Owners of properties not connected to mains drainage should be aware of new registration requirements for discharge consents, under the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010. This affects those with septic tanks or treatment plants - cesspools, being closed systems, will not normally need to be registered, but you may wish to check with the Environment Agency.

Existing discharge consents or groundwater permits (prior to 6 April 2010) are now automatically Environmental Permits, subject (where applicable) to the same conditions. Unless you already hold one of these, or an Environmental Permit issued since 6 April 2010, you must register with the Agency. This can be done online or by a paper application: it is free, and once only, and will either confirm that your discharge is exempt from permit requirement, or that you will need to apply for a permit (for which an application fee is payable). Small discharges of five cubic metres daily to surface waters or two cubic metres daily to ground waters will normally be entitled to exempt status.

The registration requirements check the basis of interaction with water resources, including proximity to any nature conservation area, and set out obligations as to sludge disposal and maintenance, (including a five year record keeping requirement). New systems, installed after 6 April 2010, must comply with British Standards.

For discharges to ground waters, you have until 1 January 2012 to register, but discharges to rivers or streams must be registered immediately. The Agency can take enforcement action against outlets which they believe require permits or cannot show exempt status, and breach could lead to a fine or even imprisonment.

More details, including how to register, and fees payable for permit applications, are available from the Agency's website.