This section describes responsibility for the maintenance of
rural drainage systems.
What is a Septic Tank?
In rural areas without mains sewers most properties drain to
As the name suggests, the septic tank is a storage vessel in
which the decay of sewage takes place, with the aim of producing
low quantities of sewage sludge and good effluent quality for any
discharges made from the tank to nearby streams or to the
The decay of sewage sludge takes place through
bacterial processes, which occur within the vessel. Any liquid is
allowed to settle, before draining from the tank into the
surrounding ground, through the means of a soakaway. In certain
cases the ‘treated’ liquid is allowed to drain into a nearby
stream, but this is becoming less common.
The term ‘septic tank’ is used to describe a number of
different types of sewage treatment systems. These all require
different types and degrees of maintenance.
How do I know if I have a Septic Tank?
In most situations the title deeds for a property will
indicate whether the property drains to a septic tank. Your
neighbours may also have knowledge of how your own property is
If you live in a rural area and do not pay Sewerage Charges as
part of your Water Rates you will almost certainly drain to a
You can also contact the Water Company, United Utilities, who
hold records of all main sewers in the area. They may be able to
advise you whether your home is likely to drain to a main sewer in
the area. For advice on the location of these you should contact
United Utilities, Customer Services on 0845 6020406.
If your property drains to a septic tank, the responsibility
for the tank, together with any soakaway or outlet from the tank,
will rest with those draining to it.
In law, the responsibility for emptying and maintaining septic
tanks is divided equally between the properties connected to them,
unless legal documentation exists to prove otherwise.
The ownership of land does not alter the responsibility for
septic tanks, or their outlets, and many home owners/occupiers will
be responsible for septic tanks that lie on, or drain under, a
What do I do if my septic tank needs emptying?
Contact a local
reputable drainage contractor who can empty it for you. You can
find a number of local contractors under ‘drains’ in the local
classified directories. Most contractors will expect payment to be
made by one household and for you to collect equal contributions to
the bill from any of your neighbours served by septic tank.
If you are unable to gain the co-operation of your neighbours
or do not believe that you are responsible for the septic tank you
may wish to contact an officer from the Environmental
on 0845 050 4434 who can advise you
Who do I need to contact about installing a new septic tank or
If you intend to carry out works, to improve or renew the
drainage system around your property, it is important that you seek
the permission of any landowners, whose land you need to cross, and
the owners of any drains/sewers that you want to connect into
(see Building Drainage pages
). You may
also need Building
approval for any works that you undertake and
for siting a new
Can I get more detailed information?