• Posted

By Matt Chalfont Griffin

Solicitor Director


There is a lot of confusion in the market place at the current time between buyers, sellers, solicitors and estate agents as to what the changes that took place in relation to private drainage on 1st January actually mean for them and transactions.

There are three types of private drainage.

Most common is septic tanks but increasingly commonly we see sewerage treatment plants which is a modern alternative and less commonly cess pits.

Generally, when there is a sewerage treatment plant, especially when it is a modern system, it will comply with current regulations.

The current regulations are dictated by something called the General Binding Rules which are issued by the Government and the Environment Agency.  Careful consideration needs to be given to those and, on the whole, most private drainage systems are likely to comply with the General Binding Rules for a residential property.

The issue, and the great concern for all parties since 1st January, is a private drainage system which drains into a water course.  Bearing in mind what goes into a private drainage system the concern is pollution if it is then draining into a water course which is in many ways common sense.

If we focus on septic tanks, which seem to be causing the greatest concern at the moment, if it drains into something called a drainage field or infiltration system, then on the whole there is no issue.  The issue is if it goes into a water course.  If it does then you have options. It was at one stage thought that this would need to be compliant by 1st January 2020.  If you drain into a water course it would need to be upgraded or indeed replaced by that time although it is currently the case that it is more likely that it will need to be dealt with within 12 months.

The first option is to connect into the main sewer.  Often that is not an option because the property is on private drainage initially because there is no prospect of connection to the private sewer but it is worth exploring.

The second option is the installation of a drainage field or infiltration system so the septic tank effectively discharges into ground.   It needs to be some distance from a water course even at that point.

The final option is to install a more modern system and that is the small sewerage treatment plant.

When buying a property it is now absolutely essential that investigations are made at any early stage as to what kind of system we are looking at.  The sellers’ Property Information Form is a good starting point but a buyer’s solicitors is going to need to undertake detailed investigation and the best advice to a purchaser of a property is they get a detailed investigation made at any early stage.

Government guidance when you are buying or selling a property with a septic tank is that if it discharges directly to a water course then the buyer and seller should agree who is going to be responsible for its replacement or upgrade.  It should be a condition of sale.  That is likely to involve careful negotiation between buyer and seller.  Generally I suspect that would involve a reduction of the price and the buyer taking on the responsibility because of their wish to control things.

It is not something that can be ignored as regulations are going to become more strict.

If it discharges into the ground and if it discharges into the  ground some way from any water course then it is probably not going to be a problem so long as the General Binding Rules are complied with and so long as it is not in close proximity to an adjoining property.

It is also important for a buyer and their solicitors to establish whether the system complies with current Building Regulations, when it was installed and whether it has a Consent to Discharge or Environmental Permit.  All such matters need to be considered. Specialist advice is required.  This goes above and beyond most surveys that are undertaken on the acquisition of a property.  A private drainage specialist will need to be consulted, firstly to find out whether it discharges to ground or water course and secondly what impact the findings of the private drainage specialist will have on the transaction.

If you are selling a property with private drainage then it may well be worth investigating all of this before the property goes on the market.

If you are buying a property that has private drainage, discuss it with the estate agent and your own solicitor at a very early stage to establish what needs to be done.

The above relates to residential properties.  That is not to say that commercial properties do not have to comply with similar rules and regulations but all that is for another article another time.