From today (1st October) ownership of all private sewers and lateral drains will be transferred to water companies pursuant to the Water Industry (Schemes for Adoption of Private Sewers) Regulations 2011 which came into force on 1 July 2011.
These regulations represent the government's aim to improve the sewerage system in England and Wales.
The regulations seek to address two concerns: firstly, the perceived unfairness to private sewer owners who pay sewerage charges but yet are also responsible, often without realising, for the maintenance of private sewers, and secondly, the financial burden and uncertainty or inability to maintain private media under third party land.
The regulations apply to all private sewers and lateral drains which drain to the public sewerage system.
Sewers are those which drain foul and surface water from more than one building, or buildings within the same curtilage. A lateral drain is that part of a drain which takes foul and surface water away from an individual property and which lies outside the curtilage of that property.
So from today, all private sewers and lateral drains which drain to a public sewer before 1 July 2011 will be transferred to the regulated sewerage companies. (There are technical provisions for those after 1 July 2011).
Water companies now own and are responsible for sewers and lateral drains including those therefore which may not been constructed or maintained to an adoptable standard. The sewerage companies will have no bond or other security to call upon to pay the costs of bringing the sewers and drains up to standard.
It is considered that the change in responsibility will impact on about half of all properties in England and Wales. There are also concerns that water companies will increase bills in response as the transfer of private sewers into company ownership will see the companies take on new responsibilities and costs. There is a fear that there will be an increase in customers' bills to pay for this extra work.
Harbinder Babra, a spokeswoman from Ofwat is reported on www.myfinances.co.uk as having said that "from 1 October, the companies will have work to assess the state of the sewers. We will not allow any [price] increases until companies are able to provide us with robust evidence on the cost impacts. We will then challenge and scrutinise a company's proposal to ensure customers get a fair deal and bill increases are kept as low as possible for customers."
However, Babra also says that: "Companies need to have robust evidence if they are seeking bill increases. They need to plan and understand both the costs and the impact that any change to bills will have on their customers."
According to information on the website for Consumer Council for Water, the exact affect on bills will be uncertain until the sewerage companies have assessed how many private sewers and lateral drains they are taking on. They will then be able to calculate exact costs and inform their customers of the increases that may be applied to bills.