Reducing confusion, time and cost - for everyone involved

As water companies prepare to take responsibility for the problems within private shared sewers, one drainage specialist is developing best practice solutions. Marie-Claire Kidd reports on behalf of UK Drainage Protocol

Over 200,000km of shared drains and sewers will transfer from private ownership to water and sewerage companies in October. And with them come an unknown number of problems, many of them complex, many sensitive.

WaSCs are preparing to take on a whole new world of repairs, including digging up lovingly tended gardens, driveways and domestic properties. Water regulator Ofwat will monitor customer satisfaction during and post-transfer, but water and sewerage companies (WaSCs) still await clarity on their role.

These are challenging times, but specialist domestic drainage solutions business UK Drainage Protocol (UKDP), which last year worked on behalf of 47 councils across England and Wales, says best practice can inform new solutions. It says its experience can help ensure WaSCs manage expectations and communication with their new customers, and with parties they may not have worked alongside before.

UKDP co-ordinates all parties involved in domestic shared drainage issues, providing councils with an alternative to enforcement action against groups of homeowners. For example, last year East Devon District Council estimated UKDP saved residents around £600,000, plus savings in officers' time, administration costs and repairs.

Environmental health technical officer at East Devon District Council Martin Prew says: "For us it's peace of mind. UKDP looks at everything and does a thorough job. If there's a problem with a resident, we're always fully aware of it, rather than finding out halfway down the line."

The company works under the Drainage Protocol, the culmination of decades of work by insurers to establish best practice in private shared drainage cases. It ensures necessary repairs are carried out cost effectively, whilst delivering excellent customer service, handling the claim and all communications on behalf of the homeowner.

Sam Warren, managing director of UKDP says WaSCs can learn from this and tap into experience already in the market. "Post-transfer, areas of potential conflict include definition of curtilage, management of homeowner expectations, access issues for repairs on neighbouring properties and insurer liaison in instances of shared ownership," she says. "All could lead to complaints and increased costs.

"Effective repairs will require clear, consistent communication between all parties, including homeowners, WaSC representatives, contractors, councils, insurers and loss adjusters. UKDP provides a central hub of communication and information, often where previous relationships did not exist."

WaSCs will inherit an unknown number of private shared sewers with numerous defects, at varying degrees of serviceability. Warren suggests WaSCs tap further in to councils' and especially environmental health departments' knowledge to map this.

"Councils have decades worth of data and experience," she says. "It represents a cost effective way for WaSCs to develop detailed liability information, and will help them respond to environmental health threats without the need for councils to take legal action.

"This knowledge is often fragmented, due to the varying degrees of quality of information. WaSCs need to consider how to manage these relationships and, more importantly, data transfer. UKDP has already established relationships with councils, and is able to work with them to transfer information."

Whilst acting as a communications hub, UKDP is also responsible for assessing and grading necessary repairs, working with a lead loss adjuster to ensure remedial works and associated costs meet industry standards. This, Warren says, will be particularly relevant to WaSCs due to inherit estates or larger private systems with multiple defects.

In many instances, piecemeal repairs and clearances may increase WaSCs' costs and increase the risk of complaints. Key in these scenarios is assessing, validating and scheduling cost-effective repairs, whilst managing customer expectations.

"UKDP's homeowner management expertise provides independent, proactive risk and issue management, pre-empting problems and stepping in to resolve them," says warren. "This increases customer satisfaction and reduces time spent handling complex situations with third parties, as well as allowing the contractor to focus on repair."

Transfer will create instances in which damaged pipework straddles boundaries and therefore ownership. Opinions on whether and how to undertake a repair are likely to vary from insurer to WaSC, which could ultimately create confusion and dissatisfaction for the homeowner.

"By co-ordinating repairs straddling boundaries and assessing, validating and agreeing repair costs and methods, it's possible to co-ordinate a one-repair approach," Sam says. "Sharing the costs of a single site visit would reduce costs, for both WaSCs and insurers. The customer need only make one phone call and deal with one party."

Drawing on its unique experience, UKDP is creating bespoke solutions for WaSCs, during and beyond transfer. "Our focus is reducing confusion, time and cost for all parties," Warren says. "As a specialist project management and communications business, managing complex customer relationships at what can be a stressful time is crucial. We aim to ensure cases continue to be resolved in a cost-effective way, to the satisfaction and benefit of all involved.

"It's important to learn from best practice, rather than reinventing the wheel. The protocol approach can help WaSCs increase customer satisfaction and reduce costs, now and in the future."

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