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Does your holiday home have a septic tank?


It’s your getaway holiday home – a rural idyll, far from the bustling streets of your workday life.

Far from the people and traffic you are glad to escape, however, homes deep in the countryside are also likely to be far from the services and utilities on which you normally rely – and one of these is likely to be the essential matter of sewage disposal.

What is a septic tank?

Septic tanks have been used for many years in properties that are not connected to a mains drainage system. Instead, a tank sunk into the ground allows solid waste to sink to the bottom while the liquids are allowed to discharge into the surrounding ground.

To combat the inevitable pollution of nearby streams and watercourses, legislation was introduced in 2015 to regulate the use of septic tanks – many of which are now many years old. The legislation comes into effect on the 1st of January 2020. 

The new regulations

With effect from the 1st of January 2020, it becomes illegal to allow liquid overflow from your septic tank to discharge directly into any stream, brook, ditch or river – on pain of a fine of up to £250,000.

As the website Response Source points out, the regulations affect not only the current owners of such holiday cottages but also anyone intending to buy or sell one – unless the septic tank complies with the new regulations, the property is likely to be un-saleable. It also impacts on any plans you may have to refurbish or modernise your holiday home, since any such alterations must comply with building regulations which now incorporate the new standards on sewage disposal.

Your options

To bring your disposal of domestic sewage up to the standards required by the new legislation you might:

  • connect to the main drainage system – an unlikely option if your holiday home is in a remote area and which is in any case probably costs upwards of £10,000;
  • decommission your septic tank and invest in a small purpose-designed sewage treatment plant, which discharges liquids clean enough to find their way into nearby watercourses, and is likely to cost around £4,500 to £7,500; or
  • devise a soakaway system in which the effluent from your septic tank is dispersed through perforated pipes into a wider drainage field – at a likely cost of around £5,000, depending on the area of dispersal. 

Permits, planning permission and building regulations

When you are installing your new sewage disposal system or making alterations to your holiday home, it is now more important than ever to pay close attention to the formal permissions you are likely to need.

The government website lists these and explains the circumstances in which you may need to apply for:

  • a permit – to release overflows from your septic tank into the ground through dispersal from perforated pipes (an infiltration system);
  • planning permission – for whatever sewage storage, treatment and disposal system you choose; and 
  • compliance with building regulations.

Beware of the deadline 

Owners of off-grid holiday homes with septic tanks as their only means of sewage disposal have had five years in which to comply with the new regulations. But time is now running out before you must comply with the new requirements – or face a fine of up to £250,000.