Building regulations are an instrumental part of ensuring our safety in domestic bliss.

Not only are they there to protect us from unverified and unsafe building practices, but they are also forging a legislative path forward to a safer, greener and more cost-effective housing future. Sometimes, though, new regulations emerge with little fanfare, but a great deal of impact. One such regulation could be worth six figures in fines for unsuspecting homeowers…

New Regulation for Septic Tanks

A new septic tank regulation was formally introduced in January of 2015, identifying the need for domestic properties with septic tanks to have their systems evaluated and potentially replaced. The general purpose of the legislation was to address instances where septic discharge was entering watercourses, with a 2020 deadline for assessment and replacement or other forms of redress. 

Tony Hill, Head of Professional Negligence at Been Let Down gave some context for the regulatory change: “Not only do non-compliant septic tanks pose individual financial risks to homeowners, but they could also have a wider spread impact on the health of our waters, including rivers and lakes. In some areas, the deteriorating quality of surface water has potential for long-term social impacts and could well affect the likes of tourism and property prices in those areas.”

Upgrading The Septic Tank

These environmental regulations bring with them a hefty cost, as re-engineering septic tanks – or indeed replacing them entirely with an ecologically-desirable alternative – is a costly endeavour. In many cases, the costs associated with septic tank replacement can reach £20,000. This, however, pales in comparison to the potential fines that a homeowner could face for non-compliance with legislation: up to £100,000.

Buying A Property With A Septic Tank 

It is for this reason that the existence and status of a septic tank on a given domestic property is vital information for prospective buyers. Such information would be provided by a conveyancing solicitor during pre-purchase surveying and investigation and would be supplied alongside projected additional costs relating to legal compliance, or liabilities for non-compliance.

Negligent Advice

However, negligence experts at BeenLetDown project that as many as half a million homes served by septic tanks in the UK have not seen the necessary upgrades to clear this regulatory hurdle – meaning that many homeowners could be facing a six-figure fine. In many instances, it is a failure of the conveyancer to disclose the existence of the tank or of the relevant legislation – a failure that amounts to professional negligence.

Hill also had the following to say, about the form and scope of negligence proceedings relating to septic tank regulation: 

“For those affected, typically a claim must be made within six years of purchase of the property with a defective tank. In many cases we deal with, our client hasn’t actually paid any money yet or had the upgrade work done. It is most common for clients to discover that their tank doesn’t meet the regulation when they come to sell, and then they must make the claim to be able to afford to have the work done, (which can often cost in excess of £10,000), so their property value is not impacted.”

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