The UK Rules

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Septic Tanks and Treatment Plants

There are several key differences between a septic tank and a package treatment plant (also called small sewage treatment plants).

The information in this section explains the septic tank regulations and how to apply for an environmental permit in the United Kingdom.

Most UK homes and businesses are connected to the mains sewer. If not, the treatment of waste sewage can take place through:

Note: Having a non-conventional sewerage system means you may need to get a permit from the Environment Agency. The rules for septic tanks and treatment plants differ in Scotland, Wales, and in Northern Ireland.

Rules for Septic Tank Operators

Do you have a septic tank or a small sewage treatment plant at your home or business? If so, you will be defined as the 'operator' if you (any):

Starting from the 1st of January 2015, all operators of septic tanks or package treatment plants in England must meet the general binding rules for small sewage discharges (SSDs).

Thus, you must apply for a permit from the Environment Agency if the sewerage system that you are using does not meet the required standards and regulations.

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What are the General Binding Rules?

Defra announced the reform of the regulatory system that controls small sewage discharges (SSDs) which allows them to be used without an environmental permit.

As such, operating a septic tank or a small sewage treatment plant in England means you must comply with the general binding rules. In short, the sewage must:

Note: Septic tanks and treatment plants must be emptied at least once every year. Furthermore, the company that gets rid of waste sludge must be a registered waste carrier.

Releasing Sewage to the Ground

If the septic tank or a small sewage treatment plant that you are using discharges liquid to the ground, you must also use a drainage field (e.g. an infiltration system)

Furthermore, you would need to get a permit from the Environment Agency if your sewage system is discharging liquid (releasing):

Important: The Environment Agency produces additional rules that you must follow if your septic tank or small sewage discharge treatment plant releases (discharges) liquid to the ground.

How to Calculate Sewage Discharge

You can use the calculator tool on the GOV.UK website to work out the daily discharge volume from a septic tank or package treatment plant connected to one or more houses or flats (e.g. residential properties).

But, you should use the 'British Water: Flows and Loads - 4' for holiday accommodation (e.g. cottages, chalets) or for commercial properties (e.g. hotels, offices, restaurants).

Am I in a Groundwater Protection Zone?

There are ways to check if you are in one of the groundwater source protection zones (SPZs). In short, an SPZ1 can either be:

Releasing Sewage to a Surface Water

You need to use a small sewage treatment plant if you are discharging liquids to one of the surface waters. Also, you will need a permit to discharge more than five (5) cubic metres per day (e.g. 5,000 litres).

Important: The Environment Agency produces additional rules that you must follow if your septic tank or small sewage discharge treatment plant releases (discharges) liquid to a surface water.

Before You Install a New Sewage System

You would need to get building regulations approval, and in some cases you will also need planning permission, if you are installing a new system.

The application would need to be retrospective for building regulations approval and planning permission if you did not get permission and approval before the installation.

Contact your local council authority for further advice if your system was installed before the new regulations for septic tanks took effect (e.g. the 1st of January 2015).

Note: Another section explains how to find your local council and how to use the Royal Mail's postcode finder.

Applying for an Environmental Permit

Unless your sewage system already meets the UK's general binding rules, you are going to need a permit. There are different forms to use, depending on where the sewage is discharged and how much is released per day.

Discharging Sewage to Ground

If your application is to discharge effluent outside a groundwater protection zone (SPZ1), the form you need will be (either):

If your application to discharge is inside a groundwater protection zone (SPZ1), and for less than two (2) cubic metres per day, the form you need will be (either):

Discharging Sewage to a Surface Water

You might be able to apply for a standard rules permit if you discharge between five (5) and twenty (20) cubic metres per day to a surface water. If not, you must get a permit to discharge (either):

This part is important:

Before starting the application process, you need to know the 8-figure grid reference for either the septic tank or treatment plant as well as the point where it discharges. You also need to:

Application Fees for Permits

The application fee for an environmental permit will depend on what type of site it is (e.g. domestic household, organisation, or a charity).

Discharging to Ground

The current application fee is £125 for domestic households (and charities) to discharge up to 5,000 litres (5m3) per day. The fees differ for certain other types of organisations.

Discharging to a Surface Water

The current application fee is £125 for domestic households (and charities) to discharge up to 5,000 litres (5m3) per day. The fees differ for certain other types of organisations.

Annual Subsistence Fees

The annual subsistence fee applies to certain sites that are not classed as domestic households or charities.

Note: As a rule, you will get a decision on an application within three (3) months. In some cases, it may take longer (e.g. due to planning issues).

UK regulations for septic tanks and treatment plants.If the EA Refuses Your Application

The Environment Agency may refuse an application. If so, they will:

Complying with Septic Tank Permits

Defra and the Environment Agency produce further guidance explaining how to comply with a permit (including maintenance requirements), record keeping obligations, and the regulations for pollution reporting.

Regulations for Cesspools

There is no legal requirement to comply with the general binding rules for having a cesspool. Furthermore, there is no need to apply for a permit to operate cesspools.

But, if you have a cesspool or cesspit you will need to maintain it, and:

Note: The Environment Agency (and local councils) have the authority to force operators to repair or replace a poorly maintained cesspool.

Installing a New Cesspool

Any time you install a new cesspool or cesspit on your land or property, you will need to:

Important: The main section contains further information on government guidelines for the treatment and safe disposal of waste materials and reducing its impact on the environment.


UK Regulations for Septic Tanks and Treatment Plants

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