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Richard Leigh, Group Development Director at Lanes Group

Environment Agency and Defra Must Act Now, or Risk Severe Damage to Legal Sector Reputation

Richard Leigh, Group Development Director at Lanes Group



In this article, Richard Leigh, Group Development Director at Lanes for Drains, part of Lanes Group highlights that the ambiguity surrounding new septic tanks legislation could be ‘toxic’ to the legal industry.

The legal sector is at risk of having its reputation damaged by a lack of understanding and awareness of septic tank legislation, which could have significant consequences for the homebuyers and sellers that they represent and who trust them implicitly.

I’m concerned that there is a serious risk of widespread dissatisfaction among home sellers and buyers towards legal professionals such as conveyancing solicitors as a result of this lack of knowledge, and Lanes for Drains is calling for the Environment Agency and Defra to work more closely with the sector and improve their communication and education of the legislation. The Environment Agency has used so far used charities to spread the word, but we’re worried the message hasn’t got through sufficiently.

There have been general binding rules in place for over two years now that state septic tanks are, by law, no longer allowed to be discharged into a watercourse like a river or a canal. By January 1st, 2020, all homes that currently do this must either connect to the main sewage network, create a drainage field or replace the existing septic tank system with a sewage treatment plant – if the tank is registered or installed under British Standards set in place in 1983.

That means it’s technically against the law to sell a home if your septic tank discharges into a watercourse and you haven’t taken any of the above steps. But we’ve seen many examples of homes being sold without the solicitor knowing about the rules. As a result, the new homebuyers will be expected to invest their time, energy and money in taking one of the steps before 2020 – when it was never their responsibility in the first place – or risk breaking the law. What’s more, many of these people won’t have planned for this considerable expense when buying the house.

Problems have also been caused when the legislation has been flagged up to a seller following a survey or drainage survey. At this late stage in the sales process, it is alarming for sellers to be told they must pause proceedings and invest a significant amount of time and money on something they hadn’t already been told about from the start.

All of these scenarios lead to a serious risk of discontent of both homebuyers and home sellers towards the legal professionals who they would reasonably expect to know about this legislation.

I am calling on the Environment Agency and Defra to act now and provide additional information to the legal sector with the knowledge it needs to advise buyers and sellers on these rules, so that its info is more widespread and far-reaching. Conveyancers all need more information about the legislation if they are to fulfil their roles with due diligence and to avoid the wrath of homebuyers who are currently investing huge sums in properties that will effectively flout the law in 2020, or require heavy investment to bring them up to the required standards. It is time to act now and for the legal sector to be a guiding light during this uncertain time.

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