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Craven District Council

Septic tanks and cesspools

Septic Tanks and Cesspools can be effective ways of dealing with foul drainage provided they are managed correctly.

If your property is not located near to a public sewer system your only alternative to dispose of your waste is a private sewage treatment system, examples of which are cesspools and septic tanks

What Is A Cesspool?

A cesspool or cesspit is a sealed underground storage tank that retains the sewage until the time of disposal. It may be brick or block construction or manufactured in steel or reinforced glass fibre and have minimum capacity of 18,000 litres.

Where Can A Cesspool Be Sited?

A cesspool should be sited so that there is no risk of polluting water supplies and for preference as far as possible from any inhabited building.

Can A Cesspool Go Wrong?

The tank can overflow or may leak which is an offence under the 1936 Public Health Act. In addition if it pollutes a watercourse, the Environment Agency may take legal proceedings under the Water Resources Act 1991. This can lead up to a fine of £20,000 and 3 months imprisonment.

If it leaks a drainage engineer should be called out to remove the waste and clear up the sewage. The cause of the leak should be identified and remedied.

What Is A Septic Tank?

A septic tank is a type of biological sewage treatment system. Naturally occurring bacteria break down the solid matter, reducing its volume. The liquid element is discharged usually via effluent drainage systems "soakaways" The accumulated solids need only be pumped out occasionally by a licensed contractor.

Like cesspools, they may be constructed in brick or blocks, although modern types are pre-formed in reinforced fibreglass. More efficient systems have now been developed to produce a better quality of effluent that can be discharged direct to a watercourse. Consent to discharge the treated effluent may be required from the Environment Agency.

Where Can A Septic Tank Be Sited?

The tank should ideally be sited away from housing. Please contact Building Control Office at the Council for more specific advice.

What Are Percolation Tests?

Percolation tests need to be carried out to ensure that there is sufficient land to take the water away from a septic tank or a similar installation. The tests should be carried out following BS6297: 1983 to determine the size of the effluent drains or soakaways, which should be sited 6 meters from a water course. It may not always be possible to install soakaways soil conditions or other factors such as ground water levels may make them inapplicable. In this case you will need to consider some other form of drainage. Before constructing soakaways it is a requirement to obtain"Consent to Discharge" from the Environment Agency. The Councils Building Control department will also advise you on how to perform the percolation test.

How Do I Avoid Problems?


  • check the level in the tank regularly
  • do not let it overfill
  • have it emptied at regular intervals: these will become more frequent if you install a dishwasher for instance

Septic tanks:

  • do not use excessive amounts of household detergents or bleaches; these upset the biological balance of the system
  • do not overload the system by connecting rain or water drains to septic tanks or cesspools.

What If I Have A Problem?

Problems occur only very rarely, but should be remedied as quickly as possible. If you are unable to locate the problem and deal with it yourself, call out a specialist contractor. It may be necessary to have the tank emptied check the contractor can provide this service.

How Can The Council Help?

The Council can provide advice on septic tanks and cesspools as well as investigate complaints of nuisance from drainage systems, leaking tanks or defective soakaways for instance, and require the owner or owners to remedy the problem. Failure to do so can result in legal action against the person responsible under the Public Health or Building Acts.

My Neighbour's Septic Tank/Cesspool Appears To Be Overflowing. What Can I Do?

To maintain good neighbour relations, you may wish to discuss the problem with them, as they may not know that there is a problem. If this does not work then contact the Environmental Protection Team.

How Can I Have A Cesspool Or Septic Tank Emptied?

Craven District Council does not provide this service. Please refer to local business directories for details of local contractors