The Environment Agency ("EA") set a deadline of 1 January 2020 for septic tanks that discharge to surface water to be upgraded or replaced. The options provided have been to connect to a mains sewer, install a drainage field to discharge to groundwater, or replace the septic tank with a small sewage/package treatment plant. Perhaps conscious of the practical difficulties that owners may face in achieving this, particularly when a property is in the course of being sold, the EA has very recently revised their guidance to remove this absolute deadline.

The EA now state that plans must be in place to carry out the upgrade or replacement works within a reasonable timescale, which they suggest would typically be 12 months. 

Many farm holdings are served by septic tanks, so farmers need to be aware of these obligations, should the septic tank drain to a watercourse. If you are in any doubt, you may need to instruct the services of an engineer to establish the position and then to decide on the best course of action. You may also need to liaise with the EA to agree a planned timeframe for making the appropriate improvements.

If you are considering buying a holding with buildings served by a septic tank, then contractual considerations will need to be taken into account as to whether the buyer or the seller will be responsible for such upgrade costs, which are potentially quite significant, as well as who will actually carry out the works.  

Although the absolute deadline has been removed, it is imperative that plans are still put in place to carry out the works within a reasonable timescale.