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General Binding Rules

You are required by law to follow the General Binding Rules if you’re the operator of a septic tank or small sewage treatment plant

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The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs provides the following information:

“Reform of the regulatory system to control small sewage discharges from septic tanks and small sewage treatment plants in England. General binding rules for small sewage discharges (SSDs) with effect from January 2015. The following general binding rules apply to ALL small sewage discharges.”

Discharges to Surface Water
Discharges to Ground General binding rule
1 x The discharge must be 2 cubic metres or less per day in volume.
2 x The discharge must be 5 cubic metres or less per day in volume.
3 x x The sewage must only be domestic.
4 x x The discharge must not cause pollution of surface water or groundwater.
5 x The sewage must receive treatment from a septic tank and infiltration system (drainage field) or a sewage treatment plant and infiltration system.
6 x The sewage must receive treatment from a sewage treatment plant.
7 x The discharge must not be within a groundwater Source Protection Zone 1 or within 50 metres from any well, spring or borehole that is used to supply water for domestic or food production purposes.
8 x For discharges in tidal waters, the discharge outlet must be below the mean spring low water mark.
Discharges to Surface Water
Discharges to Ground General binding rule
9 x x All works and equipment used for the treatment of sewage effluent and its discharge must comply with the relevant design and manufacturing standards ie the British Standard that was in force at the time of the installation, and guidance issued by the appropriate authority on the capacity and installation of the equipment.
10 x x The system must be installed and operated in accordance with the manufacturer’s specification.
11 x x Maintenance must be undertaken by someone who is competent.
12 x x Waste sludge from the system must be safely disposed of by an authorised person.
13 x x If a property is sold, the operator must give the new operator a written notice stating that a small sewage discharge is being carried out, and giving a description of the waste water system and its maintenance requirements.
14 x x The operator must ensure the system is appropriately decommissioned where it ceases to be in operation so that there is no risk of pollutants or polluting matter entering groundwater, inland fresh waters or coastal waters.

If your property had a system installed after 2014 please read additional rules by following this link:

  • The sewage must be domestic in nature, for example from a toilet, bathroom, shower or kitchen of a house, flat or business (such as a pub, hotel or office) – contact the Environment Agencyif you’re not sure if the sewage is domestic in nature
  • The sewage must not cause pollution – find out how to check for pollution

There are other rules depending on whether you’re releasing this sewage:

  • to the ground, for example in your back garden
  • to a surface water, for example a river or stream.

Discharging (releasing) to the ground

You must use a septic tank or a small sewage treatment plant and a drainage field (infiltration system).

You must apply for a permit if you discharge:

  • to a well, borehole or other deep structure
  • more than 2 cubic metres (2,000 litres) per day
  • in a groundwater source protection zone (SPZ1)

If you wish to read in more detail about discharging to the ground, please follow this link to the Government website:

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