Sewer ownership to transfer to water companies in England and Wales at midnight tonight

Water companies in England and Wales will take control of privately owned sewers and drainage systems, as part a Government commitment to remove the burden of maintenance from homeowners and improve the network.

The changes, set to come into force from midnight tonight (October 1), were announced by environment minister Richard Benyon and approved by parliament earlier this year. The new law, which aims to protect households from unexpected and costly bills for the repair of broken, blocked or damaged sewers, has been largely welcomed by water companies – despite the additional costs.

It is estimated that more than £221m is spent on sewer repairs each year by homeowners and it is anticipated that the transfer will improve the quality of the network.

As a result of the transfer, an estimated 40,000km of drains will be added to Thames Water’s existing 68,000km network of sewers, which it predicts will increase the amount of blockages it deals with from 55,000 to around 250,000 a year.

Meanwhile, the transfer was announced in Wales by environment minister John Griffiths in July, who hopes the move will help end disputes over ownership of sewers when leaks or other problems hit more than one property.

Mr Griffiths said: “Owners of private sewers and lateral drains – typically householders – have often been unaware of their associated responsibilities and liabilities, and there is no doubt that the repair and maintenance of private sewers can be very expensive.

“This transfer of private sewers and lateral drains is all about fairness for the consumer and ensuring that all homes connected to the public sewer system receive the same level of service.”

Prior to the transfer, a review of the current sewer network was carried out by Dwr Cymru Welsh Water (DCWW) and Severn Trent, however it is not yet known how much the transfer will cost.

However, Thames Water has calculated that its annual operational costs will increase by around £35m as a result, which it told edieWater is on top of the £600m it currently spends each year.

Thames Water’s asset management director, Bob Collington, said: “Although this will be a very big operational challenge for us, we welcome the clarity and peace of mind that the Government’s decision to transfer private sewers to water companies will bring for our customers.”

Water companies from across England and Wales have been working closely with local authorities and other stakeholders to gather information about the network.

According to DCWW managing director, Nigel Annett, the transfer of 1,700km of privately owned sewers in Wales will approximately double the company’s sewage network, which he describes as a “massive additional responsibility”, adding the size of the transfer means the company will have to prioritise work.

However, Mr Annett added: “We welcome this transfer of private sewers as a big step forward in customer service, and one that will lead to more effective management of the sewerage network. Thousands of people in our area will no longer have to worry about repairs and maintenance of drains and sewers that until now have been privately owned.”

Meanwhile, water regulator Ofwat will be monitoring and advising the water and sewage companies to ensure any additional costs for customers are evenly distributed to minimise the impact on water bills, which Defra predicts will rise by between £4 and £14 a year.

Carys Matthews

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