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In rural areas, properties may be too remote to connect to the mains drainage system. In these circumstances, properties have to rely upon a private drainage system - such as a cesspool or septic tank.
A cesspool is a sealed tank connected to a property by a series of drains. It collects the waste foul water from a property and must be emptied by tanker to a proper disposal point.

A septic tank is similarly connected to a property by a series of drains, provides a very basic level of treatment of the foul waste. The septic tank collects the solid waste and allows the liquid waste to flow into a soakaway in the ground. Soakaways must be carefully constructed to ensure that the liquid waste does not contaminate the surface of the ground, ditches or watercourses.

All new soakaways or improvements to existing soakaways require the prior consent of the Environment Agency.

Responsibility for the regular emptying of private cesspools and septic tanks rests with the property owner. Contractors who provide this service can be found under 'septic tanks' or 'waste disposal services' in the telephone directory.

Changes to rules for septic tanks and cesspits

By the 1 January 2012, all discharges from septic tanks and sewage treatment plants should have been registered with the Environment Agency under the Environmental Permitting Programme Second Phase (EPP2). This applies to both new and existing systems, no matter how old they are.

If you do not currently have a consent or exemption from the Environment Agency, then, under the new EPP2 regulations, you should apply to the Environment Agency online for a Permit Exemption to discharge from septic tank systems.

In most cases, these discharge permit exemptions will be granted and are free.

If your site has special circumstances that make it vulnerable, or the plant you intend to install does not have the EN 12566-3 2005 Certificate, you will be notified that you must still apply for a discharge permit.

For more information, please see the GOV.UK guidance.