Dealing with problems with drains and sewers
If you have a problem with a blocked drain you can usually get help from your local council's environmental health department.
Public sewers and drains
Drains take foul sewage (waste from toilets, bathrooms and kitchens) and surface water (rain water) away from your property. Sewers are the pipes that take sewage and surface water away from more than one property.
Sewers are either publicly or privately maintained. If they are publicly maintained, the local water and sewerage company is responsible for repairs and maintenance. You can find out which company is responsible for public sewers in your area by using the link below.
Private sewers and drains
A private sewer is the joint responsibility of the properties that drain into it. This responsibility continues up to the point where the private sewer (including the connection) joins a public sewer. This means that often, people are responsible for the repair and maintenance of drainage pipes that are beneath land owned by somebody else, such as a neighbour.
Responsibility for private sewer defects and blockages lies with the owners/occupiers of properties draining into the sewer upstream of any defect or blockage. Your local council may be able to help you find out which sewers are privately owned.
If you are partially or solely responsible for maintaining drains and sewers you may be covered by your housing insurance for any damage.
Reporting a blocked drain
If your drain becomes blocked you usually know because your waste stops going away when you flush the toilet; man-holes and gullies may also start to overflow.If there is a nuisance smell or blockage contact your local authoritys environmental health department which has powers to investigate the matter, carry out repairs and recover costs from the home owner.
The following link will let you enter details of where you live and then take you to your local authority website where you can find out more.
Preventing a blocked drain
Drains and sewers can become blocked or damaged for a number of reasons including flushing away unsuitable items and damage caused by trees and other plants.
Improper disposal of waste
When substances other than waste water are flushed down the drain this can cause problems. For example fats oils and greases can solidify and cause smells. The following items should be recycled if possible or bagged and binned:
- waste food
- fats, oils and greases
- disposable nappies and wipes
- sanitary products
- bandages and dressings
- animal waste
- cotton wool and cotton buds
- razor blades
Damage from building work
When any building work is taking place ensure that surface and waste water pipes are kept separate. If you need advice when carrying out building work involving drains and sewers contact your local councils building control officer. You are legally required to notify your local authority Building Controldepartmentor any activity that might affect or require alteration or repair of a drain or private sewer.
You can also avoid problems by:
- always allowing a working zone for repairs and maintenance
- making sure that building work does not damage the drain or sewer by direct contact with pipe work
- not displacing surrounding material that supports and protects the pipe work
Making new connections to drains
Foul and surface water drains and sewers are usually separate systems and this is most certainly the case in houses built in suburban areas after 1950. If you make new connection be careful to connect to the right drain or sewer. If you put foul matter into a surface water drain you will cause pollution and you might be prosecuted. If you connect surface water drains to a foul sewer you might contribute to sewer flooding.
Damage from vegetation
Keep vegetation away from drains and sewers if possible. In general, where a pipe is less than 1m deep:
- new drains and sewers should be routed at least 3m from existing trees; or
- new trees should be planted at least 3m from an existing sewer
Where a pipe is more than 1m deep, the distance can be reduced to 2m.
If you need further advice about locating trees contact your local authoritys Tree officer.
More useful links
- Recycling (environment and greener living section)
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