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Septic Tanks


If you live in a rural area and your home is not connected to a main drainage system it is likely to have a septic tank. When working properly a septic tank provides an effective way of treating waste water from baths, sinks and toilets.

The purpose of a septic tank is to treat waste water from a house or several houses which are not connected to the mains drainage system. It is usually either a large rectangular box made of brick, stone or concrete or a bottle-shaped plastic tank buried underground not far from the property it serves. A septic tank works like a simple sewage treatment works and the treated effluent drains from the tank’s outlet pipe normally to a soakaway or stream.

Waste material is allowed to settle in the tank and is digested by natural bacteria which must be allowed to breed within the tank.

Over time partially-decomposed solids build up on the bottom of the tank. This sludge has to be removed regularly to make sure the tank continues to work properly and to prevent the soakaway becoming choked.

De-sludging should normally take place every twelve months. However, depending on the tank’s size and usage, this period may be extended but not normally beyond two years .You can ask a private contractor who may be able to carry out this for you.

If you are an owner/user of a private septic tank you are responsible for the quality of the discharge and its impact on the environment. You may be held accountable for any pollution caused by your septic tank. You are also responsible for ensuring that:

  • The septic tank is properly maintained and emptied regularly;
  • The septic tank access lids are secure and in good working order; and
  • The drains to and from the septic tank, including the soakaway, are free-flowing and free from blockages

When a septic tank does not function properly it can cause odour nuisance, flooding and pollution. When a septic tank or its soakaway fails it may be determined a statutory nuisance under Section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. A notice may be served requiring the person responsible for the septic tank to ensure that any nuisance is removed. The Environment Agency may also take action if a watercourse is being affected.
If you have a septic tank, the following information may be useful;


  • Have your septic tank system professionally fitted, following local guidelines and Building Regulations. Information about Building Regulations is available from Building Control.
  • Put all your waste water from your home into the system.
  • Know where your septic tank and drainage field are located.
  • Design and keep to a maintenance system to include inspection and de-sludging. A private contractor may be able to advise and to carry out the work for you. To find a private contractor go to ‘Drain and pipe cleaning, Plumbers merchants or Sewage Consultants’ in the telephone directory.
  • Act immediately if you find a blockage or any sign of a problem.
  • Ensure all manhole covers, air vents or points of access are easily accessible.
  • Avoid building patios and such like over important points of access.
  • Divert other sources of water, like roof drains, away from septic tank systems.
  • Use toilet fresheners, fabric conditioners, washing powders and liquids and cleaning chemicals in moderation. These chemicals can kill the friendly bacteria and upset the natural balance that makes the septic tank work.


  • Dispose of the following down the drain; 
    • fats, oils or heavy grease
    • Paints, solvents or motor oils 
    • garden chemicals or pesticides 
    • the contents of chemical toilets 
    • nappies, sanitary items, plastic or similar items 
  • Don’t dig or drive over the drainage field, or cover it with a hard surface such as a patio.
  • Don’t block air vents
  • Don’t allow effluent to collect on the surface of the ground
  • Enter a septic tank – dangerous gases are produced by the natural treatment process

To make a request for service or for further advice, please contact the Private Sector Housing Team today on 0191 433 3000, or contact us online now by completing the form below.

Contact Us

Private Sector Housing
Development and Enterprise
Civic Centre

Phone: 0191 433 3000