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Parliament confirms private sewers transfer

Parliament today formalised legal regulations for the transfer to water and sewerage companies of sections of drains and sewers currently owned and maintained by householders.

Parliament today formalised legal regulations for the transfer to water and sewerage companies of sections of drains and sewers currently owned and maintained by householders.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) regulations are set to take effect on October 1, when privately owned sewers and lateral drains will transfer to the companies.

An estimated 40,000km of lateral drains and sewers will be added overnight to Thames Water’s existing 67,000km sewerage network across London and Thames Valley – a 60% increase which will add about £35M to its annual operating costs.

“This change-over will not be straightforward for water companies,” said Thames Water chief executive Martin Baggs.

“Overnight we at Thames Water will take on an additional network of sewers longer than some other sewerage companies’ entire sewerage networks.

The government move will affect nearly all water and sewerage customers in England and Wales.

Water UK chief executive Pamela Taylor said: “For the water companies, the transfer is a major change as they will be taking on responsibility for many thousands of miles of pipes, some of which may be in poor condition. There could well be a backlog of maintenance, repair and renewal to tackle.”

It will guard customers against drainage pipe blocks or breaks, and the resulting challenges of finding out how to rectify and pay for the problem.

Generally the sections of drainage being transferred are those shared by two or more properties – differing depending on the type of dwelling – and those sections that lie outside the property boundaries.

Shared drainage built before 1937 is not affected by the change-over as water and sewerage companies already maintain these pipes.

An official legal notice under section 102 of the Water Industry Act 1991 is set to be sent in July to all property-owners across all the water companies’ regions. Thames Water is sending out 6M letters from Monday July 4.

Baggs said: “Although this will be a very big operational challenge for us, we welcome the clarity and peace of mind that the government’s decision to transfer private sewers to water companies will bring for our customers.

“The additional cost to our customers – estimated to be between £4 and £14 a year – will protect customers against infrequent but large one-off costs to which they are currently exposed.

Environment minister Richard Benyon said: “The transfer will stop the financial threat of customers being hit with huge repair bills for sewers that sometimes aren’t even on their property.

“It’s a much fairer and simpler approach which will also improve the overall quality of the network to reduce the chance of problems in the first place.”

Readers' comments (3)

  • Are we going to get cheaper home insurance?

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  • Barry Walton

    Chih Ern Liong's comment is germane as this is a geniune transfer of risk from customers to the water and sewerage undertakers. They will be allowed, at least, to raise an averaged pass through charge onto their customers and doubtless make a return on any approved capitalised scheme. The risk to property insurers will be reduced so it will be welcome for regulators to remind them of that. Let us hope that the increases in sewerage charges will be offset by an equal insurance discount - but don't hold your breath.

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  • All that is happening is that sewerage customers in England are now benefiting from a position that has pertained in Scotland where there are no private sewers. There, when two drains join together they become a sewer, and all sewers are public and have been for at least since the coming into force of the Sewerage (Scotland) Act 1968 and probably well before.

    It is interesting to note that Thames Water estimate that the additional cost per customer to them lies between £4 and £12 indicating the extent of the rip off racket operated by insurance companies providing cover for this.

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