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Homebuyers and sellers are being alerted to new rules on septic tanks which mean many systems must be upgraded or replaced within the next six months.

Anyone with a septic tank who is planning to sell their property before 1 January 2020, when the legislation comes into force in England and Wales, is being advised to act now or face large fines and costs.

The General Binding Rules for small sewage discharges were brought into force in 2015 to stop septic tanks emptying into watercourses such as ditches, drains, canals, rivers or surface water drains.

More than half a million homes in the UK do not have mains drainage, with many farms and other rural properties relying on septic tanks for their sewage discharge. The tanks are designed to provide property owners with an easy solution for dealing with drainage and wastewater where there is no mains disposal.

Emma Amat, a partner at Bowcock & Pursaill specialising in residential, agricultural and commercial property, said: “The binding rules have been brought in following concerns raised by the Environment Agency regarding the level of pollution from sewage in watercourses.

“They affect both existing and new septic tank discharges in England. Any system installed and in use before December 2014 is classed as existing. After that date the system is classed as new. The rules for existing and new systems are different.

“If you are selling a home with off-mains drainage you have a legal obligation to inform your buyer about the system and make any necessary upgrades before the sale takes place in order to avoid breaking the law. This is part of the usual conveyancing process.

“It is important to disclose the situation at an early stage so as to avoid a sale being delayed or the possibility of losing the purchaser.”

A summary of the new rules

This is not an exhaustive list but gives a flavour of some of the sort of points that need to be addressed.

The new regulations will affect thousands of septic tank installations, but it may be possible for some people to retain their existing tank and discharge the waste so long as the system and tank complies with the new regulations and drains into a drainage field.

Information and guidance on the General Binding Rules can be found on the government website

Planning to buy or sell a rural home? Contact Emma Amat today for advice on GBR compliance and the potential risks of future claims by calling 01538 370832 or email

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