Septic tanks: what you need to know about the new legislation

For anyone living in a rural area, the simple septic tank is a major convenience, but new legislation will come into force at the beginning of 2020 governing what type of tank you can use. The septic tank and treatment plant general binding rules have changed so what are your responsibilities and how will this affect you if you’re thinking of selling your home?

While you may not want to give it much thought, what goes into your septic tank has to come out and current legislation allows for you to empty your tank in two ways. You can either discharge the out flow to a soakaway system, where the water trickles into surrounding subsoil or, as is the case for many properties - especially those in a rural environment – the out flow can be discharged into adjacent watercourses. The second of these options is no longer considered a viable or environmentally friendly way to dispose of wastewater.

For homeowners who’ve replaced their tanks recently, you may have already been advised to buy one that doesn’t discharge into a watercourse. However, if your tank is more than a few years old and drains into a watercourse, you’ll be bound by the new legislation to replace it or upgrade it by 1st January 2020 - or before that date if you're selling your property.

The rules state that you must now use a small sewage treatment plant to treat the sewage if you’re discharging to a watercourse such as a river or stream. A sewage treatment plant (also known as a package treatment plant) treats sewage to a higher standard than a septic tank.

It’s also permitted to install a drainage field (infiltration system), connect to the main sewers (if now applicable at your property) and under exceptional circumstances you can apply for a permit to allow discharge to surface water.

You should get advice from a competent service engineer if you need help understanding what treatment system you have and what you are required to do under the general binding rules.

It’s probably a good idea to have a look at what you have and make plans for a replacement, especially if you’re thinking of selling in the near future.

For expert advice on all property matters please do get in touch with our York branch on 01904 625033 or email

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