New septic tank legislation: upgrade your system by January 2020

Fri 23rd Nov 2018

Updated July 2019

Darren Higginson, Associate and property litigation expert at Coodes Solicitors, outlines what homeowners need to do to comply with new legislation on septic tanks.

Property owners need to be ready comply with new legislation on septic tanks. Compliance with the new rules is required by 1st January 2020 and homeowners will need to upgrade their drainage systems in order to avoid fines from the Environment Agency. This is not just something that will affect farmers: many rural homes in Cornwall have private drainage and a septic tank to deal with waste.

What are the new rules for septic tanks?

The rules prohibit the discharge of waste from septic tanks into watercourses due to the detrimental impact it can have on the environment.

The new regulations require owners to replace or upgrade their existing septic tanks by 1st January 2020 if waste currently flows into a watercourse, including ditches, streams and rivers. Homeowners will need a small sewage treatment plant to treat any waste before it goes into a watercourse.

Rules were originally introduced in January 2015 applying to new septic tank systems but from January 2020 they will be rolled out to include all systems – old and new.

How can homeowners comply with the new septic tank legislation?

The Government has outlined what homeowners need to do to comply with the new rules. The advice includes:

  • Swap to a sewage treatment plant which produces a cleaner form of water that can be discharged straight to a watercourse;
  • The system must be properly installed, have sufficient capacity and meet the British Standard;
  • Install a drainage field or soakaway system that disperses water waste safely into the ground, without causing pollution;
  • Connect to a mass sewer (if available).

The Government outlines all of the new rules here.

What if I want to sell my property?

If you have a septic tank and are planning to sell your property, it is important to ensure you comply with the new legislation before selling. Potential buyers are likely to be put off if they find the property has a septic tank that does not comply with the new rules.

When you have updated the septic tank you must tell the new owner, in writing, that they are responsible for the septic tank discharge. You should provide them with details about the septic tank, including:

    • A full description of the septic tank
    • The location of the tank
    • Details of any changes to the original design
    • Details of maintenance required
    • Record of maintenance (this must be backdated up to seven years)

My soakaway is on a neighbour’s land – what should I do?

It is not uncommon for a septic tank or soakaway to be situated on neighbouring land. If this is the case, then it is important to act quickly if you need to upgrade your system to comply with the new legislation by the 2020 deadline. The responsibility to upgrade lies with the owner of the septic tank, whether the soakaway is on their land or not.

The process of upgrading your system could raise questions from your neighbour on the rights you have to access their land and your responsibilities to repair any damage to their land after any works have been carried out. It may raise bigger questions about whether or not the septic tank or soakaway should be on their land at all. This could all slow down the process, so act now to have the best chance of making the changes before the 1st January 2020.

If you are affected by any of these issues, please contact Darren Higginson in the Personal Disputes team on 01726 874700 or

Fri 23rd Nov 2018

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