septic tank© Eco Images /UIG/Rex/Shutterstock

Septic tank owners with systems that currently discharge into a watercourse will need to upgrade within the next two years, or face unlimited penalties.

New environmental rules which came into force in 2015 created a deadline of 1 January 2020, which require all systems to treat waste water and sewage or connect to the mains.

“The rules are designed to reduce the level of pollution from sewage in the nation’s watercourses,” said Lucinda Thompson, assistant land agent at Strutt and Parker.

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If the property is sold prior to this date, then the upgrades must take place prior to the sale.

Homeowners must also act quickly if the Environment Agency (EA) finds the system is causing pollution.

In the instance of a breach the EA will first try to provide advice and guidance to resolve the issue, but if this is not resolved further enforcement action may be taken, said Miss Thompson.

This could be in the form of criminal sanctions or fines, with values at the EA’s discretion.

Replace or upgrade

Systems must either be replaced or upgraded by connecting to the mains, installing a drainage field or by replacing them with a small sewage treatment plant.

In exceptional circumstances a permit can be applied to discharge surface water or a septic tank conversion unit can be used.

The operator of the septic tank is responsible for upgrading the system and this could be the owner or the user, warns Miss Thompson. “It could be the tenant or leaseholder where there is written agreement with the owner.”