Damian Hinds presses Minister on septic tanks register

Local MP Damian Hinds has written to the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs urgently asking for clarification of Environment Agency rules on the registration of private septic tanks.

A number of local residents have contacted the MP, concerned about the new rules.

It has been reported that rural homeowners who fail to register their septic tank by the end of this year could face fines of up to thousands of pounds.

While the Environment Agency website confirms the requirement to register private septic tanks and sewer systems, it does not clearly set out either the rationale for the register or the details of possible fines for non compliance.

Damian Hinds said:

“There are a number of households for whom this has come as a complete surprise and who are understandably very concerned. I worry that there are far more families living in rural communities who are still totally unaware of this obligation. I have asked the Secretary of State for full details of this obligation to register and what, if anything, has changed so that this register is needed now but was not, say, a couple of years ago.

“There has been quite limited publicity of the change and I do not see how everyone affected can be reasonably expected to be aware of their obligations.”

Writing in response to Damian’s letter, Richard Benyon, the Minister for the Natural Environment said:

“The reason why people are being required to register their septic tanks is to inform the Environment Agency where they are, so that they can focus their work where septic tank discharges are contributing to environmental problems. In most cases, if properly managed, these systems do not cause problems, but if they are poorly designed, installed or managed, the discharge from them can damage the environment.

“It was thought that a free registration system was the least burdensome way of identifying and controlling these discharges. However in the light of concerns I have now asked my officials to reflect on this and they are currently working with colleagues from the EA to check whether this approach is the most appropriate and whether there might be opportunities for further simplification.

“People are required to register their tanks by the end of the year. Where the EA do come across owners who do not have a registration or permit, they will advise them that they need to apply at their earliest convenience. Further action will be considered on a case by case basis, but it is expected to be a rarity, and would take account of the public interest test.

“The EA avoided blanket publicity and instead decided to focus efforts on the areas where environmental risk is higher, and use other opportunities, such as during house sales, to promote registrations. It was thought that an untargeted, national publicity campaign might have overloaded the system. Once the review is completed, the EA will consider how best to publicise further any need for registration.”

Commenting on the Minister’s response, Damian Hinds said:

“I am glad to hear that the Minister has asked for the Department to review their approach to the register. I understand the thinking behind a free registration programme and engaging with households as properties change hands and in areas of high risk of environmental problems, but this seems to be at odds with hard deadlines and significant fines. I hope the Department will, at the least, extend the deadline for registration so that rural communities do not fall foul of a regulation of which they are unaware.

“I will certainly be pressing the Minister further on this.”