Private Sewer transfer Questions and Answers 1) What exactly is the problem? Some sewers are adopted whilst some are unadopted, i.e. private. Private sewers belong to owners of properties they serve and are the responsibility of those owners. Most sewers are public (adopted) and the responsibility of the water and sewerage company to maintain and repair. However, Government research suggests there are about 200,000km (125,000m) of private sewers. Estimated this affects up 10 million homes. Private sewers can be either foul sewers (for waste water) or surface water sewers (for disposing of rainfall from roofs and paved areas). Some private sewers are now in poor condition and suffer from blockages or collapses. Owners then have to try and sort the problem out and pay for repairs themselves. Many owners won’t realise they own private sewer until there’s a problem. Collapses are relatively infrequent but can cost individual householders thousands of pounds to repair. 2) Background? Private sewers stem from a historical arrangement that dates from 1937. Before that the 1875 Public Health Act made all sewers public. This all changed with the 1936 Public Health Act, that meant all sewers from 1937 were only public if they were: - Already in place, or - Laid by a sewerage undertaker, or - Adopted by a sewerage undertaker This is a historical arrangement but the situation is complicated, inconsistent and unfair as those customers served by pre-1937 sewers receive a more comprehensive drainage service for the same charge. This is a national issue. However - many sewers are still being laid today to new properties that would remain private - as they are not put forward by developers for adoption by the water and sewerage company. 3) Who’s responsible for repairs to private sewers? Those affected by the problem - generally those property owners upstream of the blockage or collapse. Insurance companies generally will not cover the costs if the problem is down to ‘wear and tear’. 4) What’s going to be done? Companies are aware that those customers affected by private sewers, their MPs and Government want to see the current problems resolved - with transfer of private sewers to water and sewerage companies. Industry is sympathetic and has supported the calls for transfer - it removes discrimination between groups of customers who pay the same charges but receive a different level of service. The water industry put forward the automatic overnight transfer option with a clear appeals procedure - for those not wanting their private sewer transferred. This option received by far and away the most support at the last Government consultation on the way forward. We believe this approach will address the majority of problems and issues facing customers within an acceptable time. However, there will need to be a funding arrangement in place so companies have the money to maintain, repair and replace these additional sewers. 5) Looking ahead The government has suggested transfer will take place from April 2011. Before transfer can take place, Government has to introduce and consult on regulations and follow the due Parliamentary process. The water and sewage companies will then have to draw up schemes for the transfer of private sewers in their regions. The water and sewerage companies will have to assess the maintenance requirements of the transferred sewers once they move across. Any replacement works, will have to be costed and benefits assessed and schemes prioritised. So whilst essential blockage clearing and repairs to sewer collapses will take place from Day 1, customers should not expect a new sewer straight away. Decisions will have to be made on the need and cost benefit. The additional repair and maintenance work and in some cases wholesale replacement of previously private sewers that are no longer fit for use will inevitably lead to additional funding requirements. This is likely to result in increases to water bills of between £5 and £14.