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Does your vendor’s septic tank meet the required standards?

Wednesday 30 October 2019

Sewage discharge legislation is changing, with the deadline for changes to be made – 1 January 2020 – fast approaching. The General Binding Rules (GBR) for small sewage discharges (SSDs) have been put in place to protect England’s river and streams from pollution caused by septic tanks and other small-scale sewage treatment plants.

The regulations require all homes that are not connected to mains sewage to upgrade or replace their system. If you have a vendor or potential vendor with this kind of property, they need to act quickly or face substantial costs ahead of a sale.

Under the new regulations, it is no longer permissible to discharge low quality effluent from septic tanks directly into ditches, streams or other watercourses. Septic tanks installed and working before 31 December 2014, that discharge directly into surface water will need to be upgraded or replaced. However, if it discharges into the ground, and the tank complies with the general binding rules, then no further action is needed.

What vendors need to do

To see what kind of license (if any) is needed in order to discharge into ground or surface water, your vendor will need to firstly read the General Binding Rules. To estimate the amount of discharge a domestic property has, use the calculator.


To find out what Source Protection Zone (SPZ) the property is in, use the Defra interactive map.

Search for the location using the search box in the top left. On the left-hand side, select ‘Designations’, then ‘Non-Statutory’, then ‘Source Protection Zones’.  If the area highlights in red, this means it is in an SPZ, and the property won’t be able to meet the GBR.

Defra map

Your vendor must be able to comply with every condition that fits where a tank will be discharging to (ground or surface water) – or apply for a permit. There are forms on the website.

To submit an application for a permit, download, complete and return the forms on the website. The permitting team will contact them to begin the process with pre-application advice.

If your vendor needs help, they can contact the environment agency on or call them on 03708 506 506.