Buying a home with a septic tank: what you need to know

Many homes and properties in rural areas come fitted with septic tanks. Sarah Ellis, from Sintonsconveyancing team, explains some of the regulations that you’ll need to know about if you’re considering buying a home with a septic tank.

If you have ever dreamed of escaping the rat race and moving to the country you may find yourself in love with a property that has a septic tank. What does this really mean for you as a homeowner though?

Essentially you would be purchasing a property which is not connected to mains sewage. Instead, sewage is discharged either to a sole or shared septic tank and, in most cases, the liquid waste is eventually released into a drain field – an underground network of trenches and perforated pipes.

You need to be aware of the need to regularly empty most tanks of the grease and solid matter and have regular maintenance carried out, which is an extra cost in the running of your home.

And as a homeowner, you also need to know about the regulations relating to septic tanks.

In January 2015 the government brought in new rules which relate to septic tanks, the way they discharge, their repair and suitability, in an effort to further reduce pollution. If your septic tank does not comply with the rules then you will need to either:

  1. connect to the main sewage (if possible);
  2. upgrade their tanks to ensure compliance; or
  3. obtain an environmental permit.

You can find a copy of the rules on, and it is worth noting these rules updated again on 2 October 2023.

As solicitors acting for a purchaser of a property with a septic tank it is important we ask for confirmation that the type of tank installed complies with the necessary rules.

There are different rules for existing discharges, new discharges or discharges which have significantly changed, and we can help you to understand which apply to you.

For example, existing discharges are those which started prior to 1 January 2015, whereas there are additional rules for new discharges which started on or after 1 January 2015, or those discharges which significantly changed in nature on or after 1 January 2015 (for example, the type of discharge changed from ground to surface or vice versa, or there was a relocation or increase in discharge).

For any new discharges starting on or after 2 October 2023 two further rules also apply:

  1. A new discharge shall not use the same outlet as any other discharge if the volume of those combined discharges will exceed the volume (two cubic meters of less per day for ground water systems or five cubic meters or less per day for surface water systems)
  2. A new discharge will not be made to any discharge point within 50 meters of any other exempt ground water activity or water discharge activity.

If you’re buying a property with a septic tank it is important to factor in potential extra costs – like the cost of bringing the tank and system up to the required standard; the cost of applying for a permit; or the cost of having the tank checked by a surveyor to confirm that it satisfies the criteria for exemption and to ensure the tank and system is good working condition and repair. If the tank is not in good repair and causing pollution you could face enforcement action by the Environment Agency.

Along with the rest of Sintons’ conveyancing team, I work with people to make sure they understand the rules relating to septic tanks and I can also help make sure you have all necessary rights in connection with the tank where it, or parts of the system, are not solely within your boundary and ownership.

Are you considering buying a house with a septic tank? Get in touch with Sintons’ conveyancing team to find out how we can help you.

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