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What are the regulations for septics tanks, and will I get a fine?

Updated: May 11, 2023


If you’re thinking about moving to the countryside, there might be a surprise that you hadn’t considered when it comes to sewage. January 2020 saw new regulations come into effect which significantly impact septic tank owners. Many people are not aware of the type of sewage system that they have, or how to optimise its use whilst avoiding illegal pollution.


The new rules state that if you have a septic tank which discharges directly to surface water, such as a river, you will need to replace or upgrade the sewage treatment system to avoid being penalised. It is important also to note that if you sell your property before then it’ll have to be replaced before you move.


What is a septic tank?

A septic tank is a large, underground container used for the storage of household wastewater. It's typically made of concrete, fibreglass, or plastic and is installed outside of a home or building, usually underground.


Septic tanks are used in areas where there is no access to a centralised sewage system. They work by allowing wastewater from the house to flow into the tank, where the solids settle to the bottom and the liquids rise to the top. Bacteria within the tank break down the solids over time, and the liquids are discharged into a drain field where they are further treated and absorbed into the soil.


Regular maintenance is required to prevent the septic tank from becoming full and overflowing, which can lead to serious health and environmental hazards. Septic tank owners are now no longer able to discharge waste into water sources, and instead must make sure it goes into a drainage field to avoid water contamination.


What are the rules for the legal use of septic tanks?


1. Only discharge 5 cubic metres or less a day in volume.


This is the maximum amount of effluent that is permitted to be discharged per day into the drainage field.


2. You cannot discharge waste into a watercourse.


As of January 2020, it became illegal to discharge waste water from septic tanks into a watercourse. This includes ditches, streams, canals, rivers, surface water drains or any other surface water location. This is due to the substance being released containing dangerous chemicals which can contaminate the water.


3. You cannot discharge sewage effluent within 30 metres of a public foul sewer.


This is to ensure that the public foul sewer can be sufficiently monitored for leaks and damages, and this is not misled by other sewage effluent coming into the area.



4. A septic tank must be installed at least 7 metres from any building.


This will allow for easier access for the tank when it is due to be emptied. In addition, there needs to be 15 metres of space for the drainage field to sufficiently dispose of the effluent, so that it doesn’t damage the foundations of the property.


What will happen if a septic tank is polluting water sources?


In the UK, if a septic tank owner causes water pollution, they can be fined under the Water Resources Act 1991. The amount of the fine would depend on the severity of the pollution, the extent of the damage caused, and other factors. There have been instances where housing companies have been fined £100,00 for failing to control waste water and causing significant pollution to a nearby water source.


It's worth noting that septic tank owners have a legal obligation to maintain and regularly empty their tanks to prevent pollution from occurring. Failure to comply with these obligations can result in legal action being taken.



How we can help


At Cotterill Environmental, we offer servicing for septic tanks which ensure that your tank is being used legally and complies with the relevant regulations. Septic tanks can have a lifespan of over 20 years, so it’s essential that they are regularly assessed for faults in order to optimise their use. We also offer repairs and maintenance work for septic tanks, which are carried out by our industry experts. It is important that your septic tank is regularly maintained and serviced, to avoid potential pollution and to ensure your product is functioning effectively.


For more information about septic tank servicing or repairs, please call 0121 461 4861 to speak with one of our experts.




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