On 1 October 2011 it’s possible that part of your home became owned by someone else and you won’t have even noticed. You may also not have realised it but you received a letter from Anglian Water around 1 August telling you it would happen. I’m sure most of us put this letter in the pile marked, “Bills not to worry about – paid by direct debit”! That aside, there has been an important change to the ownership of sewers and drains affecting many of our properties which, unsurprisingly, hasn’t made headline news.

What’s happened? Following regulations passed this year the ownership of a large number of English and Welsh private sewers and lateral drains connected to the public sewage system before 1 July 2011 passed to the local regulated sewage undertaking. For Suffolk and Norfolk this is Anglian Water.

The benefit for homes and businesses is that they will no longer be responsible for fixing the sewage pipes that have been adopted. This has sometimes been problematic for property owners as it often involved looking at the property’s deeds and agreeing the works and contributions to their costs with neighbours.

Are there any exceptions? There are. Not all private sewage pipes have passed to the water companies. The general rule is that pipes outside a property’s boundary that connect it to the mains sewer have been adopted. However, sewage pipes which are shared by neighbours but within private property have also been adopted. The result of this is that any pipes which connect a single property into a previously private sewage system remain the responsibility of the property owner. This is difficult to explain in words but there are very good diagrams given in the guidance mentioned below which clearly illustrate how it works.

Cesspits, septic tanks, private sewage treatment plants and the pipes serving them will also not be adopted.

Other exceptions are for railway, Government and Crown land. Also, where someone has appealed the adoption within two months of getting the notice, the regulator, Ofwat, may find that a particular sewer or drain should not be adopted.

What do I need to do? The good news is nothing. The transfer of ownership was automatic on 1 October 2011.

Who pays for all this? This is the downside. The increased responsibility by the water companies will lead to increased bills. The Government predicts an annual average £5.00 increase on all sewage bills from 2011 rising to £8.00 by 2019. It expects a variance of between £3.00 and £14.00 between the ten English and Welsh water and sewage companies.

Anglian Water has said that there will be a small increase from 2014. It estimates that it will be responsible for an additional 23,000 miles of sewage pipes making a 60% increase on its ownership.

To help combat price rises Anglian Water is raising public awareness of the things that can block drains such as putting food waste down the sink. The idea being if we all behave responsibly there will be fewer pipes for them to fix.

Is there anything else? At a later date there will be further provision to adopt any private sewers or drains connected to the mains sewer after 1 July 2011.

Private pumping stations are also included in the legislation but their change in ownership will occur by 1 October 2016 at the latest.

What does it mean for my business? The position for businesses is the same as for homes but typically as the freehold of commercial premises is owned by one individual or company then the pipes within that property won’t be adopted. Only those outside the property that connect it to the mains sewer will be adopted.

Where can I find out more? The water regulator Ofwat has a good summary of the effect of the changes in its guidance note on making appeals which can be found at:

http://www.ofwat.gov.uk/consumerissues/rightsresponsibilities/sewers/gud_proc20110803psappeal.pdf

Anglian Water has a dedicated web site which can be found at:

www.anglianwater.co.uk/sewerswitchover

Guidance can also be found on the DEFRA website at:

www.defra.gov.uk/environment/quality/water/sewage/sewers/