Wastewater legislation – everything you need to know

Links to the relevant UK Government papers and web pages on wastewater legislation

NB All wastewater legislation information correct as of 5 September 2017

It is essential that anybody who lives off-mains has a full working knowledge of the most up to date regulations regarding septic tanks and sewage treatment plants.

Wastewater legislation relevant to the installation and maintenance of off-mains drainage was last updated in 2015. At the bottom of this article are links to the latest published Government information, for your reference.

Environment Agency General Binding Rules

It’s important to note that all sewage effluent discharges are now subject to Environment Agency General Binding Rules. As well as new installations, these rules also apply to already existing sewage treatment plants and septic tanks, so you’ll need to check that your off-mains drainage installation conforms to the Government standards..

It also means that if your property uses off-mains drainage and doesn’t conform to the General Binding Rules, you have to apply for a permit, which you can do by following this link:


Wastewater legislation - septic tank permit application page

Wastewater legislation – septic tank permit application page

As explained on that page, the form you need to fill in depends on:

  • where you discharge the sewage
  • how much you discharge

You should be aware that your existing permissions may well not apply to overflows to ditches. Breaking the 1991 Water Resources Act can incur huge fines of tens of thousands of pounds.

Wastewater legislation – Septic Tank Discharge Rules

Essentially, septic tank discharge cannot go into any watercourse or ditch. This applies to streams, rivers and surface water pipes. If your present set up doesn’t comply with these new rules, it will need to be upgraded before the start of 2020, or if you sell your property – whichever happens sooner.

It is also important to know that septic tank soakaways are not allowed in Groundwater Source Protection Zone 1 areas. You can chek to see if this applies to your property on the following web page:


Wastewater legislation Links

Septic tanks and treatment plants: permits and general binding rules:


Reform of the regulatory system to control small sewage discharges from septic tanks and small sewage treatment plants in England

General binding rules for small sewage discharges (SSDs) with effect from January 2015:


General binding rules: small sewage discharge to a surface water:


General binding rules: small sewage discharge to the ground: