New regulations for the control of discharges to water will affect many conveyancing transactions of properties served by septic tanks

A major change for the management of the water environment in Scotland was introduced on 1 April 2006: the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2005. These regulations, known as the Controlled Activities Regulations, replace the current point source pollution control regime currently regulated under the Control of Pollution Act 1974 (as amended), or CoPA. The new regulations also bring in new controls for abstractions, impoundments and engineering works (in rivers and lochs).

The new regulations (or “CAR”) require all “controlled activities” to be authorised either by general binding rule (GBR), registration or licence. Septic tanks are controlled activities under CAR and will therefore require authorisation.

Consents transferred

Septic tank discharges currently authorised by a CoPA consent will be transferred automatically into CAR and will be deemed as registered. The only exception is where consent holders are being charged under the current CoPA charging scheme, but these consent holders will have been already contacted directly by SEPA to enable transfer into the new regime.

It is an offence under CAR to carry out a “controlled activity” without authorisation. Discharges to the water environment, including all discharges from septic tanks, are controlled activities. All currently unauthorised septic tank discharges and any new septic tank discharges from domestic septic tanks serving 15 people or fewer (population equivalent) require registration.

Soakaway letout plugged

A key difference between CoPA and CAR is that under CAR, septic tanks with discharges to land via full soakaway are controlled activities and therefore now require registration. Under CoPA these discharges did not require consent. This means that large numbers of septic tanks will not be CAR compliant after 1 April 2006.

For all existing unauthorised domestic septic tank discharges from less than 15 population equivalent, SEPA will expect registration to be made at the point of house sale to ensure that the regulations are being complied with. Conveyancers should ensure that this occurs when dealing with rural properties.

The proposed charge for applications to register is £94, a considerable saving over the current £253 charge for an equivalent CoPA consent. SEPA will also provide an online web registration facility for a reduced proposed charge of around £70. This facility should be available by summer 2006.

Quicker time

Another important change is that under CAR, SEPA must determine an application for registration within 30 days, compared to four months under CoPA.

All other discharges of sewage or trade effluent should already hold a consent under CoPA and should already be transferred into the CAR regime. Operators of any such discharges which do not hold a CoPA consent should apply for a CAR authorisation as soon as possible after 1 April 2006.

Any applications for sewage discharges from greater than 15 population equivalent will require a licence application, with associated increases in charges. Applications for licences have a four-month determination period.

Information on the proposed charges and general advice on the new regulations can be obtained from the SEPA website at, or by calling 08452 30 30 62.

Share this article
Add To Favorites