Water companies to take on private sewers

Government is set to force water companies to take on around 200,000km of privately-owned sewers and drains - but they will be allowed to pass the expense on the bill payers.

Currently some 300,000km of pipes are owned and maintained by the water companies, so the move, which comes into effect from 2011, will almost double the public network.

As things stand, householders who have problems with the sewage system linking their properties to the public network face picking up potentially massive bills when things go wrong.

Most householders don't even know the sewer or drain is their responsibility as it is not apparent when buying a property, and their insurance policies are unlikely to cover wear and tear.

The Government plan is almost a forced insurance scheme on a grand scale - bill payers in affected areas will see a rise of around £5 to £10 in their annual charges but will avoid any nasty surprises.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn announced the plans on Monday.

"Millions of householders are unwittingly sitting on the ticking financial time bomb of private sewers and lateral drains," he said.

"They may not realise it, but if something goes wrong they have to pick up the bill. The transfer to water and sewerage companies will create a fairer system for all and save many households the agony of finding thousands of pounds to pay for repairs."

An extensive review of private sewers began in 2001, prompted by the concerns of householders and a consultation in 2003 revealed a high level of support for transfer. Defra looked at how this transfer could be achieved in a further consultation in 2007.

Sam Bond



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