Helping you to avoid a stinky fine

Helping you to avoid a stinky fine image

The Environment Agency has produced binding rules imposing requirements for the replacement or upgrade of septic tank drainage systems as a means of reducing pollution and improving water quality. The EA is taking these measures as septic tanks are notorious for causing pollution, which can have far-reaching environmental and social consequences.

Under the new regulations, if your septic tank discharges to surface water such as a river, stream, lake, canal or ditch, you will need to upgrade or replace your system by 1 January 2020.

So are you affected by the changes?

If you are accountable for a property that has a septic tank and the new regulations affect you, then you must comply or potentially face a hefty fine.

If your septic tank drains into the watercourse and there is no option of connection to a mains sewer, then you will need to make changes to comply which may mean replacing your septic tank system to a full treatment plant by 1 January 2020. This is particularly important if you are buying or selling a property. If you are currently selling your property, then work must be done before that date.

If your septic tank does discharge to surface water you must either:

  1. Replace the system with a sewage treatment plant to accord with British standards – A sewage treatment plant will treat the water, so it is clean enough to drain into a waterway; or
  2. Install a soakaway system or drainage field to take the wastewater from the tank and discharge it to the ground safely.

If your septic tank was installed prior to 1983, you will not need to replace the tank unless it is unsafe or damaged with a sewage treatment plant, but you will need to consider if the current means of discharge meets the new regulations and/or if a permit is required.

You can only use a soakaway system if you make an application to the EA who will assess the risk to the groundwater at your property and decide whether it is safe.

Regardless of the age of your system, you will always need to apply to the EA for a permit if your septic tank discharges to a borehole, well or other deep structure, you discharge more than 2000 litres per day or you are in a groundwater source protection zone.

What to do now?

  • If your septic tank was installed and was discharging after 1 January 2015, it will comply with the new rules and will discharge to a field drain. Therefore you will not need to take any action.
  • If your septic tank was discharging before 21 December 2014 then the system will need to be replaced to comply with the new regulations.
  • Either way, you must make sure your tank is maintained regularly and ensure any issues are rectified immediately. It is also very imported to get the tank emptied periodically by a registered waste carrier.
  • For a list of accredited persons to carry out maintenance please see follow this link.
  • If the tank needs to be replaced, there is guidance available on this government website.
  • If buying a property with a septic tank, remember buyer beware! Ensure your legal advisor is up to speed with regulation changes to avoid costly implications of purchasing a property that does not comply. On the flip side, if you are selling or accountable for a property, you must be up to speed with your obligations.

Will I need a permit from the EA?

The EA assesses whether you require a permit, which may take some time, so it is essential to get advice early.

You must apply for a permit if you discharge more than 2000 litres per day, you discharge to a well, borehole or other deep structure or you discharge into a groundwater protection zone (SPZ1) – please refer to the EA’s website.

Releasing to ground

You must use a septic tank or a small sewage treatment plant and a drainage field.

Releasing to water

You must use a small sewage treatment plant (unless the tank is pre-1983 and safe to use) and must apply for a permit if you are discharging more than 5000 litres per day.

Installing a new system

Having a new system installed requires planning permission and building regulation consent. Registered accredited installers will ensure the new system complies with British Standards.

Alaina Hopgood

Final word

Alaina Hopgood, a Senior Associate Solicitor for Farnfields Solicitors Commercial & Agricultural Department in Shaftesbury, warns, “The new regulations are rapidly approaching. Be sure to check your responsibilities now to ensure your current septic tank is safe and meets British Standards. If in any doubt, do your homework immediately to avoid facing potential penalties or missing critical deadlines.”

For further advice or assistance do contact Alaina Hopgood tel: 01747 854244 or email


Please note: For this article, the writer has not touched on requirements in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland

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