As part of ongoing efforts to improve water quality and reduce pollution, new rules were introduced in January to simplify the way septic tanks and small sewage treatment plants are regulated in England. Households and businesses with septic tanks and small sewage treatment plants are responsible for meeting the legal requirements, which are called ‘general binding rules’, by ensuring their systems are maintained properly and do not cause pollution.
The Environment Agency expects that most people will be able to follow the rules and use their septic tank or treatment plant without needing a permit. The main exception to this is in areas designated as ‘environmentally sensitive’, where additional measures are needed to prevent pollution and the systems may need permits.
It is easy to comply with the new rules – here are the main requirements:
• Systems must not cause pollution and should be emptied (desludged) at least once a year.
• You must check how much the system discharges by looking at the online guidance ( The discharge limit is a maximum of 2,000 litres of treated sewage per day into the ground or 5,000 litres per day into flowing water – a permit is required for quantities greater than these.
• Faults or problems must be fixed immediately.
• You must speak to the Environment Agency before installing a new system to check if a permit is required. A new system must meet British Standards for septic tanks and sewage treatment plants that were in place at the time it was installed (currently BS EN 12566). Your local council should be consulted to check that it meets planning requirements and complies with Building Regulations.
Visit to read the ‘general binding rules’ in full.
Paper copies are also available on request from the Environment Agency by calling 03708 506 506 or emailing
You can check if your property is in a designated sensitive area or whether you require a permit by calling the Environment Agency on 03708 506 506.
If you are concerned that a septic tank or sewage treatment plant is causing pollution, call the Environment Agency’s incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60.