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Changes to septic tank regulations in the pipeline


In 2020 septic tank regulations are changing. Lee Eaglen, our water and wastewater manager, looks at what it means for your property with useful information from The Environment Agency.

If you have a property with a septic tank, you have less than three years to ensure you comply with regulations coming into force on January 1 2020. From this date tanks will no longer be allowed to discharge directly to a surface water such as a river or a stream. Septic tanks that currently discharge via a drainage field into the ground are not expected to be affected.

If your septic tank is currently discharging directly into surface water you should act now. Doing nothing is not an option, as from 2020 you will find yourself in breach of the Environment Agency’s new regulations. . To stay on the right side of your legal requirement, you could choose any of the following alternatives (although be aware that all three may not be available to you, or appropriate for your situation):


  • Connect your existing septic tank to a mains sewer
  • Install a drainage field and divert your existing septic tank to discharge to ground
  • Replace your septic tank with a small sewage treatment plant


In each case, there are a number of issues to consider:


Connection to a mains sewer

Most people only opt to use a septic tank or similar because there is no nearby mains sewer to connect to, therefore it is unlikely this will be a viable option to many. If you are not familiar with the full history of your property, this could be an area to examine. Your local water company will be able to confirm whether or not connection to a mains sewer is a workable solution for you. For new developments, you may be compelled to use public sewers, if they’re close enough.


Install a drainage field

This is potentially the easiest way to get around the legislation, if you have access to enough suitable land to provide the “soakaway”. You must also ensure that you use a system that meets the BS 6297:2007 standard.


Replace your septic tank with a treatment system

This is the most likely outcome for all owners of the soon-to-be-outlawed systems, which discharge to a surface water. Your new system must be specified correctly with the right capacity for your levels of usage, and it must meet the BS EN 12566 standard. Once installed, the new treatment system must be regularly emptied and maintained.


You may believe that once one of the above alternatives is in place, your obligations are met. However, if you sell your property before 2020, you must provide the new owner or operator with a written description of the way sewage from the property is removed. You must include details of the new drainage system or treatment plant together with any manuals and maintenance records. If you are buying a property in the next couple of years and it has a septic tank then do find out what you are taking on – taking professional advice if you cannot get the answers from the property owner.


As always with legislation, there are a number of further restrictions and exemptions that may apply. If you think that this rule change applies to your property, you should seek advice now. This information is compiled by the Environment Agency who provide guidance and advice At HCS we can help you to decide what to do next, and which system will be most appropriate for your situation. If you have any queries about your septic tank please ring me on 01609 772001 or 07465 839988.