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Drains and sewers

A drain is the pipe which carries the sewage from a single property. A sewer is the pipe which carries sewage from more than one property.

If drains from individual properties feed into a sewer before the public sewer (usually located in the middle of the street) this is known as a private sewer.

As an owner/occupier you are responsible for:

  • Private drains solely serving your home or business within the boundary of the property
  • Existing surface water sewers that drain directly to watercourses (for this to apply, it would mean the surface water from a property does not drain into the public sewer)
  • Privately owned sewage treatment works and pipes connected to them
  • Privately owned septic tanks and cesspits.

United Utilities is responsible for drains and sewer pipes which are shared by more than one property, or run beyond your property boundary.

To see in more detail how this change will affect you, use the United Utilities Explain-a-drain tool.

When do we get involved?
Sewage can present a significant risk to public health. We can provide advice and guidance to residents and businesses (particularly food businesses ) on how to minimise the risks and resolve the problem.

We also have powers to insist that blockages are removed and repairs made to defective drains. This includes getting work done in default and then recharging the owner(s) served by the drain or sewer for the cost of the work plus an administration fee.

A cesspit is simply a sealed storage tank into which sewage is drained until it can be taken away by a tanker. The sewage is not treated in the tank. Older cesspits are usually cylindrical pits lined with either brick or concrete. Modern cesspits are made from fibre glass, steel or polyethylene.

Septic Tanks
A septic tank treats domestic sewage and discharge, either into a watercourse or into the ground. In septic tanks the solids in the sewage settle to the bottom. Relatively clear liquid is left which forms a layer of scum on its surface. Bacteria feed on this liquid and digest some of the matter in it. The liquid then either passes into another settlement tank before passing to a watercourse or is discharged underground through a network of pipes to filter through the soil. Septic tanks are capable of treating all of a household's domestic sewage. However, the solids that build up at the bottom of the tank do need to be pumped out about once a year.

If the tank serves only your house then you alone are responsible for maintaining and emptying the tank. If several houses share the tank then the responsibility is normally shared between the owners.

If you rent your house privately, either you or your landlord may be responsible. We advise you to check your tenancy agreement to see who is responsible.

If your tank discharges its final effluent to a watercourse you will need to obtain a Consent for Discharge from the Environment Agency (EA). The EA sets standards for quality of effluent that can be allowed to enter rivers and streams. The quality of watercourses is monitored by the EA and they may take legal action against anyone who causes pollution.

Last Updated on Tuesday, August 31, 2021

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