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Private sewers - customers

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On 1 October 2011, the responsibility for many private sewers and lateral drains which drain to a public sewer and extend beyond your property boundary transferred to water and sewerage companies.

Before the transfer, private sewers were the responsibility of their owners - generally the owners and occupiers of the properties they served.

Unless a problem occurred, many householders were unaware that they were responsible for a private sewer, especially when it continued beyond their property boundary. Where problems did occur, repair costs could be high.

To help ease the burden in these situations and increase environmental protection, the Government decided that the fairest solution was to transfer ownership of these private sewers to water and sewerage companies.

We've created this page to explain the changes and what it means for our customers.

What are sewers, drains and lateral drains?

Sewers are pipes which carry waste from more than one property.

Drains are pipes which carry waste from a single property to the sewer. These become lateral drains when they extend beyond the boundary of the property.

How does the transfer affect me?

From 1 October 2011, South West Water took over ownership of private sewers and lateral drains that extend beyond individual property boundaries within its area.

Now the sewers are the responsibility of South West Water, the cost of repairing and maintaining these public sewers will be covered by the sewerage charges our customers pay in the future.

You are still responsible for drains on your land.

The diagrams below show how ownership changed after the transfer.

Please note these diagrams illustrate how common types of property are affected. However, it is possible that your property's drains may be laid out differently from those illustrated. 

For example if a detached property shares drains with another property then these drains would be included in the transfer and if a terrace property does not share drains with another property then these drains would not be included in the transfer.

Private sewer diagram

What are the benefits of the transfer?

The transfer makes responsibility for looking after drains much clearer and should mean better management of the sewerage system, resulting in better environmental control.

However, we estimate that South West Water is now responsible for 60% more sewers than before the transfer. We will need to prioritise work and it will take time to assess the state of the network - we won't be able to fix every problem immediately.

Will the transfer affect bills?

South West Water is now responsible for repairing and maintaining additional sewers and lateral drains. This will add to the costs we need to recover from customers in the future, so this will affect bills. It will not affect bills immediately. How much they may need to go up in the future will be decided together with the water industry regulator Ofwat.

What if I have insurance cover for my drainage?

Please contact your insurance provider if you would like to understand how the transfer has affected your policy. Don't forget you are still responsible for the drains that connect your property to our sewers.

What do I need to do?

Absolutely nothing. The transfer happened automatically on 1 October 2011.

This is good news for customers. If you have problems with sewers or drains now owned by South West Water, contact our Services Helpline on 0344 346 2020*.

Private pumping stations that serve two or more properties or are located outside your boundary are due to transfer gradually to South West Water by 2016. If you own or manage a private pumping station, please register your details here. Doing this will help us and may increase your chance of having your private pumping station transferred sooner.  However it is important to remember that you still need to maintain and repair your pumping station until it is transferred to the ownership of South West Water.

Do you want to know how the transfer will impact on the extension or conservatory you plan to build?

To build close to or over a public sewer it is necessary to complete a Build Over Enquiry application form.

For further guidance regarding building near public sewers click here.

Want to know more?

You can find helpful information on the Defra, Consumer Council for Water and Water UK websites.

*03 numbers are charged at standard rates and will be included in any free minutes in a mobile or landline phone contract.

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