Sewers and Septic Tanks

1.         Private sewers – whose responsibility are they?

As the law currently stands, any drains or sewers which have not been adopted by the Water Authority are generally the responsibility of the homeowner until the point they reach the mains, including the connection.  This means that the cost of repair and maintenance will need to be funded by the owners who use that private drainage, which, if it is extensive, could prove very expensive.   Unfortunately, many homeowners are unaware of these on-going maintenance responsibilities until a problem occurs and they are hit by a potentially large bill.

On 1st October 2011, there will be an overnight transfer of ownership to the Water Authority of any sewer serving a single property only, but which is outside of the property boundary, and sewers within property boundaries which are shared with another property.  This will shift the financial burden for maintenance of these drains  to the Water Authority rather than the homeowner.

Between 1st July 2011 and 1st October 2011 the Water Authority will be serving notice on all homeowners who are potentially affected by the change informing them that their private sewers may be adopted.   If you receive a notice of this nature, and you are aggrieved by the proposal, then you can appeal to the Office of Water Services (“OFWAT” within two months of receipt of the notice.  If no appeals are received, then the sewers will be adopted from 1st October 2011.

As with all these things, there is a downside.  Although the responsibility for the repair and maintenance will pass to the Water Authority, the cost of any works will be passed on to the customers through increased water and sewerage bills.  The extra cost to the Water Authority will be spread across the whole customer base, and it is likely to add a few pounds to all customer’s bills depending on the amount of maintenance required, i.e. the extra cost of wear and tear of these pipes, the number of blockages, and the Water Services Regulation Authority’s charges.  Also remember any sewer within the property boundary which is solely used by the property will remain the sole responsibility of the homeowner. 

In this way it is estimated that 220,000 kilometres of private sewers and lateral drains will be adopted by the Water Authorities, which is hoped will reduce neighbour disputes over repair costs and will provide an improved way of managing the sewerage network.

For more information regarding sewers in the local area please go to:  Further information regarding sewers outside the local area can be found on the relevant Water Authority’s website.

2.         Septic Tanks – new registration regime

If your property does not drain into the mains but you have a septic tank or other private sewerage treatment plant then you must register that plant with the Environment Agency.  If your system discharges into a stream or river you need to register now.  If your system discharges into the ground you must register by 1st January 2012.  For small systems, generally where there are fewer than nine people living in the property, registration is free.  The Environment Agency needs to know where all the systems are so that they can focus their work where they are contributing to environmental problems.  For further information please see: 

Before buying a property it is important that you are aware of the drainage responsibilities attached to that property and instruct a solicitor to carry out the necessary searches and advise you accordingly.  If you would like to discuss the contents of this artice, either private sewers or septic tanks  in more detail please contact Jane Witek or Nadia Santry in our Residential Conveyancing Department on 01242 574 244.