CONFUSION over plans which require home owners whose properties are not connected to the public sewerage system to register their septic tank system with the Environment Agency by January 1, 2012 has been hotly debated at both community council and local authority level in recent weeks.

Speaking at recent meetings councillors have expressed their concern that residents are still unsure what the registration process entails and are frightened by the £20,000 fine if their system is not registered by the deadline.

The decision to register septic tanks was originally taken by the UK Government and the Welsh Ministers introduced it into the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010, which came into force on 6 April 2010.

Under these regulations, householders whose properties are not connected to the public sewerage system, but are served by a septic tank are required to register their septic tank with the Environment Agency.

However, the Westminster politicians have since deferred implementing the legislation in England, adding to the current confusion in Wales.

The Welsh Government has instructed the Environment Agency to continue with the registration scheme as they have evidence that septic tanks are having a negative impact on rivers, lakes, costal and ground waters. The government also believe there is also a danger that pollution from septic tanks could contaminate private water supplies from wells, boreholes and springs.

After being contacted by the Chronicle, the Environment Agency Wales has said it has now decided to contact septic tank owners in Wales directly asking them to register their septic tanks.

Knowing the location of septic tanks will help agency officers check for any poorly maintained septic tanks that could be the cause of pollution in the area. There are no plans to send inspectors out to examine septic tanks, although it is a condition of registration that all septic tanks should be well maintained to a good standard.

In Wales, for the majority of people, registration is a simple process, free of charge and a one off requirement. This approach differs to some other parts of the UK and some EU Member States where this form of legal control is often subject to a fee.

Single properties with up to nine occupants should qualify for an exemption. However, for larger septic tanks or those that discharge into a sensitive area, there may be a small charge as they will now need a permit.

Chris Mills, Director Environment Agency Wales has clarified the situation and said: "By law, people need to register by the end of December 2011, but in practice, the agency will not consider taking enforcement action against people who have not registered until after 30 June 2012.

"Anyone who is unaware of the requirement would always be given the opportunity to register or obtain a permit first.

"If you have a septic tank you will need to register with us.

"We are working to contact people through the post or you can go directly to our website if you know you need to register.

"For the majority of people, you will only need to fill in and return the form that the agency sends you and you will be registered. Following that, all we want is for people to maintain their septic tanks to a good standard to avoid any unintentional pollution.

"I have a septic tank myself and will need to register. It is relatively straightforward but if anyone has difficulties or a query about this process they should call our contact centre for help."

The Welsh Government's Environment Minister, John Griffiths added: "The registration of small sewage discharges is an important element in the management of diffuse pollution in Wales.

"Inefficient or badly maintained septic systems have the potential to discharge sewage that can cause significant pollution problems.

"Knowing the location of septic tanks combined with knowledge of the local area will help Environment Agency Wales understand where septic tanks are most likely to cause pollution problems and ensure that appropriate action plans are in place."