Why are things changing?
Homeowners are currently responsible for the pipes that drain from their property into public sewers, including pipes that go beyond the property boundary. Many people are unaware of this until they are faced with large repair bills on pipes they didn’t know belonged to them.
To combat this, the Government has decided that some specific pipes, called private sewers and lateral drains, would be better looked after as part of the public sewer network – under the responsibility of private sewerage companies like South West Water or Thames Water Utilities Ltd.
What effect might this have on homeowners?
The Government has argued that this should be of benefit to homeowners. Problems with private sewers create unexpected bills for residents and can cause arguments between neighbours over responsibility. The legislation should reduce this greatly and give homeowners the peace of mind that future problems will be dealt with by their sewerage company.
There is no paperwork necessary on the side of the homeowner; the changes should be seamless.
Unfortunately, this will have a slight negative impact on water bills. The Government estimates that the cost to individual customers will be between £3 and £14 a year, but the changes won’t be immediate.
Are there any pipes that will not be transferred?
Pipes serving one property, within the property boundary, will remain the responsibility of the homeowner as private drains.
Privately owned septic tanks and cesspits, including their connecting pipe work, large multi-occupier commercial sites, and sewers that carry water directly to a watercourse will not transfer.
Private Pumping Stations: These will not be transferred immediately, but will change hands by October 2016. The gap is to allow sewerage companies to find and survey all these stations, to work out what works are required and to enable them to adopt them.
What happens when the local sewerage company has to carry out works on a public sewer within the boundary of a property?
Repairs or maintenance will only be carried out when it is necessary to address a current issue or reduce the likelihood of problems such as flooding occurring in the future. Where this is needed within the bounds of a privately owned property, the customer will always be informed in advance and the issue will be discussed with them, including reinstatement after the work. In emergency situations, notice may well be reduced.
Are there any planning connotations?
Once a sewer has been transferred to the sewerage company, you will need permission to build over it. This is already the case for sewers under sewerage company responsibility. It is important to gain permission and ensure that both the property and the sewer are adequately protected.
How might this affect insurance policies?
If a blockage or similar problem occurs, insurers may still be involved. It is therefore not recommended that homeowners cancel any existing insurance, especially in relation to drains within existing boundaries that remain your responsibility. You should refer directly to your insurer for guidance as to whether the cover you have is appropriate for your needs.
More information on the legislatory changes can be found on the Government website here.