Owls Hall Environmental Ltd, Blackmore End, Braintree , Essex CM7 7DF
01371 850 537

Septic Tank Regulations


In the last few years, the Environment Agency has made some big changes to the septic tank soakaway regulations governing domestic use. These changes have all been made in an effort to protect our waterways and cut pollution in rural areas, but what does it mean for you as a homeowner?

To understand the septic tank soakaway regulations, you need to know your system

The recent changes in the Environment Agency (EA) regulations, ‘General Binding Rules’, apply mainly to domestic homeowners with a septic tank.

A septic tank doesn’t treat wastewater on its own, it has to be connected to a drainage field. This drainage field is essentially a series of pipes with holes that are dug into trenches underground. The pipes slow the flow of the wastewater and allow bacteria to digest the harmful organic matter and pollutants that are present. This process continues to work as the wastewater passes into the surrounding soil.

Septic tanks are different from sewage treatment plants; treatment plants enhance the growth of bacteria by adding oxygen. The additional ‘aerobic’ bacteria digest and clean the wastewater reducing harmful ammonia, enabling discharge to the environment.

What are the septic tank regulations and why are they being enforced?

There are a large number of septic tanks across the UK that are discharging directly to rivers and ditches rather than using a drainage field. This method can result in local environmental and health issues, as well as pollution downstream in rivers and lakes.

Although the rules are in place now and have been since 1 January 2015, there are a number of older systems that continue to discharge directly to a watercourse. For this reason, the EA has put a deadline in place that all systems must be updated by 1 January 2020.

How do I comply with the rules?

If your septic tank is discharging to a watercourse then there are several ways in which you can modify your system:

  • Connect to mains sewerage – if you are close enough to a mains sewerage network then this is always the most logical option. If you are within 30m of a mains connection, then you must connect in this way.
  • Install a drainage field – if mains sewerage isn’t an option, then you could install a drainage field. This will need to be located at least 15m from your home and at least 10m from any .
  • Install a sewage treatment plant – by installing a system that actively cleans the sewage, you are permitted to discharge the resulting effluent to a river or ditch.
Our team of experienced engineers and installers can help upgrade any system to ensure that it meets the septic tank regulations.
Get in contact for a compliance check and to see if we work in your area.

Not sure if your system complies?

If your system is currently faulty then there is a good chance that it is not complying at the moment, but this could be fixed quickly and easily with a repair. If your system is leaking, cracked or smelly or if you see signs of pollution like pools of water, sludge, foam, lush weeds or grey fungus, then you must get a British Water qualified engineer out to assess the system and repair it as soon as possible.

Even if your system is in good working order you might still be in breach of the regulations. We know that it’s not always easy to understand what type of system you have, particularly if you have inherited a system when you bought a property. Many septic tanks have been in place for decades and it’s not always easy to see where the system is discharging to.

Simply give us a call and we can come out to do a comprehensive audit of your system.

Planning to move house?

If you are planning to move house before the 1 January 2020 then you must tell that the new buyer in writing about your septic tank, including whether it meets the requirements of the General Binding Rules. If your system needs updating before 1 January 2020 then you must make the buyer aware of this.

Owls Hall offers a home buyers drain survey to help you make sure that everything is in order before buying or selling a property with off-mains sewage.

Contact us at Owls Hall: 01371 850 537