Over 5 million households in France using a septic tank system for sewage treatment face increased regulation and charges.
Local councils have had responsibility for the control of local sewage systems for over ten years, but many of them have been reluctant to implement what they consider to be an unpopular measure in their communities.
They have now been told firmly by the Government to undertake an inspection of all septic tanks over eight years old in their commune by no later than 2012, and then to undertake follow-up inspections at least every eight years.
If the installation does not comply with the current regulations, then owners will be told they have four years to bring it up to scratch, or face penalties. In the last resort, the local mayor has powers to enforce the installation of a new system.
In addition, from 2013 all those selling their homes will be obliged to have an inspection of their septic tank carried out.
These new regulations have come about as the Government has tightened up regulations on water quality, with local councils now expected to adopt a formal approval procedure for septic tanks, including the requirement for soil tests before a new septic tank can be installed.
In order to fund these new requirements, some councils have started imposing an annual charge on those with a septic tank (included with the water bill), and a charge will also be made for the periodic inspection that must be carried out.
In most cases, these charges are not substantial, with most less than €50 for the annual charge, but up to around €100 for the inspection.
One of the concerns of many homeowners is that responsibility for these inspections is being given, in most cases, to private companies who have a vested interest in the maintenance and installation of septic tank systems.
The problem is compounded by the lack of precision on compliance standards for existing septic tanks, and the specification requirements for new installations. The government have promised clearer, more detailed regulations in due course.
On its own, the installation of a septic tank does not require planning consent, but is subject to separate approval. A fee of up to around €200 is often payable as part of this approval process.
You need to make an application to the local mairie, or the Service Public de l´Assainissement Non Collectif (SPANC), using a form known as a Demande d'Installation d'un Dispositif d'Assainissement Automne (DIDAA).
If you are installing a septic tank as part of works requiring planning consent, then the septic tank is normally considered as part of the planning application. Some authorities require the submission of a distinct DIDDA application attached to the planning application, whilst others seem willing to allow it to be included on the planning application itself.
In either case, you will need to have a soil test undertaken, and the site may also be subject to prior and post work inspection.