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Who is responsible for repairing drains and sewers

This advice applies to England

This page explains who is responsible for maintaining drains and sewers.

Generally speaking, you’re usually responsible for drains inside the boundaries of your property, while the sewerage company is responsible for lateral drains, which are outside of property boundaries, and sewers. Although most sewers are now publicly owned, there are still some private or unadopted sewers. If your property is served by one of these, you may be responsible for maintaining it.

Read this page to find out more.

What’s the difference between a drain and a sewer?

A drain is a pipe that drains water and waste from a building and other buildings which belong with it, for example a garage.

A lateral drain is a length of pipe which carries wastewater away from your property. It’s located outside your property boundary, often under a public pavement or road.

A sewer collects water and waste from the drains of  a number of buildings. Most sewers are publicly owned and are maintained by your water company. However, there are still some privately owned sewers. Some people aren’t connected to a sewer but to a cesspool, septic tank or treatment plant. If you aren’t connected to a sewer, you won’t have to pay sewerage charges to a sewerage company.

Repairs to drains

You are responsible for maintaining or repairing any drains inside the boundaries of your property.

You will have to pay to get this work done, but you are free to choose whichever company you want to do the work. Alternatively, you may take out insurance to pay for work on private drains.

Sometimes, you may be required to have insurance for the drain to your property. You should check with your building insurance company whether this is the case.

In some circumstances, your local authority environmental health department can order you to carry out improvement work or replace a private drain. They might do this if, for example, they think your drain is too small for your property or if it’s causing a blockage.

If necessary, a local authority can carry out the work themselves and then charge you for it.

Repairs to sewers

Sewers and lateral drains connected to the public network used to be the responsibility of the property owner. However, most are now maintained by local water companies. If you have any problems with your sewer or lateral drain, for example if it’s blocked, contact your local water company.

Your water company has a right to enter your property if it needs to do this in order to inspect or maintain the sewer.

Private and unadopted sewers

You may have a private sewer or lateral drain if you live on a site that has a number of properties, for example a block of flats or a caravan site.

If you have a private or unadopted sewer, and own a property, you are responsible for the cost of maintaining and repairing it. If the sewer serves a number of properties, all the owners are jointly responsible for these costs.

Your local authority environmental health department can order you to repair or unblock a private sewer or lateral drain if it’s not properly maintained. If you don’t do the work in the time period specified by the local authority, they may carry out the work themselves and charge you for it.

Asking your sewerage company to take over or adopt a private sewer or lateral drain

You can ask your water or local sewerage company to take over or adopt a private sewer or lateral drain. You can do this if the sewer or drain has been constructed or improved to the standards required by the company and is in reasonable condition. The sewerage company needs to be satisfied that adopting the sewer will benefit the sewerage system as a whole. Everyone responsible for maintaining  the lateral drain or sewer must agree to responsibility being transferred to the sewerage company.

If the company refuses to adopt a lateral drain or sewer, the owners can appeal to OFWAT.

Right to connect to a public sewer

All water and sewerage companies have a duty to provide public sewers to make sure the area is effectively drained. Usually, you have the right to connect the drain from your property to the public sewer – although you may have to pay for this.

Can the local authority insist you connect to the public sewer?

If the nearest public sewer is more than a hundred feet from your property and your drain runs into an adequate cesspool or septic tank, your local authority can’t insist that you connect to the public sewer.

However, they can insist if they agree to pay for the additional costs of connection, including construction, maintenance and repairs.

You’re not sure whether your sewer is private

If you're not sure whether your property is connected to a public sewer or a private one, you can:

  • check with your sewerage company
  • check the deeds of your property
  • check a sewer map – your sewerage company must make these available to you if you ask
  • check with your local authority.

Next steps

Other useful information

  • There’s useful information about water and sewerage on OFWAT’s website at: www.ofwat.gov.uk
  • To find out which water company supplies your  area, go to  the Consumer Council for Water's website at: www.ccwater.org.uk
  • For more help with water issues,  go to the Consumer Council for Water's website at: www.ccwater.org.uk
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