Press release

Water customers no longer liable for sewerage repairs

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Water customers in England will no longer have to worry about being hit with surprise bills to repair blocked or damaged sewers, following changes that have come into force today.

The transfer of ownership was announced by Environment Minister Richard Benyon, and approved by Parliament earlier this year, and means that private sewers that run under properties, gardens or in the road, became the responsibility of water and sewerage companies from midnight last night.

This means that homeowners will no longer have to foot the bill for repairs that can run into thousands of pounds. Instead, water and sewerage companies will pay for work that is necessary.

Environment Minister Richard Benyon said:

“Today we have removed a financial hurdle that far too often people had to clear, to repair sewers that sometimes weren’t even on their property.

“This transfer will bring about a fairer approach and will also ensure a better maintained, less polluting, and more efficient sewerage system for the future.”

It is estimated that over £221 million is spent each year on sewer repairs and it is expected that the transfer will mean an improvement in the overall quality of the network by reducing the chance of problems happening in the first place.

Water and sewerage companies will have to apply to Ofwat setting out the case for any price increase to cover the cost of sewerage work and customers can therefore be sure that any future bill increases will be carefully scrutinised.

The transfer of private sewers will complete a process started in 1936 but never finished and puts everyone on an even footing, spreading the costs across all sewerage bill payers.

Pamela Taylor, Water UK’s Chief Executive, said:

“The transfer of private sewers is good news for customers. The industry is taking on responsibility for over two hundred thousand kilometers of pipes, some of which may be in poor condition. We don’t yet know how much of a backlog of maintenance, repair and renewal there will be but the transfer gives the industry the chance to work towards the long-term goal of having a sewerage network that is fit for the twenty-first century.”

Tony Smith, Chief Executive of the Consumer Council for Water, said: 

“The Consumer Council for Water supports the change in ownership for customers with private sewers as it will bring future benefits to customers by making expensive and unexpected bills for maintaining and repairing their private sewers a thing of the past.

“The industry does not know exactly how much this transfer will cost but it will come at a price. We will work closely with the water regulator, Ofwat, and the water and sewerage companies to ensure costs are spread over an appropriate period of time and challenge companies to minimise the impact on water bills.”

Notes

The transfer applies to private sewers (that is drains which are shared between two or more properties) and lateral drains (that is drains which serve one property but which lie outside that property’s curtilage).  Where drainage serves one property only and is within its curtilage, it will not be transferred and will remain the owner’s responsibility.

For more information on the transfer, please see the sewers section of the Defra website: www.defra.gov.uk/environment/quality/water/sewage/sewers/