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Septic Tank Regulations 2020 England, Wales and Scotland

If you are responsible for a property that has a septic tank (owner, tenant or shared ‘operator’) or are buying a property with a septic tank, you need to be aware of your legal obligation to upgrade your system to meet the new general binding rules. 


Please use this information to determine if you will be required to take action towards compliance to avoid breaching regulations and incurring an unwanted fine of up to £100,000.

What are the New Septic Tank Rules in the UK?


New septic tank regulations 2020 under the Environment Agency’s ‘General Binding Rules’ came into force on 1 January 2015.


Under the new rules, if you have a septic tank that discharges directly to a surface water (stream, ditch, river etc.)  you MUST replace or upgrade your septic tank to a full sewage treatment plant. A property that is in the process of being sold must have plans in place to upgrade the septic tank to comply with general binding rules. 


If your current sewage treatment system has EN12566-3 certification, this means it is legal and safe to discharge into a watercourse and no action should be required.


Septic tanks that currently discharge via a drainage field into the ground are not expected to be affected unless they are near a watercourse.


It is your responsibility, as the owner of the septic tank or sewage treatment system, to ensure you comply with these rules. If you are unsure whether or not your sewage effluent is discharged to surface water or would like further information RA Dalton is happy to give advice and support throughout the process. RA Dalton can offer a compliance report to support a property sale. Call the friendly office team on 01388 537030 now!

Septic Tank Regulations 2020 Wales & Scotland


If your property resides in Scotland or Wales, you MUST register your septic tank or sewage treatment plant with either SEPA (Scotland) or Natural Resources (Wales). In Wales you will require a Consent of Discharge for any discharge to ground via a drain field or watercourse. 

How To Become Compliant with General Binding Rules?


There are three main ways in which you can comply with the new septic tank regulations – each option will have site specific conditions to consider:

Option 1: Swap your septic tank for a sewage treatment plant


Sewage treatment plants produce a cleaner form of water, suitable to discharge straight to a watercourse. 


We can recommend a suitable tank based on your situation. Buying from a reputable manufacturer, such as Kingspan Klargester, will save you money and hassle in the long run.

Option 2: Install a drainage field 


This will take the waste water from your septic tank, and disperse it safely into the ground without causing pollution.


Buy all of the underground drainage pipework you will need to build your own drainage field from Direct Drainage


Need to know how to build a soakaway system? Read our blog: Drainage Fields and Soakaways: How To Guide

Option 3: Connect your existing tank to mains sewer


Your local water company will be able to advise whether or not connection to mains sewer is a feasible solution, however this is a less likely option. A house with a septic tank will usually be too far away from a mains sewer.


If you think this is an option worth exploring get in touch with our experienced street works team at RA Dalton.


The new legislation aims to have a positive effect on our environment. Your septic tank must meet the new, higher standards. This includes being the correct size, installed correctly, regularly emptied and maintained. These standards are available to find at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/general-binding-rules-small-sewage-discharge-to-the-ground.  However, if your septic tank was installed before 1983, then this was before any British standards were in place and your tank should  not require any alterations if it is more than 10m from a watercourse, however to ensure clarity, we would advise that you contact the Environment Agency direct https://www.gov.uk/permits-you-need-for-septic-tanks/contact



Septic Tank Regulations Help


As always, there are a number of further restrictions and exemptions that may apply. If this rule change applies to your property, we’re happy to help you decide what to do next and, of course, The Environment Agency are always on hand to help. 

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