It’s probably not something you think about very often, but if you’re a homeowner with a property connected to the public sewer network, you have to pay for the privilege of using it.
You may also have to pay directly to repair or maintain certain pipes deemed to be your own responsibility. This is quite complicated to explain, but the rules changed in 2011 with the new Private Drains and Sewers regulations, so it’s worth checking out to be sure exactly where you stand.
Your Water and Sewerage Company (WaSC), the Highways Agency and the local authority share responsibility for the rest of your sewer system, depending where pipes are, the land they run under and which properties they serve. And, of course, you pay for this sewer system too, through water rates and via taxes to the government.
It’s worth noting that, although different bodies are liable for different parts of the wastewater network, as a homeowner, you are ultimately responsible for what goes into the sewers system from your property.
Be wastewater aware.
A homeowner’s guide to wastewater
Know your foul from your surface water – Most houses built after 1920 will have separate sewers for foul waste (from the toilet, sinks, baths, household appliances, etc) and surface- or storm-water drains (which carry rain away to rivers and other watercourses). Homes built before then may have what’s known as ‘combined drains’ which take both foul and surface water to the wastewater treatment works (WwTW) via the same pipe.
Get your plumbing right – Whatever you do, don’t connect to the wrong drain. There is a huge incidence of homeowners (and tradesmen working for them) hooking up appliances — even toilets — to the surface water system. That means raw effluent (sewage) going direct to rivers and the sea without being treated. Not pleasant. And what’s more, it’s illegal so you can be prosecuted too. The water companies work with experts from the Environment Agency to trace the source of pollution, and an offending homeowner may face costs to put the misconnection right, and a fine of up to £2500 if you don’t.
Look out for trouble – It’s impossible to investigate your drainage yourself, but a CCTV survey will immediately show whether everything’s as it should be. It’s particularly useful if you’re planning to build an extension, for instance, or when you’re moving house. A homebuyer’s CCTV drainage survey carried out alongside a building survey should give you real peace of mind.
Keep away from FOG – Fat, oil and grease, otherwise known as ‘FOG’. You wouldn’t believe how much damage it can do to your drains. Never, ever pour fats, oil or grease down your sink or loo. It will quickly solidify in the pipes when it goes cold; accumulate, and eventually cause a blockage. The resultant mass is what’s known as a ‘fatberg’. And it could become a financial headache if you have to pay to get it removed.
Bin it, don’t flush it – Nothing except human waste and toilet paper should ever go into the sewer system. So that’s a big ‘NO’ to wipes (even the so-called ‘flushable’ ones), sanitary towels, cotton buds, condoms, nappies. Any of these items can block your pipes (especially if they get mixed up with FOG too). Result: sewage backing up in your home. Not recommended.
Septic tanks count – Properties that are not connected to the main sewer network may use a septic tank for wastewater disposal, and these have their own rules and regulations that must be followed. In January 2020, new general binding rules on how to properly maintain and prevent pollution from septic tanks and small sewage treatment plants came into full effect, so these should be followed closely; in areas identified as environmentally sensitive, you also may require a permit too. Getting it wrong could result in a fine or prosecution, so make sure you have a clear understanding of your responsibilities.
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