Online sewer connections

Confusion and upheaval may still surround the transfer of private drains and sewers, but a new Facebook-style website is helping drainage professionals connect on key issues. On behalf of UKDP, Marie-Claire Kidd explains

Transfer of privately owned drains and sewers is bringing previously disparate stakeholders into closer contact than ever. But water & sewerage companies (WaSCs), insurers, housing associations and local authorities share a problem; they are all uncertain about how they will work together to resolve issues under the new regime.

Once Defra had released its guidance on transfer, Water UK created its own version for the WaSCs. Legal and policy adviser, David Strang, says Defra’s guidance is not userfriendly, and the government has made clear that, “There won’t be statutory guidance, basically ever.” Water UK’s aim was, he says, to publish something more helpful.

The lack of clarity means that local authorities face confusion around their roles and legal powers over WaSCs. A survey by UK Drainage Protocol (UKDP) found that 44% of environmental health practitioners believe they can serve statutory nuisance notices on transferred systems if a serious defect remains unresolved by WaSCs, but a further 30% disagree.

All these professionals now have a new way to discuss drainage and sewerage issues with each other, during and beyond transfer. The Drainage Hub makes the most of online networking technology, connecting professionals across WaSCs, councils, housing associations, contractors and insurers.

Social media
Like Facebook and LinkedIn, the Hub is free to join and makes communication easy, through building connections, messaging, working groups and forums. Uniquely, its drainage industry-specific tools can also help water industry users deliver time and cost efficiencies and improve customer satisfaction.

Sam Warren of Drainage Hub developer UK Drainage Protocol says: “It’s crucial that these parties communicate effectively and establish effective ways of working, predominantly from a customer satisfaction perspective but also from a cost and time efficiencies point of view.

“Lack of communication and agreed processes could create significant issues, with homeowners going from pillar to post and WaSCs potentially having to fight off attempted legal cases from local authorities.

“In addition, our research shows that one in five defects could straddle what will be the new boundary between adopted and private ownership. If a defect identified by the WaSC contractor straddles the boundary, how will they handle it? Should WaSCs risk leaving site with the customer dissatisfied, or write off what could become a significant cost of completing repairs on private drains?”

Protocol
Attempts to agree a protocol between insurers and WaSCs have so far been unsuccessful. Warren explains: “Each WaSC may have a different approach. It proved very difficult to produce a detailed agreement that all parties would sign up to.

“We believe a formal protocol isn’t actually needed. It’s a case of establishing a simple, effective process WaSCs and their contractors can use as and when they require.”

The Drainage Hub’s solution is its Claims Assistant. A purpose built insurance claim management tool
for WaSCs and their contractors, it facilitates recovery of costs and agreement of scope on repairs straddling the boundary between privately and WaSC-owned drains and sewers. And by registering claims on behalf of the homeowner, it removes the need for them to contact their insurer.

“The Claims Assistant removes all administration from WaSCs and their contractors, presenting claims to insurance industry specifications, handing insurer liaison and obtaining approval for private sections of repair,” says Sam. “It enables them to repair private drains with insurer approval.”

Communication
The Hub also helps WaSCs communicate directly with councils and housing associations. Its Hot Spot Manager enables local authority and housing association users to highlight drainage systems with a history of issues and discuss them with other professionals involved in managing repairs and customer relations.

Even officer knowledge which is not supported by reports and site maps can be uploaded. Once uploaded, the Hot Spot goes to the Hub’s administration team for approval. A discussion thread is then created, enabling WaSCs, contractors, councils and insurers to consider issues and keep each other updated.

Users can upload new hot spots, make notes and add survey reports and site diagrams. Individuals can add themselves as a contact for the hot spot, invite others to join and receive email alerts about new information.

The hot spots are mapped, and WaSCs and their contractors can search by postcode for issues in their area; a valuable source of information on their newly adopted assets.

The Hot Spot Manager ensures that if a customer contacts their council, they can receive updated information without the council or the customer having to contact the WaSC. And councils can inform WaSCs on urgent cases, including those potentially subject to formal action.

“The site aims to deliver a significant reduction in complaints from councils and time-consuming, costly legal action,” says Warren. “For WaSCs, access to historic and real-time Hot Spot information will also help inform repair schedules.”

Equipment
The site also features a Market Place for new and used equipment and vehicles and a company directory listing subcontractors, suppliers and consultants.

Sam Warren says: “UK Drainage Protocol was established to resolve communication issues between the disparate groups involved in repairing private shared sewers. In the Hub we combine this experience with the flexibility and functionality of online networking. “Our focus is on not only customer satisfaction but also clarity of communication across all stakeholder groups and, critically, control of repair scope and costs.”

The Drainage Hub works in support of WaterAid and will donate 30 pence on behalf of each person who signs up at www.thedrainagehub.co.uk.


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