Water UK anticipates an announcement by Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that ownership of private sewers and lateral drains in England will be transferred to water and sewerage companies from April 2011.
The transfer is a positive move that would end a long-standing, unfair and inconsistent arrangement.
At present up to 50 per cent of households are served by private sewers before they connect into a public sewer and householders are liable for the full cost of maintaining and repairing those private sewers when there is a blockage or a collapse.
However the improvement comes with a cost - estimated at between £5 and £14 a year - that will be paid by all water customers. This is unfortunate, but some of the private sewers have been neglected for years and are in very poor condition.
It also comes at a difficult time when household budgets are already under pressure and companies are doing their best to keep prices down.
Pamela Taylor, Water UK Chief Executive, said:
"The majority of people affected by the present arrangements have no idea that they are responsible for the sewers serving their properties. This transfer would remove that doubt and the risk of future liability and repair costs. Sewer collapses, especially in the road, can cost thousands of pounds to repair and insurance policies wonít cover 'fair wear and tear'."
Water UK has been a member of Defraís private sewers steering group helping develop the transfer proposals. The industry supports an automatic overnight transfer, with an appeals procedure for those owners who donít want their sewers transferred. This option is the most clear-cut and avoids potential confusion for customers and unnecessary administration costs.
As well as removing liability and uncertainty for customers, the change will help promote integrated management of the sewerage network and development of surface water management plans - a key recommendation from the Pitt Review to minimise the risk of flooding in urban areas.
Water UK has developed a short question and answer guide on the transfer.
1. Private sewers serve at least two properties, so are owned by two or more neighbours. Private sewers may lie within or outside the boundaries of the properties they serve.
2. Lateral drains serve a single property but always lie outside the boundary of the property they serve.
3. The transfer is likely to cover both foul (i.e. dirty water) sewers and surface water (i.e. rainfall run-off from roofs and hard surfaces) sewers.
4. Water UK has produced a graphic illustration of the current private sewer arrangements and the situation post transfer.
5. The transfer will take place from April 2011. In the meantime government has to introduce regulations which will go out for public consultation and then Parliamentary scrutiny. Companies will then have to make schemes for transfer.
6. Following transfer, companies will need to prioritise any necessary works on a needs and cost benefit basis. Customers should not therefore expect immediate replacement of a faulty sewer, though blockages will be attended to on a reactive basis as when and where necessary.