Septic Tank Legislation Changes – Six Months to Prepare

Changes to how septic tanks are allowed to discharge wastewater were introduced in 2015, and will be becoming binding in six months, in January 2020. These changes are intended to both improve water quality and protect the environment, so if your property has a septic tank you must comply with the regulations to avoid a fine.

Here is our breakdown of important information to help you prepare over the next six months.

What are the new regulations?

The most important change from previous legislation is that after 1 January 2020, a septic tank must not discharge into a watercourse – including drains, rivers, streams and canals. Following the announcement of new regulations in January 2015, water from a septic tank that discharged into a watercourse could continue to do so, provided it wasn’t considered to be a pollutant. However, under the new regulations no water from a septic tank may discharge into a watercourse.

In addition, if you have a soakaway system, you must either replace it or apply for a permit from the Environment Agency to continue using it. That means that if your current set-up discharges waste water into a watercourse, or the Environment Agency denies a permit for your soakaway system, you must install a drainage field, or else replace your septic tank with a small sewage treatment plant or cesspool.

What is a septic tank?

If a property isn’t connected to the mains sewage system, a separate system is needed to deal with grey water (from your washing machine, bath, sinks, and so on) and black water (the water used to flush the toilet, plus the waste it carries away). A septic tank is connected to the waste water pipe – waste water flows into the tank, solids sink to the bottom, and liquid is discharged.

How is water discharged from a septic tank?

Water flows out of a septic tank either directly into a watercourse, or back into the ground via a drainage field or soakaway system. A drainage field is an arrangement of perforated pipes laid in drains, generally on top of gravel, and a soakaway is a hole filled with rubble into which waste water is piped. Both work in essentially the same way, in that they filter water gradually back into the ground where it is treated by bacteria in the soil.

What are the alternatives to a septic tank?

Either a small sewage treatment plant; a part-mechanical system that treats waste liquid so it’s clean enough to be discharged freely, or a cesspool; which is a sealed storage tank that must be emptied when full.

New legislative standards

Standards for existing systems

Your existing system is acceptable provided it has a CE mark, a certificate of compliance with a British Standard or is on British Water’s list of approved equipment.

Standards for replacement systems

A treatment system must be capable of handling the maximum amount of sewage it will need to treat – check with the installer that it meets the sizing requirements in British Water’s Flows and Loads 4 guidance. Upgraded systems must also comply with the relevant British Standards, namely BS EN 12566 for septic tanks and small sewage treatment plants, and BS 6297:2007 for drainage fields.

If you choose to install a cesspool, you’ll need planning permission and building regulations approval. You must also ensure it has a minimum capacity of 18,000 litres per two users, plus an additional 6,800 litres per additional user.

How best to prepare for compliance

Complying with the new regulations doesn’t need to be complicated. Here are four basic steps:

  1. Contact the Environment Agency and your local council if you install a new system, to make sure you comply with requirements – that’s quality standards, discharge limits, planning requirements and building regulations.
  2. Have your system emptied regularly by a registered waste carrier, in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Ensure your system is regularly serviced and properly maintained by a specialist engineer or technician, and keep records. Remember to not flush non-flushable items down the toilet, as this could cause major problems.
  4. If you sell your property prior to the new regulations coming into force, then you must replace the system prior to the sale and inform the buyer. If you are buying a property with a septic tank prior to 1 January 2020, make sure the system complies with the new legislation.

What’s next?

At Drain Doctor, we provide specialist septic tank maintenance services and contracts to homeowners and businesses across the Fife area. Contact our team today for more information on how we can help you. Our technicians are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.