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


Small sewage discharges: A new approach to how we regulate these in England

Please see the outcomes and results of this consultation further down.

We proposed (a) a simpler regulatory framework for the whole of England, and (b) a further deregulatory measure to move to a more risk-based approach to permitting.

Our lives and livelihoods depend on a clean, healthy water environment. We are working to control and prevent pollution to protect people’s health and wellbeing, and  the natural environment. This includes preventing contamination of drinking water supplies and pollution of the environment from septic tanks and small sewage treatment plants.

This consultation proposed a new approach to regulating domestic wastewater systems where the discharges are small for example systems serving individual or small groups of properties. Such discharges are known as small sewage discharges (SSDs). The aims of the proposals were, firstly to simplify existing regulation within less sensitive areas (which cover most of the country) by removing registration and record keeping requirements whilst keeping key requirements for preventing pollution, and secondly, to provide a more risk-based approach to permitting so that permits are only required in the most sensitive areas where a higher level of protection is needed.

The proposed approach would deliver the necessary controls to prevent pollution, protect public health, improve drinking water supplies and protect sensitive habitats, while:

  • reducing burdens on rural households and businesses
  • reducing the number of people who need to have permits
  • reducing the number of pollution incidents from SSDs
  • encouraging local responsibility



Why We Are Consulting

Implementing the new approach would involve amendment of legislation: the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 which are made under the Pollution, Prevention and Control Act 1999.

Responses to this consultation will inform decisions on changes to the regulation of septic tanks and small sewage treatment plants.

The consultation is principally being conducted as an online survey. If you prefer, you can also respond by email to SSDs_Reform or by writing to us at the address below.

Defra, Water Quality Admin Team, Area 3E, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 2RJ

What Happens Next

This consultation closed June 2014.

Related Documents


A government response was published in October 2014. In January 2015, new rules were introduced see

There are controls to prevent pollution to groundwater and surface water (lakes, rivers and streams) from small sewage discharges from septic tanks or small sewage treatment plants. These have been updated from January 2015. This is part of a new approach to how small sewage discharges are regulated. There is new guidance on what you need to do if you have a septic tank or sewage treatment plant, or you are planning to install one.

A leafet Your sewage - Your environment is available to keep as a handy reference or share with others. (This is best printed in booklet form)



We Asked
As part of efforts to improve environmental regulations, last year we proposed simplifying the regulations for septic tanks and small sewage treatment plants in less sensitive areas (most of the country) and taking a risk based approach to permitting of these systems in the most sensitive areas where a higher level of protection is needed. We proposed retaining the rules that control and prevent pollution, and for these to become known as general binding rules applying to the whole country.
You said
Responses to the consultation broadly supported the proposals but highlighted concerns about: the loss of information that could have been gathered from registration to help support efforts to improve catchment areas and water bodies; sufficiently protecting sensitive areas and rare habitats; and that any changes needed to be communicated to households and businesses.
We did
A government response was published in October 2014. In January 2015, new rules were introduced see The new approach focuses on making sure septic tanks and sewage treatment plants are maintained in good working order, correctly installed and not causing pollution. We are working with catchment partnerships, parish councils, service companies and others to communicate the rules to households and businesses. See our leaflet Your Sewage – Your Environment.


Water Quality Team

Key Dates

Status: Closed

Ran from 30 Apr 2014 to 10 Jun 2014

Other Information


  • Charities/Voluntary Organisations,
  • Environmental campaigners ,
  • Food Business Operators,
  • Devolved Administrations,
  • Coastal local authorities ,
  • National Park Authorities,
  • Recreation sector,
  • Industries and professional services,
  • Ports and Harbour Authorities and Estuaries,
  • Water/water Industry sector,
  • IFCAs,
  • Environmental professional services ,
  • Estate Agents,
  • House Building Industry,
  • Property Management ,
  • Legal and Conveyancing Professions,
  • Households,
  • Local Authorities,
  • Farmers,
  • SME businesses,
  • Water suppliers,
  • Leisure industry,
  • Tourism industry,
  • Insurance industry,
  • Tenant Farmers,
  • Agricultural Landlords,
  • Land Agents,
  • Environmental Health Officers


  • Natural environment,
  • Local nature partnerships,
  • Sustainable development,
  • Waste and recycling,
  • Water quality,
  • Sewerage,
  • Local environments,
  • Pollution Sector,
  • Water Abstraction,
  • Holiday Accommodation,
  • Domestic Waste Water Systems ,
  • House Building and Planning ,
  • Food standards,
  • Farm management,
  • Land management,
  • Nitrates and watercourses,
  • Uplands,
  • Soil,
  • Forestry,
  • Access to countryside and coast,
  • Rural economy and communities,
  • Forestry,
  • National Parks,
  • Nature reserves,
  • Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty,
  • Common land,
  • Conservation ,
  • Industry organisations representing tenant farmers and landlords,
  • Rural Properties