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Septic tanks

This advice applies to Scotland

This information applies to Scotland only

If you live in a rural area and your home is not connected to the mains drainage you are likely to have a septic tank. Its purpose is to treat the waste water from your property and maybe several adjoining properties. It is up to you and your neighbours, if they use it too, to make sure that the septic tank works efficiently. The purpose of the septic tank is to treat all the waste water from your property. There is more information about septic tanks on the Scottish Water website.

Scottish Environment Protection Agency register of septic tanks

You (and any other users of the septic tank) have to register with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) that you have a septic tank. You can find out more, including how to register online and what it costs, on the SEPA website. This is a one off cost.

The registration means that you have authorisation to use the septic tank.

If you’re unsure whether your septic tank is already registered, you can ask SEPA to check. Find out more on the SEPA website.

When you move to a property with a septic tank it is the responsibility of your qualified conveyancer or solicitor to check that the registration has been done. If the details of the property are not already on the register then they should be added when the property changes hands. Find out more about using a conveyancer to buy a home.

SEPA don’t hold maintenance records for septic tanks or drainage fields/soakaways. If a buyer wants to know about the condition of a septic tank, they should contact the seller and could request maintenance records. Septic tanks should be emptied on a regular basis, so there should be a record of payment that the service has been carried out.

Building a new home

You may decide or have to decide to use a septic tank because of where you are building.

There is useful information on the Scottish Environment Protection Agency website about what you need to do and what consent is required. You should also have help from an architect, builder or planning officer to sort this out.

How does a septic tank work

A septic tank works like a basic sewage treatment works. The waste material settles in the tank and is then digested by natural bacteria. Over time partially decomposed solids collect at the bottom and form a sludge. This material has to be removed by de-sludging. When you use a septic tank you have to make sure that:

  • it is secure and in good working order
  • the drains to and from the septic tank are free-flowing and free from blockages.

Your local authority environmental health department may be able to help you if you have problems with your septic tank. They may have a list of local contractors who can maintain and mend septic tanks.

Shared use

You might have problems agreeing with those that share the septic tank about:

  • how to maintain your septic tank, for example the secure lids, or
  • what to do if it needs to be replaced, or
  • how to apportion costs for desludging (because properties are different sizes).

You must try to agree about how to maintain your septic tank. Check if you have rules in your title deeds about the maintenance of the septic tank.

If a repair is required to make the tank safe under the current water regulations and the owners can't agree, one owner can organise the repair by serving a notice on all the owners. The other owners can appeal against the notice. All the owners will be responsible for sharing the costs of the repair and any legal costs (legal note 2).

If you fail to check it properly and there is a leak because of poor maintenance you could have a statutory notice issued to force you to maintain, repair or improve the septic tank. Find out more about resolving neighbour problems.

Septic tank blockages and overflows

You are the person who uses the tank

Any septic tank blockages or overflows are the responsibility of those that use the tank. If you don’t fix the problem and there is some discharge you are causing pollution and can be prosecuted for causing a statutory nuisance.

You want to report a leaking septic tank

If you want to report someone for failing to fix a problem of seepage from the septic tank you can contact Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and provide the details. If the leak has seeped into land or water that may mean other people could come to harm this is a statutory nuisance (legal note 1).

If it is urgent you can phone your local SEPA offices. There are 25 across Scotland and you can find the nearest on the SEPA websiteYou might find it useful to use our guidance on writing a letter [ 46 kb].

Supply of a septic tank

Septic tanks range in price from several hundred to several thousand pounds. You should contact your local authority environmental health department as they may have information about local stockists. A local firm may have a maintenance contract that you can also draw up at the time of purchase. If this is in writing it will be evidence of the contract although a verbal agreement may also be enough to have a contract.

Desludging a septic tank

You can choose to use the service provided by Scottish Water or a private firm. If you choose the services of a private firm you should make a contract with them.

Desludging service from Scottish Water

You can choose between:

  • a scheduled service – this is a planned service with desludging at regular intervals and you will be asked to sign a contract for this service
  • an unscheduled service - if you give Scottish Water at least 5 days notice it can call to desludge at your request. This service is more expensive than the scheduled service.

If you have a serious problem that needs attention immediately there is an emergency service called an Urgent Response service. Scottish Water will try to provide the service within 2 working days. This is the most expensive service for desludging.

Charges for desludging

If you use Scottish Water to desludge your septic tank its charges are based on standard sizes and reasonable access to the septic tank. If your tank does not match the specifications and conditions for the standard charges Scottish Water may still be able to desludge the tank but will quote a price for your tank.

To arrange desludging contact the Customer Helpline on 0800 0778778

You will get a bill within 30 days for any desludging. If you don’t pay it Scottish Water will refuse to come back to your septic tank to desludge it on another occasion.

To check the current charges for desludging go to the Scottish Water website.

Paying for sewerage services

You do not have to pay for sewerage services from the local authority on your council tax bill. The septic tank should provide all the sewerage service that you need.

Legal notes

1 Under section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990

2 Under part 6, section 37 of the Water Resources (Scotland) Act 2013

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