A summary guide to the General Binding Rules associated with Septic Tanks and Sewage Treatment Plants
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What is the purpose of the General Binding Rules?
The General Binding Rules for small sewage discharges from Small Septic Tanks and Sewage Treatment Plants is a set of rules-based regulation intended to “simplify” the regulation of small sewage discharges. Essentially the intention is that if you meet the rules you can make a discharge without an environmental permit.
Just to be clear very few people had an environmental permit before this legislation was enacted. So in real terms, it was not a simplification it was more a realisation that the old system was not fit for purpose and the government did not have the funds or will to tackle the issue. The issue being, a million households plus, pumping their untreated sewage into the rivers, lakes, seas and water table of the UK. So tacitly acknowledging their failure but wanting to stop the pollution they made it your responsibility! This was backed up by a series of hypothetical fines and promised enforcement by the Environment Agency.
The purpose is for you to spend a lot of money or to register for a permit. Currently, the government has little or no idea who has a Septic Tank.
What does it mean for households classed as having a small sewage discharge?
I hear an audible sigh! The private sector looking to “simplify” something. This inevitably means confusion and more money having to be spent by the poor old plebes. The cynics out there would be totally right. Basically it meant that from the 1st of January 2015 if you operate a small sewage discharge a lot of new responsibility and ultimately cost fell into your lap.
From working in the industry I would say that 90% of septic tank owners discharges would not and still do not meet the General Binding Rules. For 50% of those 90% not meeting the rules, it is impossible to meet the required rules. Therefore a permit is hypothetically required.
What is classed as a small sewage discharge?
Okay so you won’t have a clue about the following but I will explain how you can enlighten yourself! If your discharge is classed as to ground it has to be deemed to be less than 2m2/ 2,000 litres a day. Discharges to a watercourse, i.e. river, ditch or surface water need to be then less than 5m2/ 5,000 litres a day. If it is more than this you do not have a small sewage discharge and need to apply for a permit! For the clever ones, yes I have got that the right way around you can pump more sewage directly into a river than you can to ground without needing a permit! Cool huh.
There are a couple of other caveats, the sewage has to be domestic in nature and it can’t cause pollution. Hold on I hear you say, how can I discharge sewage and it not cause pollution! Well frankly that is a massive topic, below are some bullet points adapted from the guidance:
How do I meet the clause of not causing pollution?
- You have to get your tank emptied annually and keep the evidence of this. I would suggest you keep a folder with all home septic related information in it. You also have to ensure that the waste carrier is registered.
- If you discharge to surface water (definition to come) then from the 1st of January 2020 you cannot use a Septic Tank. You have to have a Sewage treatment plant. Check out our guide.
- If you have a Septic Tank and discharge to ground you have to have a secondary treatment area. This has to be in the form of a drainage field that meets BS 6297:2007. We will write an article on this but I am 90% sure that you will not meet this standard if you currently have a Septic Tank.
- You also have to check for signs of pollution monthly. Basically that your tank is working properly and stinking not spilling sewage everywhere.
- If you have a Sewage Treatment Plant you need to have the tank serviced as well as emptied annually. Again keep the records of this.
- You need to ensure your system’s tank is of an appropriate size. See the following guides: Septic Tank Size or Sewage Treatment Plant sizing
- Your tank, either Septic or Sewage must have met the relevant standards at the time of installation. If you have a Sewage Treatment Plant and discharge to surface water you need to ensure that the effluent quality is maintained to British Standard BS EN 12566.
- If you have a Sewage Treatment Plant it must be serviced annually by a competent engineer and records kept. See Servicing if you want us to do this.
- You must keep all records or work done to your tank, incidents, and complaints. This record-keeping is becoming increasingly important when it comes to selling your house. See our Home Buyer Septic Survey page for more details.
Is my Septic Tank Likely to be compliant with the General Binding Rules?
My view is that if you have a Septic tank there is a 95% chance you will be classed as causing pollution under the new rules. If you discharge to surface water there is a high chance of being caught. You are probably getting the picture now; this is a set of rules which the government is fully aware most owners will not meet. To comply it will likely cost you between £3k and £15k + VAT or you need to apply for a permit. I have no idea what is involved in getting a permit but essentially you are telling the Environment Agency that you a polluting and that they should come and check up on you.
How do you know how much sewage your system discharges?
You’ll have to use the discharge calculator on the government website, for some reason they have mega protected the formula, I could put it in a table but it is just as easy to use their tool.
How do I know if I discharge to ground or surface water?
If you do not know where your Septic Tank discharges to then you should find out. You will need to know if you try and sell your house. I apologise for not attempting to cover this but without visiting your house and surveying I cannot tell.
The only real bits of complexion is that Wells, Boreholes, and Swallets are classed as discharges to ground.
Why would such a large number of Septic Tank owners fail to meet the binding rules?
If you have a Septic Tank and it discharges to surface water you do not meet the Binding Rules. This means the discharge will become illegal on the 1st of January 2020. So that’s 100% of owners right there.
If your Septic tank discharges to ground you have to meet BS 6297:2007 and Building Regulations 2010 section H2. This is irrespective of when the system was installed. You are expected to upgrade or apply for a permit. If you are not sure then it is almost certain that it does not. Most Septic Tanks discharge to pits of rubble not carefully engineered drainage fields.
Why have I not heard about this?
Two main reasons. Firstly the government is terrible at doing, well anything really. Secondly, the majority of Septic Tank owners live in rural England. AKA Conservative heartland, the political angle is unpalatable. Which is also why it’s unlikely that the Environment Agency will come and start digging in your back garden.
Another hidden Gem
If you do not have explicit planning permission for your system or building control sign off then you are directed to contact your local council. If you constructed the system after the 1st of January 2015 then you need to apply for retrospective planning.
Want to learn more?
We have a large collection of articles containing the answer to all of your questions. Check out our Blog Page
Our Core Services: The Sewage Treatment expert Installers
On the 1st January 2020, all Septic Tanks that discharge to a Stream, Watercourse or Drainage Ditch will become illegal and will require replacing with a Sewage Treatment Plant. Please see here for more details.
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