Septic Tanks

Selling a house with a Septic Tank?

If your house is not connected to a mains sewer you need to know about the new Septic Tank Regulations, most recently extended on October 2, 2023.

Septic tanks need to conform to the General Binding Rules. There are three initial situations:

  1. You have an old-style septic tank (which is basically what it says on the tin) – a TANK which discharges into an infiltration field and is then simply released into the ground.
    If this is working efficiently and not causing pollution then your installation can continue as it is.
  2. You have an old-style septic tank which discharges into a pipe and then into a watercourse (ditch, stream, river, lake etc).
    This is no longer permitted. You need to install a modern style tank called a Sewage Treatment Plant (STP).
  3. You have a new-style Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) which discharges into an infiltration field or into a watercourse.
    Your STP should be compliant with the General Binding Rules.

Technical considerations

There are many considerations beyond the scope of this note, best answered by the suppliers and installers, but from a legal perspective, the two main considerations are:

  1. The storm water from gutters etc. must not enter the STP. This can mean significant expense re-routing pipes.
  2. The STP requires an electricity supply.

What are your options?

  1. It may be sensible to connect to a public sewer. Checks can be made to find out if development in and around your area make this possible.
  2. Install an infiltration field for the outflow of the septic tank instead of discharge to surface water. This requires a fairly large area of land, much more than “average” gardens would permit. Whether it is feasible also depends on the soil type. All we can say is that in many cases, ground conditions rule out this option and we hear from contractors that many drainage fields give trouble.
  3. Install a new sewage treatment plant (STP). There are many different types and you will benefit from the advice of your installation contractor who has seen it all before.

What are the legal issues?

There are many. Some issues can be resolved easily but, in others, parties have obtained Chancery Counsel’s opinion and litigation has followed. This shows the importance of getting effective advice at an early stage. Thankfully, we have vast experience of dealing with the legal issues around septic tanks and are here to help you, get in touch today.

  1. There is no current septic tank at all.
    It may sound funny but it does happen. We have had a case where the owner and previous owner all said the septic tank was “down the garden in the nettles”. The Environment Agency asked why raw sewage was pouring into a nearby stream. Then the parties went to look and there was no tank at all! That’s why you need legal advice. We need to look at the legal title to your house to work out what is possible within the curtilage of your house and whether any rights (called easements) are needed over adjoining land, if none of the other alternatives work.
  2. The current septic tank has an infiltration field in land which you do not own.
    This is going to cause a problem if you were to sell the house, so it might be preferable to establish what the rights are – do you have a formal right to install and repair the pipework? Or do you need to rely on prescriptive rights i.e. continuous user over a number of years?
  3. The current septic tank is located within the curtilage of your house and discharges over land which you do not own and into a watercourse.
    The septic tank can be replaced with a sewage treatment plant (STP) in the same area, subject to compliance with regulations.
  4. The current septic tank is located outside your curtilage in land you do not own.
    This situation can cause problems depending on the rights (by prescription or formal legal grant) you currently have, and whether you own the tank and pipework or simply have a right to use them. You are likely to need extra rights to run more pipes to keep the storm water separate and extra rights to install the electrical cable, and the new STP itself.
  5. You may need to reconfigure your installation.
    It might be possible to re-configure the installation so that the STP is within the curtilage of your house, or alternatively there will have to be a negotiation with your neighbour as to different or additional rights. This situation is very complex and utmost care is needed in order to obtain a satisfactory outcome. You will probably need easements for additional pipes and cables and different routes for a new tank.
  6. The current septic tank is outside the curtilage and on land owned by your neighbour and use is shared with that neighbour.
    This is another difficult situation and probably requires a radical rethink, ranging from sharing a new GBR compliant STP, to installing a new STP in a quite different location within or outside the curtilage. These cases are often complicated by the need for electricity (solved with a sub-meter) and the willingness of the neighbour to comply with the law. It is also complicated by the need to keep storm water separate and usually ends with new and different legal rights being granted to the two neighbours.

Why act now?

We believe that around 40% of houses do not have a compliant sewage treatment plant (STP) and understand that the Environment Agency do not have the resources to go round every house that is non-compliant.

We also understand that, unless an installation is specifically drawn to their attention, the owners need to have a plan to install an STP or otherwise become compliant.

If you intend to sell your house, the solicitor acting for your buyer is almost certainly going to ask the question, and we use the Private Drainage Questionnaire which addresses the obvious questions: View private drainage questionnaire.

If a problem arises once you have found a buyer, the result will be a delay and, with it, a real risk that a sale could be lost.

Remember, some buyers will be prepared to oversee a drainage renewal scheme, but others will just not want the trouble and walk away.

Act now

Obtaining initial legal advice for our fixed fee of £240.00 + VAT will cover our initial recommendations and our advice as to what your options really are.

We will need:

  • Your deeds if your property is unregistered
  • Your Land Registry title number
  • Your answers to our questionnaire
  • A plan of your house and the area round it containing any septic tank/pipework

Instruct the experts

We have resolved amicably, many septic tank cases at the least possible cost, but if formal easements are needed, or statutory declarations as to use over a long period, a further £1,000.00 + VAT and Land Registry Fees and other disbursements is entirely possible.

If resolution by negotiation is not possible then the next option is Mediation. We have been involved in many mediations and we have our mediation suite in our Carlisle office for this very purpose. This saves on hotel facilities.

If none of the above is successful we have our own litigation team, assisted by specialist Chancery Counsel.

If you need help on the practical side of the installation and which option is best, we can signpost you to STP suppliers and installers.

For an initial obligation free discussion, call James Bell on 01228 888999.