Private sewers in England and Wales

It has been estimated that up to 50 per cent of properties in England and Wales are connected to a private sewer. A private sewer is one which is not a ‘public’ sewer (i.e. owned by a statutory Water and Sewerage Company) and is generally collectively owned and maintained by the owners of the premises it serves, though often extending beyond the property boundary into the public highway.

There are no comprehensive records of where private sewers are located or what condition they are in. Following an extensive review of private sewer ownership, the Government announced, in its news release on 15 December 2008, the transfer of existing private sewers and lateral drains (that part of the pipe running from the property boundary to the main sewer) that connect to the public network, into the ownership of the statutory Water and Sewerage Companies in England from 2011. Water is a devolved issue and the review has been undertaken jointly with the Welsh Assembly Government who will outline how transfer will be implemented in Wales in its forthcoming Policy Position statement on Water.

Unless a problem occurs householders are often unaware that they are responsible for the maintenance and repair of their private sewer (sometimes jointly with others). Furthermore, this disparate ownership of the sewerage network causes difficulties for long term planning, which is important in adapting to the effects of climate change and housing growth. The Government considers that transfer provides the only comprehensive solution to a range private sewer and lateral drain problems faced by householders and will significantly help address a lack of integrated management of the sewerage network as a whole, and provide greater efficiency of effort, environmental stewardship and expenditure. The Government also proposes to ensure that all new sewers connecting to the public sewerage network are built to a specified standard and automatically adopted as part of the public network.

The costs of transfer will be met by an increase in the sewerage element of bills across the nine sewerage companies currently estimated to be around  7.5 pence to 23 pence a week.

Further information

The review of private sewer ownership has comprised two parts:

Page last modified: 15 December 2008
Page published: 15 October 2004