Sewers and Drains A GUIDE TO MAINTENANCE RESPONSIBILITIES

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1 Sewers and Drains A GUIDE TO MAINTENANCE RESPONSIBILITIES This leaflet about drains and sewers has been prepared by Breckland Council and gives information and advice to private and commercial property owners or occupiers regarding maintenance responsibilities.

2 Contents: Page 2 Page 2 Page 2 Page 2 Page 3 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 Page 6 Page 7 Introduction An explanation of terms and responsibilities A main public sewer A sewer A drain How to reduce the risk of problems Frequently asked questions Highway drainage Appendix A: An example of drainage responsibility Appendix B: Diagram to show an example of drain and sewer layout Introduction Surface and foul water sewage systems are, more often than not, taken for granted. Much of the system is out of sight, underground and generally quite reliable. Therefore it is not unusual to be unsure of what to do or who to contact when suddenly things go wrong and the system does not work as it should. These sewage systems comprise of a series of pipes called drains or sewers which convey surface water (e.g. run off from roofs) and foul water (e.g. sink, washing machine, bath, toilet) to a suitable outfall which could be a public sewer, sewage treatment plant (STP), septic tank or a cesspit. On 1 October 2011 there was a change in the law which resulted in the responsibility of private drains beyond a property boundary, and all shared sewers which feed into the public sewer system, transferring over to Anglian Water Services Limited (AWS). An explanation of terms and responsibilities In order to more easily identify responsibilities for maintenance, it is necessary to be aware of and understand some of the terms used. A main public sewer is a sewer which is owned and maintained by AWS. They are often under the highway but can also run through fields or gardens. AWS hold copies of public sewer maps showing their location. A sewer is a pipe which conveys either foul and/or surface water from more than one property. A sewer can carry foul water or surface water or a combination of 2

3 both. Where shared sewers run to an AWS main public sewer or AWS owned STP, AWS now have responsibility for that sewer. The owner of a property served by a cesspit, septic tank or private STP remains responsible for the whole length of sewer. A drain is a pipe which conveys foul water or surface water from one property only. The owner or occupier of a property served by a drain which runs to an AWS main public sewer or STP is solely responsible for the maintenance, unblocking and repair of that drain up to the property boundary, where it becomes the responsibility of AWS. The owner of a property served by a cesspit, septic tank or private STP is responsible for the whole length of drain. There are two types of sewage or foul water drainage systems within the Breckland Council area: Firstly is the main public sewerage system which predominates in the towns and larger villages. Effluent from a large number of houses drains through a network of pipes to a sewage treatment works operated by AWS. In new developments where a public main foul sewer is available within 30 metres (100 feet), there is a mandatory requirement for new properties to be connected to such a sewer. The second type is a system which may serve an individual property or a small group of properties in villages or rural settings. With this system, the pipes from the property or properties terminate in a cesspit, septic tank or small sewage treatment plant. Septic tank, cesspit and privately owned STP systems have not been affected by the change in sewer ownership law and it remains the liability of the property owner(s) served by such systems to keep it maintained and repaired. How to reduce the risk of problems Do not dispose of oils or fats by emptying into the drainage system (let it solidify, bag and bin it). Do not dispose of bulky sanitary items (nappies, nappy liners, baby wipes or feminine hygiene products) down the toilet. Do not put kitchen paper roll down the toilet. Avoid using the luxury brands of toilet tissue as they break down less quickly. Do not cover inspection access points (manhole covers, inspection chambers, rodding eyes, etc.) as they provide quick access when problems occur. Ensure all inspection access point covers on your property are in good condition and are properly fitted. Consider suitable locations when planting shrubs and trees as root damage and root penetration will cause serious damage to underground pipe work. 3

4 Check the cover offered by your buildings insurance policy regarding underground services such as pipe work. A number of repair policies additional to your house insurance are commercially available but ensure you have the most suitable cover for your needs as repairs can be expensive. Frequently asked questions Where are my drains and sewers? This information may be shown on your property deeds but if not, then the only way to precisely locate them is to organise a private survey to trace the route of the pipe work. The Council does not hold records of private drainage or sewer systems. What can I do if my drain blocks? It can sometimes be difficult to know precisely where on a system the problem is occurring. If you suspect your drains may be backing-up due to a blockage further down the line on a sewer, call AWS. If you are sure the problem originates from your drains, check your buildings insurance policy as drainage cover may be included. You may need to engage a private contractor who has the necessary equipment and knowledge to clear the system. If so, one recommended from a friend or neighbour is a good starting point. Norfolk County Council has a list of approved contractors at trader. Before you engage an engineer, try to obtain a quote before works commence, ask if you will get a guarantee and remember the most expensive isn t necessarily the best. What do I do if the AWS adopted sewer running from private or commercial properties blocks? Ring AWS and request that they send a technician out to rectify the problem. What if I am served by a septic tank, cesspit or private STP and have a blockage on a drain or sewer? The property owner is liable for repairs to the drain section of the system. If the blockage is on a shared sewer section of the system, you should always try to agree with all the other householders involved to share the costs before employing a contractor to carry out repairs. What if there is a blockage in the main public sewer? This is the responsibility of AWS. Call them to advise they have a problem with their network. Will Breckland Council help me? Where a problem such as a blocked drain is causing a statutory nuisance i.e. a smell, and the property owner is refusing to rectify the problem, the Environmental Protection Team may be able to assist in investigating the problem and offer advice. We do not operate a drain clearing service and will not get involved in disputes over costs which cannot be agreed between householders. 4

5 Who is responsible if I rent my property? If you have a problem with your foul water drainage system, you should contact your landlord. What happens if I do not clear the blockage or carry out repairs? Breckland Council has powers under various Acts of Parliament which allow us to require the clearing of blockages or for repairs to be carried out on a private drainage system when a statutory nuisance is caused. This is done by the Council serving a legal notice on the relevant owners. Failure to comply with this notice is an offence which can lead to prosecution. If the owners do not comply with the legal notice, the work may be carried out by the Council in default who will then recover the full costs (together with an administration fee) from the owners. It is both quicker and cheaper to resolve the drainage problem yourself. Highway drainage There are various different types of highway drains to clear surface water and all are the responsibility of Norfolk County Council (NCC). They are designed only to carry water away from the highway and it is not permissible to direct water from your property into them. They are cleaned on a regular maintenance program but problems with blocked highway drains should be reported to NCC. If a blocked drainage gully is located in a private area such as communal parking or garage area, the responsibility rests with the landowner or, if the property is rented, with the landlord. Some useful contacts: Anglian Water Customer Services For shared sewers and main public foul water sewers Tel: or For queries relating to the change of sewer ownership from 1 October 2011: Tel: Norfolk County Council For highway drainage problems Tel: Breckland Council Environmental Protection For advice where a blocked drain is causing a nuisance and the owner responsible or AWS are not taking steps to resolve the issue. Tel:

6 Appendices Appendix A - An example of drainage responsibility property boundary Main public sewer responsibility of Anglian Water Property A property boundary Property B property boundary Property C property boundary Property D Public sewer - Anglian Water s responsibility Drain - Property owner s responsibility 6

7 Appendix B Diagram to show an example of drain and sewer layout. MAIN ROAD THE STREET Key A public sewer - Anglian Water s responsibility A drain (serves one property) - Property owner s responsibility 7

8 Breckland Council Environmental Protection Elizabeth House, Walpole Loke, Dereham, Norfolk NR19 1EE Tel:

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