Drainage Ownership UK - London
Drains and Sewers.Highway Drainage – Gullies.
Cesspools and Septic Tanks.
Please feel free to download these notes; you never know when a drainage problem
may affect you.
It is hoped you will never need this but if you do it will be invaluable for reference
DRAINS and SEWERS
For private households (including owners of ex. Council properties) and businesses; all
drains and drainage sewers have a legal status which will determine who is responsible for their
upkeep.The status of a drain or drainage sewer will vary depending on when it was built, if it has
been adopted and how many properties it serves.
This booklet, whilst not being a statement of law, is intended to provide advice to assist
in determining the status of drains and sewers and should apply to the vast majority of
cases.There will be limitations to the advice (for instance where there was or is a cesspool
or where blocks of flats are involved) and there will be individual exceptions that will need
more specialist examination before advice can be given.
It is a common presumption to think that the Council is responsible for maintaining
drains and sewers.There have been occasions when others, including Water Companies,
indicate that too.The fact is that all drains or drainage sewers are either privately owned by the
owners of the properties they serve or they are the responsibility of the Water Companies
to whom sewerage charges (water rates) are paid.The London Councils does not own any of these
drains or sewers, unless it is the owner of a property served by the drain or sewer (just like
any other property owner).The Council’s
responsibility is to ensure that privately owned
drains and drainage sewers do not cause a nuisance or risk to
public health where owners may have allowed them
to remain blocked or to become defective.
The only records that have to be kept legally are
the maps of public sewers maintained by the Water
Companies.These are normally accurate but may have
some omissions, particularly public sewers that are
not in the public highway. If a public drainage sewer is not
shown on these maps that does not alter its legal
status. A copy of the maps is kept by the
London Borough Councils for public inspection.Unfortunately
copies can only be provided by the Water Company
for which a charge is likely to be made.Private sewers
and drains do not have to be shown on these maps.
These are some basic general facts that
will help to establish the legal status of a
drain or sewer
• A drain is a pipe that serves only one
property and is nearly always owned by
that one user.
It does not matter when the drain was
built its age does not alter its status.The
responsibility for cleaning, maintaining
and repairing a drain will rest with the
• A sewer is a pipe that serves more than
one property.The status of a sewer can
be either public or private depending
on when it was built or if it has been
• A public sewer is a sewer that is
• between two manholes both located
in a public highway, or
• was built before 1 October 1937
located in private land, or
• has been adopted by the Water
Company, as illustrated below.
Public sewers are cleansed, maintained
and repaired free of charge by the Water
• A private sewer is any sewer that is not
public and is owned by the users to the
point of connection with a public sewer.
A private sewer is a sewer that
• was built after 1 October 1937 located in private land and would include the lateral
connection under the highway, or
• was not adopted by the Water Company, as illustrated below.
Private sewers are the shared responsibility of the users even though the pipe needing to
be cleansed, maintained or repaired may not be in land in the user's ownership.
If there is a blockage in a drain or sewer then the following questions may help to best
decide who to contact to get the pipe cleared.
1. Does the pipe that is blocked serve only one property?
‘YES’ it is a private drain, call a reputable drainage clearing company DRAINAGE EXPERTS serving London and surrounding areas..
( Below is a picture of a typical drain being exposed ready to be repaired )
‘YES’ it is a public sewer, call the Water Company to whom you pay your sewerage
charges and there should not be a charge. As a general guide if you receive a
separate sewerage and water accounts from Southern and Thames Water then you
should contact Southern Water; if you receive combined sewerage and water
accounts then you should contact Thames Water.
• Thames Water; Tel. 08459 200800 for residents in all other areas of the London Boroughs.
‘NO’ it is a private sewer, as with ‘drains above, call a reputable drain clearing
company DRAINAGE EXPERTS.
If you are in private rented property or a housing association property the responsibility for
private sewers and drains will depend on the terms of the tenancy.
Sewer built after 1 October 1937.
For leasehold properties where there is a freeholder or where there is a management
company the responsibility will depend on the terms of the lease or covenants in the deeds.
Blockages can occur for a number of reasons, most of which can be prevented with
proper care, for instance,
• Nappies, sanitary towels, tampons, condoms, wipes and cotton buds should be
disposed of in the refuse bin not flushed down the toilet,
• Raw vegetable waste which can be composted or put in the refuse bin,
• Oils and fats from cooking (domestic and commercial) should be allowed to
cool/solidify and placed in a suitable container for disposal in the waste bin. Further
guidance can be found on Thames Water’s web-site www.thameswater.co.uk ,
• Leave all manhole covers free of obstruction to gain quick and easy access to the sewer,
• More seriously; tree roots can penetrate the joints of sewers and sewers can be displaced.
In these cases blockages will become more frequent and repairs may be required.
When defective drains and private sewers have
to be repaired the cost is borne by the owners/
users of the properties served by those drains and
sewers in proportion to the benefit derived from
them not necessarily in proportion to the number
of properties served.Depending on the terms of
any buildings insurance you may have, you may be
covered for most of any repair costs, it would be
worth enquiring.The cost of any repair per
property is proportional to the length of repaired
sewer and is calculated using a standard formula.
When blockages are left unattended or drains
and private sewers are not repaired when they
become defective your local London Council can use legal powers
to ensure that a nuisance does not continue or that
public health is not put at risk.
There are several pieces of legislation that can,
and would be used, all involving the service of Notice on the owners of the
defective/blocked drain or private drainage sewer. Each of these Notices will prescribe the action
that has to be taken by the owners, the length of time being allowed for it to happen
and give the power to the Council to do the work and charge (including all its
administration costs) the owners. Any unpaid accounts that remain after work has been
done by the Council could result in the matter being taken to Court or a charge being
assigned to the property to be paid later, with interest, when the property is sold.
By way of example the time allowed to clear a blockage would be 24 or 48 hrs
depending on the severity of the blockage, and up to 42 days to repair a defective drain
or private sewer. If a blockage is dealt with in this way it will inevitably be much slower
and more expensive than to employ a drain clearing company at the outset.
HIGHWAY DRAINAGE – GULLIES.
A road gully is a chamber found alongside the kerb at the side of the road and is generally
covered by a metal grating. It is used to collect surface water from the road.The
responsibility for cleaning road gullies on the public highway belongs to the Highways
Services:The same applies to the pipes leading from the gullies up to a
connection with a public drainage sewer.Where they do not
connect to a sewer but discharge to a ditch or
soakaway these too will generally be the
responsibility of the Highways Services.
( Typical road gulley ) .
If you drop something valuable, such as keys or
mobile phone, into a gully the local Highways Services
can be asked to retrieve it, but a charge is likely.
Check what the charge will be before instructing
them to attend.DRAINAGE EXPERTS can assist in these matters as well.
There are some gullies that are not in the public
highway, such as parking and garage areas.Very
similar rules of ownership would apply to private
gullies as to private sewers. In general the owners
of the land in which the gully is situated will be
responsible for its cleaning and maintenance – on some developments there may be an
appointed management company that is responsible for maintaining communal areas, it
would be worth checking that first before employing a drainage clearing company.
Land drainage such as rivers and watercourses fall
into two categories; main river and critical/ordinary
Main rivers are designated as such by the
Environment Agency, who would control flooding,
fisheries, discharges, conservation, etc of those
rivers.The Environment Agency can be contacted
on 08708 506506.
The London Councils has similar powers to the Environment
Agency in respect of critical/ordinary watercourses.
Often the owners of adjoining land (riparian owners)
are responsible for ensuring that the flows in the
watercourse are not impeded by overgrowth or other
obstructions such as ornamental structures or filling
in.The Council should be contacted if any such works
are proposed.The Council has powers to serve Notice
to ensure that any obstruction or impediment to the
flow is removed.
Ground water generally occurs naturally and does not normally cause problems to the
land or property above it.Occasionally ground water can rise and appear at the surface
or it can appear naturally.Unless something identifiable has happened to cause ground
water to appear at the surface, the responsibility for dealing with the water would rest
with the owner of the land on which the water has appeared.
CESSPOOLS AND SEPTIC TANKS.
Cesspools and drainage septic tanks are generally found in more remote locations where public or
mains drainage is not readily available. Cesspools are simply collection sumps for sewage
from one or more properties. Cesspools need to be emptied on a regular basis to prevent
overflowing and causing a nuisance or a risk to public health. Septic tanks provide primary
treatment of sewage and normally discharge the treated effluent to the ground by way a
series of land drains. Consent for installing septic tanks and cesspools must be obtained
from the Environment Agency before the Council would consider accepting them.
The responsibility for the cleansing, servicing, repair and maintenance of septic tanks,
cesspools and all pipework leading to or from them rests with the owners of the
properties they serve, even if they are not situated in land owned by those owners.
If a cesspool needs emptying or a septic tank servicing call a reputable drainage clearing
When repairs are necessary the cost is borne by the owners/users of the properties
served by those sewers in proportion to the benefit derived from them not necessarily in
proportion to the number of properties served.Depending on the terms of any buildings
insurance you may have, you may be covered for most of any repair costs, it would be
If a cesspool or septic tank is not emptied, serviced or maintained the local London Council can
serve Notice on the owners of the defective/overflowing cesspool or septic tank. Each of
these Notices will prescribe the action that has to be taken by the owners, the length of
time being allowed for it to happen and give the power to the local London Council to do the work
and charge (including all its administration costs) the owners. Any unpaid accounts that
remain after work has been done by the Council could result in the matter being taken
to Court or a charge being assigned to the property to be paid later, with interest, when
the property is sold.
THESE NOTES ARE FOR GUIDANCE AND YOU SHOULD CHECK VARIENTS WITH YOUR LOCAL HIGHWAYS AGENCIES AND LOCAL COUNCILS.
Drainage Experts for all your Drainage enquires in the London area.
THESE ARE SOME OF THE LEGAL REQUIREMENTS FOR ALL TYPES OF DRAINAGE SYSTEMS.
DRAINAGE FLOW RATES.
VENTILATION TRAPS ETC.
BACKFILLING DRAINAGE PIPES,DEPTHS,MATERIALS ETC.
GUTTERS AND RAINWATER PIPES.
CLEARANCE OF BLOCKAGES.
MAKING CONNECTIONS TO PUBLIC SEWERS ETC.
SEALING OF DRAINS.
WATER TREATMENT SYSTEMS AND CESSPOOLS.
SEPTIC TANKS AND SOAKAWAYS DESIGN,MAINTENANCE,SITTING,GROUND MAINTENANCE ETC.
DISCHARGE STACKS ETC.
MATERIALS FOR PIPES FITTINGS AND JOINTS ETC.
AND MUCH MUCH MORE.
OPEN THE LINK BELOW TO SEE THE FULL LIST OF CONTENTS AND THEIR RESPECTIVE SPECIFICATIONS.
http://www.drainage-experts.com/Drainage legal facts.pdf