Septic Tanks - What You Need To Know

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Septic Tank Registration Fee - Who is Liable?
  • If your residential property is connected to a domestic waste water treatment system, by law, it must be registered by 1st February 2013.
How much?
·         The registration fee is €5 until 28th September 2012 increasing to €50 after that date.  The reduced registration is to encourage registration.
·         The fee is payable only on initial registration. There will be no subsequent fee for re-registering (every 5 years to keep register up-to-date).
How do I register?
  1. Online at,
  2. By Post: Forms in City/County Councils, libraries and Citizens Information Centres or LoCall1890-800 800 for information. Cheques made Payable: ‘Protect Our Water’ and post to: Domestic Wastewater Systems Registration P.O Box 12204, D1
  3. At your Local Authority Office (no admin fee)

Why (2 main reasons)?

  1. By protecting our water, we protect our environment, our health and our jobs
·         Tourism – protect green image for tourists (swimming/cycling/water sports)
·         Agricultural – good ground/water quality
·         Food production – Harvest 2020
·         Attracting foreign investment - depend on having clean water.
·         Health  - outbreak of Cryptosporidium in Galway caused human health risks
  1. ECJ case: Ensure compliance with the European Court of Justice ruling against Ireland in October 2009. The early enactment of the legislation is a critical element in Ireland’s defence against the imposition of fines by the Court. The defence was filed on 3rd February last and the fact that the primary legislation had already been enacted at that time was received favourably by the European Commission. 
  2. ECJ Fines: Ireland will be the subject of significant fines by the Court if we do not comply with ruling. €4 million lump sum and daily fines for continued non-compliance of more than €26,000 per day (equivalent to more than €9.5 million per annum).
  3. Failing systems can: contaminate groundwater, effect the quality of drinking water, create human health risks, contribute to lakes, rivers, estuaries and beaches becoming unfit for swimming, gathering seafood and the aquaculture industry,

What are the standards I have to achieve?
  • Owners of septic tanks/ on-site treatment systems must ensure that their systems do not cause a risk to human health or the environment.
  • Irrespective of the age or type of treatment system in place, unless there is evidence of endangerment of human health or the environment, the septic tank or on-site system will pass inspection. 
  • Homeowners are responsible for their systems (need to maintain it like you would a central heating system).
  • If a system is defective it is the owners, their families and their neighbours who will be at most immediate risk.
  • Guidelines:
1.       Know where your septic tank is located;
2.       Owner must operate and maintain the system so it is fit for purpose and fully operational;
3.       The system can not pollute the environment by discharging/leaking waste anywhere it is not supposed to ie. Into the ground or any water source ;
4.       Roof water or surface water run-off can not enter a domestic waste water treatment system;
5.       The system should be de-sludged at intervals appropriate to the tank capacity and the number of persons resident in the premises connected to it or as recommended by the system’s manufacturer.

How do I know if I need to de-sludge?
  • The frequency of de-sludging is dependent on the size of the tank and the number of persons living in the house.
  • Best practice - the level of sludge on the bottom of the tank is greater than approximately 400 mm. A minimum of 75mm of sludge should remain in the tank to assist in the re-seeding of the new sludge.
  •  Regular maintenance is required to ensure that the septic tank operates effectively and that solids do not enter the percolation area and clog the distribution pipe work.
  • Owners should ensure that they get a receipt from the permitted waste undertaker who de-sludges the tank.  (Receipt should include: name, address and permit number of the waste collector,  date of de-ludging; quantity removed and destination to where the sludge is to be taken for treatment and disposal/recovery. )
Who can take the sludge?
  • Only waste contractors with appropriate waste collection permits should be employed to de-sludge a septic tank or DWWTS.
  • A list of approved permit holders is available from the Environment Section of your Local Authority or from The Waste Permit and Certification of Registration Database - Environmental Protection Agency, Ireland
  • Farmers can de-sludge their own tanks only and spread it on their land strictly in accordance with the requirements of the Waste Management (Use of Sewage Sludge in Agriculture) Regulation, S.I. No. 148/1998, as amended.
  • Permitted waste collectors can also dispose of sludge’s by landspreading where their Waste Collection Permit allows them to do so strictly in accordance with the requirements of the Waste Management (Use of Sewage Sludge in Agriculture) Regulation, S.I. No. 148/1998, as amended.
How to tell if there is a problem with your system?
Some of the signs that your system may not be operating correctly are:
  • There are foul odours around the system or the percolation area;
  • There is an excessive amount of vegetation growing in the percolation area;
  • The area around the system or percolation area is soggy;
  • Your drains or toilets are running slowly or overflowing.
What about greywater?
  • The Regulations do not refer to grey-water as the existing definitions of waste water in the Water Services Acts 2007 ensure that greywater is adequately addressed. 
  • It is quite common in older properties to have some greywater discharged separately from the house to a soakaway. This situation is acceptable.
  • As long as the soackaway is not polluting and is maintained there will be no problem.
    How likely am I to be inspected?
  • Risk Based approached – targeted to areas where drinking water sources or habitats are likely to be, or have been, impacted upon.
  • EPA has responsible for inspection plan and its work has not completed yet.
  • No decisions have been made regarding the numbers, locations or criteria of targeting inspections.
  • However, there is likely to be an increased focus on non-registered systems as time passes.
What if my septic tank is polluting?
  • If a problem is identified then it is the responsibility of the property owner to fix it.
·         The remediation work will depend on the promblem and extent of the risk to public health or the environment.  
·         LAs will advise howners re: remediation options and most appropriate and cost-effective solutions.
·         Planning permissions will not be required for any remedial works.
·         An advisory notice requesting remediation of the problem will be issued by the relevant water services authority. 

Will there be grants?
  • The Minister has stated that he will keep the need for grants or other assistance under review until inspections commence in 2013. - No decision will be made until 2013.
  • If you have not registered you may not be eligible for a grant.
  • Any grants scheme will have to have regard to the overall budgetary situation and the financial position of the individual households concerned.
  • Cases of financial hardship will be dealt with sympathetically and a solution will be found. 
Will I receive a bill?
  • You will not receive a bill it is up to you, the owner to register your system
  • Local Authorities will distribute an information leaflet and an application form to households they believe have a septic tank. 
  • There will be a national radio and newspaper advertising campaign
Why can’t I pay in An Post or other retail outlets? 
  • My Department consulted with An Post regarding stocking the application forms in their outlets free of charge. Unfortunately, An Post took the view that there was not a business case to do so without a commitment to allow them to take payment over the counter.
  • We were not in a position to give them that commitment due to procurement restrictions.
  • There were a number of other reasons why we did not have a procurement process for payment over the counter in retail outlets, in particular the cost that would have been involved, the fact that this is a once-off payment and the consequent delays in commencing the registration system.
·         In any event, I believe the most appropriate place to pay/get information/collect a form is through your  LA – as they are ultimately responsible for delivering the system, so they are in the best position to communicate with the local community on the regulations, registration system and the inspections.
·         I want to build strong relationship with the septic tank owners and the LAs.
Are there any exemptions from registration and fee?
  • No – all owners of domestic waste water treatment systems must register and pay the fee.
What does my money pay for, why a reduction in the cots?
  • There are many costs associated with the administration and inspection of the scheme which will need to be funded by the registration fee.
  • The risk-based approach agreed with the Commission a few months ago has allowed for a reduction in the fee.
  • The new system will be less expensive to operate but will be equally as effective in protecting public health and the environment.
How much will it cost?
  • It is not possible to give an estimate of the cost of remediation for a defective septic tank. The extent of remediation that will be required will depend on the condition of the individual system and the extent of the risk to public health and the environment
  • The inspection system introduced by Cavan County Council, based on bye-laws enacted in that county in 2004, revealed an initial failure rate of approximately 25% of on-site systems, with remediation costs averaging €2,500.  However, the enactment of the bye-laws and the related public information campaigns rolled-out by Cavan County Council, have increased householders’ awareness of the necessity to operate and maintain their systems correctly and the failure rate has, over the intervening years, decreased to 11%.
How will the inspections work?
  • Local authority officials or people appointed by LAs.
  • Only persons who have been appointed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be permitted to carry out inspections - Strict criteria will apply.
  • Inspections are likely to commence in 2013 and will be on a risk-based system.
  • Based on experiences with inspections in County Cavan, the majority of systems that will be inspected are likely to be working well.
  • No new standards are being introduced and there is no question of imposing EPA's 2009 Code on older properties. The systems must be in working order, that’s all.
  • You can appeal a decision made by the local authorities. There will be a €20 charge, and that will reimbursed if the decision is reversed by the local authority.
  • People need to be careful and make sure that they only grant access to their property if they have received a formal letter from their local authority notifying them of the pending inspection. They should not allow anyone access unless they have received the letter and if the inspector has valid identification. At least 20 working days notice of inspection will be given.
How many septic tanks are in the country?
  • 497,281 septic tanks/on-site waste water treatment systems according Census 2011
  • We will have County by county figures in  August.

What happens if I don’t register or fix my tank if there is a problem with it?
  • It will be a matter for the courts.
  • Failure to comply with registration requirements is an offence.
  • The maximum penalty for an individual is a fine of €5,000
  • There is no provision for the imprisonment of persons for offences committed.
Fianna Fail Sludge
  • The Renewed Programme for Government, agreed between Fianna Fáil and the Green Party on 10 October 2009 states on page 24 “We will introduce a scheme for the licensing and inspection of septic tanks and wastewater treatment systems”.
  • FFs Septic Tank Performance Standards which they circulated to 180 stakeholders in 2010 shows that their objections to the legislation is blatant hypocrisy. Two things in particular stand out:
    • They were suggesting a universal inspection regime, unlike the current risk-based system;
    • Part of their criteria was based on the EPA’s Code of Practice guidelines published in 2009. There is no question of people having to upgrade their septic tanks to comply with the EPA’s 2009 Code of Practice. That only applies to new tanks being installed
  • Ireland now faces substantial penalties and fines from the ECJ. We are in this situation due to the lack of prioritisation given to the matter by the previous Government. This Government has acted decisively and without delay.
  • Regardless of the swift action taken by this Government we may still be liable for the lump sum fine of €4million.  The ECJ is expected to consider the issue of fines and penalties later this year.
How would you know you have a septic tank?
  • If you are unsure, you should contact your local authority who will know if you are connected to their sewerage network.
How can I get connected to the sewage system? “Am I entitled to this public service.”
  • If your house is located near a local authority sewer network, this is something that may need to be considered.
Is information on septic tanks not recorded by the planning system?
  • The Planning and Development Act 1963 came into force in October 1964 and records of developments carried out since then are held by the planning authorities. 
  • However, many properties constructed since 1964 have since been sold, sometimes more than once, and the planning records do not contain details of changes of ownership.
  • Ownership details regarding properties constructed before 1964 are not held. 
Why not use data collected elsewhere to set up the register?
  • It is not possible to use the information  for  Census.  That information collected may be used only for statistical purposes
  • There are no data-sharing provisions in the legislation to share information from the Household Charge Registration.
What rights do you have to come on to my property?
  • Extensive powers of access to property, particularly where there may be a risk of pollution, for authorised persons of local authorities are provided for under the legislation
  •  The powers reflect the potential seriousness of the risk to public health and the environment .
  • Owners will received a formal letter from their local authority notifying them of the pending inspection. 20 working days notice of inspection will be given.
What happens if I register twice?
You can apply for a refund
If tank passes inspection – is there a certificate issued?
  • Where a system is inspected and is found to be compliant, the inspector has to notify the owner within 21 days. This will not be a certification of the system, just an indication that system “passed” the inspection.
What happens where three or four houses are on one septic tank?
  • All owners must register separately.
Is the Group Scheme Grant per household going to be increased?
  • This will be kept under review in the light of funding available under the Rural Water Programme.
Who will maintain Register of Inspectors?
  • The EPA will establish and maintain the register of inspectors.  A copy will be made available to the WSAs
What if the septic tank is located on third party lands?
  • Extensive powers of access to property for authorised persons of the water services authorities are provided for under Section 22 of the Water Services Act 2007 and are also included in the Water Services (Amendment) Act 2012. 
  • The powers reflect the seriousness of the risk to public health and the environment posed by inadequately maintained or malfunctioning on-site systems. 
I want to sell my house – do I need to get an inspection of the septic tank?
  • The legislation provides that only proof of registration is required upon sale.
If the septic tank doesn’t comply with planning permission (e.g. it is in the wrong location), will I automatically fail the septic tank inspection?
  • If the system is not causing pollution it will pass inspection and whether or not it complies with planning conditions does not affect this.
 By protecting our water, we protect our environment, our health and our jobs

 More detailed Q&A can be found on

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