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Rules on septic tanks may affect many rural properties

With many people reported to be planning a move to the country to escape city life, they might for the first time encounter septic tanks which often come with rural property.  The rules on septic tanks changed in 2015 and came into force on 31 December 2019. How will this affect your rural property sale or purchase?

The rules prevent the discharge from septic tanks into watercourses or drainage ditches. Many homeowners are unaware there may be issues with their drainage systems and non-compliant septic tanks now need to be replaced.  We have seen an increase in issues identified with the sale of some properties with private drainage so advice should be sought to find out if your septic tank is compliant or not.

There are various options which homeowners can do to make their septic tank compliant, which includes:

  • Installing a drainage field so the septic tank can discharge into the ground.
  • Replacing the septic tank with a small sewage treatment plant.
  • Upgrading an existing septic tank with a conversion unit.

In exceptional circumstances you can apply to the Environment Agency for a permit for the septic tank to discharge into surface water.

Alan Williams comments: “These rules may come as a surprise to many homeowners and prospective buyers and property owners are advised to obtain a professional report which details how their existing septic tank system can be made compliant with the new regulations.  It could be costly in some circumstances to carry out this work.  It is up to the buyer and seller to agree before contracts are exchanged who will be responsible for the work, which must be carried out within a specified period of the sale, usually within 12 months.”

Septic tanks are sometimes shared by two or more properties and may not be situated on the land of the property you are buying, so make sure you find out as much information as you can including that there are adequate access rights and an agreement for maintenance obligations and costs.

Alan Williams can be contacted at