Environmental Permits for Domestic Sewage Discharge

When buying a residential property not connected to mains sewage, care must be taken to check whether a small sewage discharge meets the General Binding Rules (GBR), which specify the conditions that septic tanks must meet in order to be used without an environmental permit.

However, it is sometimes the case that a seller cannot confirm that the current discharge meets the GBR and at that point, a buyer will need to consider how to proceed.  

If the GBR are not being met by the current system, the following options will need consideration:

  • Upgrade/replacement of the system to bring it into compliance with the GBR.  This can be expensive.  A buyer in this situation will want to carefully consider the costs involved and whether they want the work undertaken by the seller, or alternatively if they wish to renegotiate the purchase price in order to carry out the work themselves post-completion. 
  • An application to the Environment Agency for a discharge permit.  To avoid any post-completion issues, a buyer would ideally want to insist on the seller applying for the permit, and then transferring it to the buyer on completion.  

In the case of a buyer taking a mortgage, or a property owner wanting to mortgage their property, if compliance with the GBR cannot be confirmed to the lender, the lender may insist on a permit being issued or the system being upgraded, prior to proceeding with the lending.  

In a recent case dealt with by the Moore Barlow Rural Team, a client mortgaging their property was faced with the lender insisting on a permit.  This is the process that we followed:

Determine the Type of Discharge

First, we identified that the wastewater was domestic sewage (as opposed to trade effluent). This classification dictates the type of permit required and the application process.

When You Don’t Need a Permit

You may not need a permit for discharging uncontaminated water, such as clean rainwater from roofs, or for certain low-risk groundwater activities. 

In this case, the discharge was domestic sewage and the GBR were not met by the current system.  This was confirmed by a specialist report on the existing system. A permit was therefore needed. 

Determine the type of permit needed

It may be possible to apply for a standard rules permit if you operate a small sewage treatment plant for secondary treatment of domestic sewage discharging to surface water.  There are various criteria that apply, which can be found via gov.uk website under the guidance note “Discharges to surface water and groundwater: environmental permits”. 

If the necessary criteria is not met for a standard permit (as was the case for our client in this example), a bespoke permit may be required.  

Ensure you are the legal operator of the discharge system, which could be you as the property owner, or jointly with other properties.

Initial advice from the Environment Agency

The Environment Agency’s pre-application advice service is extremely useful. If a permit is required, at no cost, the Environment Agency will give free basic advice on the type of permit you need (e.g. standard or bespoke), and which application forms you should use.  The advice will also signpost rules you must follow, outline the risk assessments to send with the application (if necessary) and confirm the correct application charge.  

By taking time to use the above service as an initial step, time can be saved in the long run, by ensuring that the application submitted is correct.

For more complex applications, an enhanced (paid for) service can also be used.  

What are the fees and charges?

As mentioned above, the pre-application advice service can assist in ascertaining the fees associated with the permit application.  The fee must be paid as part of the application.

Are consultations required?

Sometimes, consultations are required on a permit application, for example, in our example case, a consultation was required due to the properly being located in a National Park, and a 20 working day waiting period applied. 

What happens after the application?

The Environment Agency will contact you with any additional information required and details of any consultation they are required to carry out. 

When you get a permit

Once a permit is issued, a permit holder must ensure that they understand and comply with their responsibilities including keeping their management plans up to date and complying with any reporting requirements.

How Moore Barlow can help

Compliance protects the environment, and it is illegal to operate without a permit when you should have one.  For any client with a system that does not meet the GBR, we recommend having the system surveyed by a suitably qualified professional as soon as possible, so that advice can be given on upgrading the system to meet the GBR, or alternatively on applying for a permit, which will ensure legal compliance and will also prevents delays on dealing with your property in the future, such as on selling or mortgaging.

The Rural Team at Moore Barlow can assist with guidance on compliance with the GBR and permit applications, in conjunction with any specialist survey reports required.