How are septic tanks used and regulated in rural areas in the UK?

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

In rural areas, where access to the main sewer system is limited, septic tanks play a crucial role in
managing household waste water. This article looks into their use, regulation and future in rural
areas in the light of regulations and developments.

What is a septic tank?

A septic tank is an underground installation that treats waste water from homes not connected to
the main sewer lines. It is estimated that up to half a million UK properties, primarily in rural
settings, rely on septic tanks for sewage treatment. Septic tanks separate solid waste, allowing
bacteria to break down the organic matter. The liquid effluent is discharged into the ground, usually
into a drainage field.

Rules and regulations

UK septic tank regulations were introduced in 2015 to protect the environment and public health.
The rules looked at how septic tanks discharged waste, the state of their repair and their size. These
rules were amended in 2020
to prohibit the discharge of effluent from septic tanks directly into
surface water, such as rivers, instructing that it must instead be released into a drainage field.
Non-compliance with regulations can lead to fines and environmental harm. But it’s worth noting
that if you bought a property with a septic tank after 1 January 2015 in England or Wales, and you
have since incurred a fine or unexpected servicing costs for breaching septic tank regulations, you
may have had negligent advice from a conveyancing solicitor. If so, take legal advice.

Installation and maintenance

For new installations, septic tanks must comply with design and capacity standards to suit your
property size and be registered with the Environment Agency. If you don’t register your septic tank,
you could receive a fine of up to £5,000. You, as the owner, are responsible for maintenance,
including regular emptying and repairs, to prevent pollution and ensure efficient operation. If you
fail to properly maintain a septic tank, you could be fined.

Environmental innovations

The shift towards more environmentally friendly waste management solutions has led to
innovations in septic tank technology, such as enhanced nutrient breakdown and reduced ground
water contamination. Modern septic tanks are often made from materials such as glass-reinforced
plastic. These materials are easier to install and offer better corrosion resistance than traditional

The future of rural septic tanks

The focus is now on improving septic tank sustainability and reducing their environmental footprint.
This could mean further regulatory updates, technological advancements and greater public
awareness about septic tank management. If you’re a rural homeowner or business, keep up to date
with regulations and adopt practices to support environmental protection and sustainability.