English privates go public

Approximately 200,000 km of privately owned sewers and lateral drains in England will be transferred to water and sewerage companies from 2011.

Currently, if a private sewer or lateral drain needs repairing, the bill is picked up by householders, even if the problem is outside their property boundary. Most householders don’t even know the sewer or drain is their responsibility as it is not apparent when buying a property, and their insurance policies are unlikely to cover wear and tear.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said “Millions of householders are unwittingly sitting on the ticking financial time bomb of private sewers and lateral drains. They may not realise it, but if something goes wrong they have to pick up the bill. The transfer to water and sewerage companies will create a fairer system for all and save many households the agony of finding thousands of pounds to pay for repairs.”

It is estimated that well over half of all houses in England have a private sewer or lateral drain, the part of a drain that lies outside the property boundary. An extensive review of private sewers began in 2001, prompted by the concerns of householders and a consultation in 2003 revealed a high level of support for transfer. The costs of transfer will be met by an increase in the sewerage element of bills across the nine sewerage companies currently estimated to be around 7.5 pence to 23 pence a week.

Before the transfer can take place, the government has to introduce and consult on regulations and follow Parliamentary process. The water and sewage companies will then have to draw up schemes for the transfer of private sewers in their regions.

Private sewers stem from an arrangement that dates from 1936, before that time the 1875 Public Health Act had made all sewers public. The 1936 Public Health Act meant sewers were only public if they were already in place, laid or adopted by a sewerage undertaker.

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