sewage treatment plant.

When the rules apply to you

For anyone who has a septic or small sewage treatment plant, you will need to adhere to the general binding rules. The only exception is if you have gotten a permit that says you are exempt. No permit means you must adhere to the rules.

The rules will be the responsibility of the named ‘owner’, referred to as the Operator.

How do I know if I’m the Operator?

You are classed as the Operator if you;

  • own a property that uses the system
  • own a property that shares the system with other properties (each property owner is equally responsible)
  • have a written agreement with the property owner that says you’re responsible for the system’s maintenance

If Your System Discharges to the Ground

You must use a septic tank/small sewage treatment plant as well as a drainage field (infiltration system).

There are certain circumstances where you will need a permit if your discharge meets any of the following parameters;

If you discharge into a well, borehole, or deep structure
If you discharge more than 2,000 litres per day
If you discharge into a groundwater source protection zone (SPZ1)

Pollution

Because you discharge your sewage into the ground, you will need to check for signs of pollution once a month. These checks should include;

  • Looking for visible spills or leakage
  • Smells of leakage
  • Pools of stagnant water where you discharge
Recording Maintenance

For all work carried out on your sewage system, you will need to keep records, including all receipts, invoices, bills, etc… You will also need to have records for any of the following;

  • Any accidents when using your equipment
  • Any incidents that could have led to an accident
  • Any problems you’ve had with your equipment, including how you resolved them and prevention steps you have taken to stop it from happening again
  • Any records of concerns or complaints you have had regarding the maintenance of your sewage system

List of General Binding Rules

Below you can find the rules that only apply to systems that discharge to the ground.

  • The discharge must be 2,000 litres or less per day in volume
  • The sewage must only be domestic, not commercial
  • The discharge must not be within a groundwater Source Protection Zone 1 or within 50 metres form any well, spring, or borehole that is used to supply water for domestic or food production purposes
  • All works and equipment used for the treatment of sewage effluent and its discharge must comply with the relevant design and manufacturing standards ie the British Standard that was in force at the time of the installation, and guidance issued by the appropriate authority on the capacity and installation of the equipment
  • The system must be installed and operated in accordance with the manufacturer’s specification
  • Maintenance must be undertaken by someone who is competent
  • If a property is sold, the operator must give the new operator a written notice stating that a small sewage discharge is being carried out, and giving a description of the wastewater system and its maintenance requirements
  • The operator must ensure the system is appropriately decommissioned where it ceases to be in operation so that there is no risk of pollutants of polluting matter entering groundwater, inland freshwaters or coastal waters.
  • The discharge cannot cause pollution of surface water or groundwater
  • The sewage must receive treatment from a septic tank and infiltration system (drainage field) or a sewage treatment plant and infiltration system
  • Waste sludge from the system must be safely disposed of by an authorised person
  • Any pipe outfalling into a ditch should be over water so as to prevent erosion of the bank

Below are the general binding rules for those who release the sewage to surface water.

  • You must use a small sewage treatment plant to treat the sewage if you’re discharging it to surface water such as a river or stream
  • You are not allowed to discharge from septic tanks directly to surface water according to the general binding rules
  • If you already have a septic tank that discharges directly to surface water, then you need to replace or upgrade your treatment system by 1 January 2020, or when you sell your property if it is before this date
  • The discharge must be 5,000 litres or less per day in volume
  • The sewage can only be from domestic sources
  • The discharge must not cause pollution of surface water or groundwater
  • The sewage must receive treatment from a sewage treatment plant
  • For discharges in tidal waters, the discharge outlet must be below the mean spring low watermark
  • Waste sludge from the system must be safely disposed of by an authorised person
  • If a property is sold, the operator must give the new operator a written notice stating that a small sewage discharge is being carried out, and giving a description of the wastewater system and its maintenance requirements
  • The operator must ensure the system is appropriately decommissioned where it ceases to be in operation so that there is no risk of pollutants of polluting matter entering groundwater, inland freshwater, or coastal waters
  • All works and equipment used for the treatment of sewage effluent and its discharge must comply with the relevant design and manufacturing standards i.e. the British Standard that was in force at the time of the installation, and guidance issued by the appropriate authority on the capacity and installation of the equipment