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2 Waste water is normally removed from your home via a system of underground pipes consisting of both drains and sewers. There is usually a separate system for rainwater and surface water but sometimes a combined system is used. Many people think that the council is responsible for maintaining these drains and sewers, but this is not the case. Responsibility for maintenance depends on ownership and all drains or sewers are either the responsibility of the owners of the property they serve, or owned by the water company. This can vary depending on whether it is a drain or a private or public sewer. A drain is a pipe that removes waste water and sewage from a single property and is the responsibility of the property owner. This pipe remains a drain until it joins a sewer even if the point at which it joins the sewer is beyond the boundary of your property. A sewer is a pipe that takes sewage and waste water from more than one property. There are two types of sewer, public and private and ownership depends upon which type of sewer it is. A private sewer is a sewer built after October 1937 that serves more than one property and has not been adopted by the water company. A private sewer is the joint responsibility of all owners whose property connects to it, until the point at which it connects with the public sewer. A public sewer serves more than one property and has been adopted by the water company who has responsibility for its maintenance. Public sewers are usually (but not always) located beneath the highway. A pipe may be a public sewer built before October 1937 and serves more than one property. See diagram 1.

3 Diagram 1 Private drain Private drain Private Sewer Public Sewer Septic tanks and cesspools are found in rural areas where there is no mains drainage. The difference between them is that a septic tank drains into a filtration field and a cesspool has no outlet. It is the responsibility of the owner or occupier of the premises to maintain and empty the septic tank or cesspool that serves it. Blocked drains and sewers including septic tanks and cesspools A blocked drain or sewer will eventually cause foul water or sewage to seep out of a manhole cover. The toilet, kitchen sink or bath may become blocked and water won t drain away. A drain or sewer can block due to: Condition - pipes can deteriorate over time and break or crack preventing the normal contents from being cleared. Obstruction - caused by items that should not enter the sewerage system such as disposable wipes, nappies and sanitary products.

4 Debris - drains can become blocked by disposal of cooking fats or DIY materials such as plaster. Tree roots can also enter a broken pipe causing blockage. Although the council does not own or have overall responsibility for maintaining drains and sewers, it has a responsibility to ensure that there is no risk to public health or nuisance when a drain or privately owned sewer becomes blocked or damaged. If the owners of the drain or private sewer do not clear a blockage or repair any defects then the council can use its legal powers to require all owners responsible to do so within a set time. Preventing blockages The sewerage system is not designed to take a lot of the items that people often put into it. Items such as sanitary products, kitchen towels, baby wipes, cotton wool, disposable cleaning wipes and food waste should not be put into a drainage system. In particular, hot fats and oils will solidify as they cool in the pipes, causing an obstruction. What to do if a drain or sewer becomes blocked If you are experiencing problems with a blocked or slow draining sewer it is important that you reduce the amount of waste that goes into the system until the matter has been resolved. You can help by flushing the toilet as little as possible, reduce the amount of water used in the bath or shower and only use dishwashers and washing machines when necessary. Check with your neighbours to find out if anyone else is affected. Try and find out where the blockage lies within the pipe work as the location of the problem will determine who is responsible. If the blockage/defect is located on the drain serving just one property (diagram 2) then the owner or occupier has sole responsibility for clearing the blockage and may need to contact a plumber or specialist

5 drainage company. Often a simple blockage can be cleared by using a set of drain rods. If the blockage/defect is located in a private sewer (a sewer that serves more than one property and which has not been adopted by the water company), the location of the fault along the sewer needs to be found. All properties that connect to the private sewer upstream of the defect are jointly and equally responsible for clearing and repairing it. This may seem unfair but if you benefit from the pipe that is affected then you are jointly and equally responsible for any works that are required, regardless of the cause of the fault. Diagram 2 Inspection Chamber Private drain Public Sewer Diagram C D B A Public Sewer Should a blockage occur at point A on diagram 3, only property number 5 would be responsible. If a blockage should occur at point B, properties 3,4 and 5 would be responsible for unblocking it, however if the blockage were to occur at point C all 5 properties would be responsible.

6 If the problem lies within the public sewer at point D then it is the responsibility of the water company to resolve. There are two different water companies in West Dorset and whichever one you pay your sewage charges to is the company with responsibility in your area. If you have a problem and you think it may be the responsibility of the water company you should contact them directly. Wessex Water - Telephone: Minicom: South West Water - Telephone: Minicom: How can West Dorset District Council help? If you are unable to find the source of the problem or unable to reach agreement with all those who share responsibility for clearance/repair, contact us. If the council has reason to believe that a risk to public health exists, then we will usually serve legal notices on everyone requiring whatever works are necessary to be done in a specified time. If the time elapses without a solution, the council can then arrange to have works carried out on behalf of those responsible and the costs will be shared equally between them. The notice is discharged on completion. If you require the council s assistance please call

7 Remember: It is the householder s responsibility to maintain drains and private sewers in a free flowing condition. Authorised officers are able to gain access to a property to investigate a problem at any reasonable time. If the council has to arrange for works, an administration charge will be added to the final costs. You should check with your insurance company, whether your building insurance covers drain or sewer problems.

8 West Dorset District Council Stratton House, 58/60 High West Street Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1UZ Tel: Fax:

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