Our homes are connected to systems of drains and sewers, which function to carry away wastewater. If these pipes become blocked, we need to take steps to fix the issue and prevent ongoing problems. On encountering a blockage, what do you need to do and who is responsible for blocked drains?
Drains on your property
Drains within the boundary of your property are considered private drains. If a drain on your property becomes blocked, then it’s your responsibility to unblock it. You can attempt to unblock the drain yourself, or you can call a professional drainage company to do this for you. Taking out insurance is also an option to pay for fixing a private drain.
Lateral drains and sewers
Lateral drains are located outside your property, generally underneath the road or pavement. Lateral drains are the pipes which function to carry wastewater away from your home and into a sewer. These are connected to your private drains, yet they are not considered your responsibility. Lateral drains are publicly owned.
Sewers function to collect the waste and water from the drains of several different properties. Most sewers are publicly owned; however, there are still some privately owned sewers. If you have a private sewer, you could be liable to fix it, and you will need to contact your local sewerage company to find out.
When a drain or sewer is outside the boundaries of your property, it is the responsibility of the water company to fix the problem, at no cost to you. If you believe that a blockage has occurred in a lateral drain or sewer, you should call your water company.
If you have a drain that is shared with a neighbour, your local water company will be responsible for this drain. You will only be accountable for a private drain on your property that is not shared. For those who live in a block of flats, it is the management company who are liable for any repairs within the property boundary. The water company are again responsible for fixing the lateral drains that service the flats.
Tenant or Landlord
Generally speaking, if you rent your property, then the landlord will be responsible for all of the maintenance and repairs, including the drains. Minor blockages in sinks or toilets can usually be fixed by the tenants themselves. With the use of plungers or drain cleaners, it should be straightforward to deal with these small incidents of blockage.
Maintaining your drain
You must adequately maintain any drains that you own; blockages, cracks, or misconnected pipes can damage your drain and the surrounding areas of your home. Dirty water can end up in our rivers if any pipes are incorrectly attached or faulty. The environmental health department can instruct you to carry out maintenance on private drains should they see a problem, but you should try to keep on top of these issues yourself.
When you are maintaining a private drain, you should look out for signs of minor issues. It’s preferable to spot any problems early before they get worse. You may notice, for instance, deterioration such as leaks, cracks, or eroding pipes. If you have a blockage, you may notice foul smells or that wastewater drains away slowly.
If your sewer is private and you own the property, then it is your responsibility to repair any blockages and to make the associated payments. If the private sewer is serving several properties, then all owners will be obligated to pay for the repairs. If you are unsure whether your sewer is public or private, you can check with your local sewerage company to get this information.
Connect to a public sewer
According to the Water Industry Act 1991, the owner of a private sewer is entitled to have their sewer or drains connected to a public sewer. The owner or occupier of a premises in general, can also apply to connect to a public sewer. If you wish to apply, you can do this via an application form with your local water supplier. Here is the application form for the supplier Thames Water.
Requesting a company to adopt your sewer
In 2010, the government stated that the majority of private sewers and lateral drains would soon have full ownership by sewerage companies. According to Thames Water, up to 10 million homeowners were previously responsible for private sewers, yet many did not realise this until there was an issue which they had to fix. As a repercussion of this, many private sewers were left in bad condition. These reasons informed the decision to transfer the ownership of private sewers; from individuals to sewerage companies.
Any lateral drains or private sewers that were connected to a public sewer before 1st July 2011, were transferred in ownership on 1st October 2011. If you still own a lateral drain or sewer, that remained unaffected by this legislation, you can request that your local sewerage company adopt it from you.
When your property is in a rural location, you will likely have off- mains drainage. This type of drainage is a self-contained system connected to your property, or perhaps shared with your neighbours. There are three types of off-mains drainage; one is a cesspit, which is a holding tank that must be emptied approximately every eight weeks. Another is a septic tank; solid waste is kept in a tank and the liquid waste goes to a drainage field. Thirdly, sewage treatment plans involve compressed air that’s blown into a tank to break down waste. If you have a problem with any of these drainage systems you are responsible for the payments and repairs.
Further information on blocked drain responsibility
For further information on water and drainage services, you can look to Ofwat’s website. Ofwat is a water services regulation authority, responsible for the sewerage industry and the water sector. You can also take a look at the Water Industry Act if you would like to read more about water legislation, including the provision of sewerage services.