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General Binding Rules Made Easy – Septic Tanks and Small Sewage Treatment Plants

If you have installed a septic tank or small sewage treatment plant in England, then the binding rules apply to you*. They can be difficult to navigate and understand if you are encountering them for the first time. The official rules on the GOV.UK website can be found here. There are also more links on the bottom of this page. In this blog post, we aim to make these rules clearer for the regular consumer, that’s you!

What are the general binding rules?

Think of the binding rules like getting your car MOT’d. The purpose of an MOT is to ensure your car is running efficiently, that parts won’t fall off as you’re driving, and that it will not cause pollution. It’s not something that’s required for new cars, but after 3 years they’re susceptible to breakdowns. When you get your car checked out, the mechanic can warn you if your exhaust is rusty and will be due for a replacement soon or if your tyres are too bald for example.  They also give you documentation so you can keep a record of the checks you’ve had done on your car.

Likewise, when you check your septic tank for issues according to the binding rules, you will be able to tell if you have any issues that will cause pollution for the local environment. Rather than a yearly check like you do with an MOT, these checks will have to be done monthly and you’ll need to keep a record of them. However, you also need to have your septic tank or treatment plant emptied at least once a year. There are different rules according to if your system discharges to surface water or discharges to the ground.


Definitions

So, let’s start with some definitions.

The General Binding Rules is a term given to legally binding requirements in regulations that set the minimum standards or conditions that apply.

A septic tank is an underground tank where the solids sink to the bottom and the liquid flows out and soaks through the ground.

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

A cesspool is 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.

A non-standard system can be a reed bed or a trench arch system, for example.

You need to contact the Environment Agency to find out if you need a permit for a non-standard system.

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

 


 

Complying with the Rules

If you have a septic tank or small sewage treatment plant, you either need to meet the requirements of the general binding rules or get a permit if you don’t. The ‘operator’ is the person responsible for this. Much like if you own a car, you become the operator and are responsible for getting it MOT’d if it’s older than 3 years.

You are 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.

The sewage has to be domestic waste and not cause pollution. Below are the general binding rules for if you release the sewage to the ground.

Discharges to the Ground

You must use a septic tank or a small sewage treatment plant and a drainage field (infiltration system). In certain circumstances you’ll need a permit if you release (‘discharge’):

  • to a well, borehole or other deep structure
  • more than 2 cubic metres (2,000 litres) per day
  • In a groundwater source protection zone (SPZ1)

               Pollution

If your sewage releases into the ground, the first thing you need to do is check once a month for signs of pollution. You will be looking for sewage smells and signs that your sewage isn’t draining properly. For example you might see pools of water in the area where your sewage is released.

               Records

You will need to keep a record (invoices, bills, or receipts) of any work you’ve had done on your system. This includes if you’ve had it emptied and any maintenance or repair. You’ll also need to keep a note of any:

  • accidents you’ve had with your equipment or incidents that could have led to an accident
  • problems you’ve had with your equipment, how you dealt with them and what you’re doing to prevent the same problems happening again
  • complaints you’ve received about your equipment and how you resolved them

List of General Binding Rules

 

Although the full list can be found here, below are the rules that apply only to systems which discharge to the ground.

  • The discharge must be 2 cubic metres or less per day in volume.
  • The sewage must only be domestic.
  • The discharge must not 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 waste water 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 fresh waters or coastal waters.

 A pipe outfalling into a ditch

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 if you release the sewage to surface water.

Discharges 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. This type of system uses mechanical parts to treat the liquid so it’s clean enough to go into 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. Your treatment system must meet the right standards. If you use Allerton’s Diamond STP (sewage treatment plant) you can be assured that all of the requirements will be met. We will also help you to make sure the correct system will be installed to meet your capacity needs. More details on the standards can be found here. There are also more instructions there on what to do if you sell your property or if you stop using your treatment system.

               Pollution

If your sewage releases into water, the first thing you need to do is check once a month for signs of pollution. You’re looking for:

  • sewage smells
  • overflowing sludge
  • signs of white scum or foam on the water around the area where you release sewage

If the Environment Agency finds evidence that your septic tank is causing pollution, you will need to replace or upgrade your system before 1 January 2020. In this case, you may be able to:

  • connect to a mains sewer – where available
  • install a drainage field (also known as an infiltration system) so the septic tank can discharge to the ground instead
  • Replace your septic tank with a small sewage treatment plant

Maintenance

As a minimum, you should have your treatment system desludged once a year or in line with the manufacturer’s instructions. This is something Allerton can do as we are a registered waste carrier. We can also provide advice on maintenance for your system on a case by case basis. Think of us like you would your auto repair person when you go in for your MOT.

              

               List of General Binding Rules

Although the full list can be found here, below are the rules that apply only to systems which discharge to surface water.

  • The discharge must be 5 cubic metres or less per day in volume.
  • The sewage must only be domestic.
  • 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 water mark.
  • 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.
  • The system must be installed and operated in accordance with the manufacturer’s specification.
  • Maintenance must be undertaken by someone who is competent.
  • 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 waste water 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 fresh waters or coastal waters.

Are you complying with the rules?

 

It’s important that you have the right treatment system for your property in order to comply with the general binding rules. If you need help finding what’s suitable for you, check out our product selector (insert hyperlink here). We also have tanks of varying sizes to deal with various capacities of waste (insert hyperlink here). Call us on 0800 328 5492 so we can guide you through the process. Do you have more comments or questions about the general binding rules? You can also click to Contact Us.

Please also see further links below from the gov.uk website:

Comply with septic tank and sewage treatment plant permits

Septic tanks and treatment plants: permits and general binding rules

General Binding Rules: small sewage discharge to a surface water

*There are other rules that apply to Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales