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Private Drainage: What you need to know!

Posted on 11 January 2019 by Laura Godfrey

Private Drainage: What you need to know!

When looking to buy a property, particularly one which is rural, you may discover that the property is not connected to mains drainage and, as such, a private drainage arrangement is in place.

If the property is not connected to mains drainage then waste will go to one of the following:

Cesspool (otherwise known as a Cesspit)

A cesspool is an underground tank that collects and stores waste. The sewage is not processed (unlike the alternatives which will be discussed below) so it fills up quickly and requires regular emptying (usually on a monthly basis). Due to the need for regular emptying, cesspools are an expensive choice so are not very common in the UK.

A cesspool must be maintained and emptied regularly by a registered waste carrier to ensure it does not leek or overflow. The Environment Agency or local council can make you repair or replace a cesspool if it’s in poor condition.

There are no specific legal rules to comply with to have a cesspool and you do not need to apply for a permit.

Septic Tank

Unlike a cesspool, a septic tank does not just store waste but it processes it; solids settle at the bottom of the tank, while liquids are pumped out into a soakaway. A soakaway is a series of underground pipework which disperses the liquid from the septic tank into the soil, where naturally occurring bacteria break down the remaining waste.

There are strict rules regarding where a soakaway can be installed to prevent risk of contamination to watercourses. Also, they cannot be too close to buildings or boundaries, they must be away from electrical cables and pipework and cannot be part of a road/driveway where vehicles could pass over and cause damage.

A septic tank will still need to be regularly serviced and emptied by a registered waste carrier but less often than a cesspool. How often they need to be emptied depends on the size of the tank and how many properties use it; but the majority are emptied annually or bi-annually.

As the owner of a property with a septic tank (or the owner of a property that shares a septic tank with other properties) you must meet the “general binding rules” and if you don’t you must apply for a permit. The waste must be domestic in nature and must not cause pollution. There are also other rules depending on whether the liquid collected is released to the ground or to surface water.

Sewage Treatment Plants

Unlike a septic tank, sewage treatment plants break down the solids and liquids within the tank itself, without relying on naturally occurring bacteria to breakdown the waste, before pumping out clean liquid which can be discharged into a ditch, stream or other watercourse.

Sewage treatment plants do not need to be emptied as often as septic tanks but they do require regular servicing to maintain efficiency.

The same rules apply for the owner of a septic tank as for the owner of a sewage treatment plant (or the owner of a property that shares a sewage treatment plant with other properties) in that you must meet the “general binding rules” and if you don’t you must apply for a permit.

Purchasing a Property with Private Drainage

Your conveyancer will need to raise legal enquiries with the seller’s conveyancer to check what type of system is in situ and, if it is either a septic tank or sewage treatment plant, to check that the general binding rules have been met as well as the rules relating to ground or surface water release. If the rules are not being followed then your conveyancer will need to look into the requirement for a permit.

If you have any questions regarding Private Drainage Systems each of our conveyancers, in all four of our offices, have experience with such matters and would be happy to discuss this with you.

Posted in: Buying & Selling Your Home