It is a common misconception amongst owners that responsibility for the drains and sewers serving their Property is a fairly simple matter. Whilst readily acknowledging responsibility for the grids, gullies and drains next to their house, they often believe that the Council are responsible for everything else.
In fact, the drain serving a Property is the owner's responsibility until it joins the public sewer which is usually situated under the road. Where one drain joins another, a sewer is created and remains in private ownership, and the joint private responsibility of those connected to it, until the point of connection to the public sewer owned by the Local Authority.
The UK Government used powers under the Water Industry Act 1991 to enact the Water Industry (Schemes For Adoption of Private Sewers) Regulations 2011 bringing about a change which came into force on 1st April 2011 to transfer private sewers and drains to the ownership of the local Sewerage Undertaker from 1st October 2011 ('the Transfer'). The effect of this is that the homeowner will no longer be accountable for costly repairs. The burden of maintenance and repair instead falls to the local Sewerage Undertaker, creating a far more integrated sewerage network.
The Transfer required no action by owners of private sewers to make it happen and includes manholes, ventilating shafts, pumps, inspection chambers and other machinery or equipment. Surface water sewers were generally not part of the Transfer.
The costs of necessary future improvements and maintenance will be met by an increase in the sewage element of water bills, with a likely increase in water bills of around £3 to £14 per annum across water and sewerage companies in England.
However, as these drains and sewers are now public assets within the boundary of a property, Sewerage Undertakers have a statutory right of access to the property. The Transfer may also have an impact on the future development of properties: the landowner is not allowed to build over a drain or sewer as the local Sewerage Undertaker will need access to it and the building over it may damage it.
If the homeowner wishes to retain ownership of a drainage pipe then they need to appeal to OFWAT.