When drains and sewers become blocked, or repairs are required, there is often confusion about who has responsibility.
There is an important distinction between drains and sewers:-
- A drain is a pipe which carries foul and/or surface water from one property
- A sewer is a pipe which carries foul and/or surface water from more than one property; thus when two drains join, the pipe becomes a sewer.
- Other definitions of note include a...
- lateral drain is that part of a drain which serves a single property but which lies outside that property’s curtilage
- pumping station means that part of a sewer or lateral drain which is a pumping station and includes the rising main (the pressurised pipe that connects the pumping station with the rest of the sewer or lateral drain)
How do I know if it is my drain that is blocked?
If your drain is blocked you will usually know because your waste will stop going away when you flush the toilet, or gullies outside will overflow. There will also probably be a smell. Private drains/sewers are the responsibility of the owner-occupier and any other properties connected to it.
Why does the council become involved?
If a blockage or defect occurs in a drain or private sewer and it is not rectified, the council has legal powers that enable it to require the clearance of any blockage, or the undertaking of any necessary repair works, so as to prevent conditions prejudicial to health arising.
This may include the service of a notice. Failure to comply with such a notice is an offence and can lead to prosecution. If the works detailed in the notice are not carried out, the council may also undertake the works and recover their costs, plus an administration charge, from those responsible.
Household insurance may cover the costs of any such works providing it is not due to normal wear and tear. If repairs are required you should let your insurance company know as soon as possible.
This information has set out some of the issues, which often arise concerning drains and sewers. If you are unclear as to who has responsibility for drains and sewers in your area please complete an Environment Health Enquiry.
Prevent drainage problems
- Never cover over manhole lids - they may have to be lifted up to gain access to the pipework if the drains block
- Check there is no loose brickwork in manhole chambers - loose bricks may fall and block the system
- Do not extend a house over the line of drainage pipes or manholes without taking specialist advice
- Changing underground drainage is likely to require Building Regulation approval
- Do not pour anything into the drains that will solidify and block them eg. fat, plaster, or cement
- It is dangerous and illegal to discharge toxic and flammable chemicals such as oil, petrol, paraffin, etc. into the drains
- Do not try to clear blockages with anything apart from proper drainage rods. Lengths of timber, garden canes, etc. are not suitable and may cause further problems
- Items such as paper towels, disposable nappies, incontinence pads etc. should not be put down the drains
- It is unwise to plant trees or large shrubs near the line of a drain or sewer as the roots can penetrate the pipes and cause a major obstruction
- When plumbing in an automatic washing machine or other appliance, make sure it discharges into the foul drains
The owners/occupiers of a house are solely responsible for maintaining a private drain, clearing blockages and repairing any faults in it. However they are only able to commission work within the private drain, they have no authority to commission work within the lateral drain without first contacting their Water and Sewerage company, such as Severn Trent, for confirmation on how to proceed.
Ownership of most sewers and lateral drains which connect to the public sewer system is with the water and sewerage companies that cover England and Wales, such as Severn Trent. Therefore they are responsible for the maintenance of these sewers and lateral drains. If blockages or defects occur in these pipes, then you should contact your local water and sewerage company. Please check with your local water and sewerage company, as there may be exemptions to what they are responsible for.
Who do I contact?
Last Updated on Thursday, December 15, 2022