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Transfer of private sewers and lateral drains to public ownership

24 May 2011 #Commercial Real Estate

On 1st October 2011 it is anticipated that approximately 2,000 kilometers of privately- owned sewers and lateral drains in England will be transferred to water and sewerage companies ("WSC").


In July 2003 Defra and the Welsh Assembly published a consultation paper identifying a number of common problems associated with private sewers.  The Labour government at the time had sought to deal with these issues by improving the construction standards of new sewers.

The 2003 consultation also identified a range of potential options to deal with those problems.  The solution favoured was the transfer of ownership of private sewers and lateral drains to the relevant WSC in each area.

The coalition government decided to continue with the transfer and in August 2007/2010 published draft regulations to effect the transfer of ownership from October 2011.

Nearly half of all homes in England and Wales are served by a private sewer or drain.  Often the responsibility of ownership is shared between neighbours.  This often only becomes apparent when a problem occurs and owners are faced with the cost of repairs.

It is hoped by the Government that the transfer will simplify the position between WSC, sewer and drainage owners, and local authorities and lead to better and more efficient maintenance of the network.

The transfer

It was intended that there should be one scheme for the adoption of private sewers and private lateral drains by each statutory undertaker whose area is wholly or mainly in England and Wales.  On the making of the scheme by the Secretary of State, a declaration will be made by the relevant WSC adopting the qualifying public sewers and lateral drains in that area.

The effect of the adoption will be to transfer ownership on 1st October 2011 to the relevant WSC who will assume the ongoing responsibility for repairs and maintenance for the drains and sewers adopted. 

The transfer will include ‘Private Sewers` and ‘Private lateral Drains` serving both residential and commercial premises and which have been defined in the draft regulations.

Private sewers

This includes the whole or part of the foul, combined or surface water sewer connecting to a public sewer.  The location of the sewer is not crucial and the transfer will include private sewers under highways or private land.
Private lateral drains

This includes the whole or part of any lateral drain which is not vested in a sewage undertaker.  A lateral drain forms part of a private drain which serves an individual dwelling and connects to a public sewer and lies outside the boundaries of the property in question.

Defra has published the following diagrams illustrating the effect of the transfers.

Example of existing arrangements

Example of future arrangements

(Images taken from the "Consultation on Draft Regulations and Proposals for Schemes for the Transfer of Private Sewers to Water and Sewerage Companies in England and Wales. Available at


Defra has published draft regulations and it is hoped that these will be approved by Parliament shortly.  It is widely expected that they will come into force on 1st October 2011.
Clarkslegal, specialist Real Estate lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
For further information about this or any other Real Estate matter please contact Clarkslegal's real estate team by email at by telephone 020 7539 8000 (London office), 0118 958 5321 (Reading office) or by completing the form on this page.
This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

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Simon Ralphs

Simon Ralphs

T: 020 7539 8049
M: 0779 900 7323


Commercial Real Estate team
+44 (0)118 958 5321