Not the most obvious topic for a newsletter such as this perhaps, but important changes are due to take place later this year that will impact a large number of homeowners in England and Wales.
In 2008 it was announced by the Government that some sewers which are currently a homeowners responsibility to repair and maintain will become the property of water companies (“adopted”), and the adoption process is due to start in October 2011 in respect of gravity sewers and 2016 for pumped (rising) sewers.
“Sewers”, by definition, serve more than one property and “drains” serve a single property. A “lateral drain” is a section of pipe work serving a single property which extends beyond that property’s boundary. Throughout this article the term “sewers” refers to sewers and lateral drains. Private drainage systems such as those which drain to septic tanks and do not connect to the currently adopted drainage system will remain private and are not covered by this article.
At present water companies’ responsibility to repair and maintain sewers broadly commences where the sewers meet the highway system, although occasionally “adopted” drainage does extend in to private property and sewers in private roads are often private. Once the water companies assume ownership of all “sewers” i.e. drainage systems that are shared by two or more properties, the situation will be radically different. Most properties on estates or where properties are grouped closely together share a drainage system before it meets the highway.
The fact that water companies will assume responsibility for sewers (but not drains) will be good news for homeowners, who will be protected from the potentially substantial costs of repairing or unblocking sewers, which can also be a source of conflict between neighbours who cannot agree contributions or indeed who is liable to contribute.
However, there are potential downsides. Water companies have statutory rights of entry and repair, which are immediately exercisable in cases of deemed emergency.
Perhaps of greater concern (not least to solicitors acting for purchasers) is that water companies do not have complete records of sewer runs that are currently in private ownership. In the conveyancing process a solicitor undertakes a Drainage and Water Search which contains a map showing the adopted drainage system relative to the property being purchased. Private connections to the mains system are rarely shown. Following the transfer of currently private sewers to the water companies it seems likely that there will be a gap in the information provided in the search, as water companies are not expected to map the drainage systems that they acquire resulting from the transfer. A large proportion of properties will therefore have adopted drainage somewhere within their boundaries which may not be shown in the search.
This in turn has implications for home owners wishing to extend their properties and purchasers who intend to do so following completion. Extensions cannot be built over adopted drainage without the water company’s prior consent, and without a search identifying the entire adopted drainage system relative to the property the only way to establish if consent is required before work commences will be to have a potentially expensive drainage test undertaken. And as yet it is unclear what attitude will be taken in respect of extensions already built over currently unadopted sewers that will automatically become adopted after October 2011. Assuming the legislation does not have retrospective consequences, situations will inevitably occur in the future where it is not possible to be sure whether an existing extension was built before or after the adoption date and therefore whether consent was or was not required at the time it was built.
For further information, please contact Jeremy Jupp by email firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01483 726 146.