Water pollution is a serious issue, whether it’s chemicals from factories or the pollution caused by domestic consumers and misconnections of household appliances.
If misconnections happen, then foul waste may be discharged into a surface water network. This can then cause serious pollution.
One of the ways of revealing misconnections and diagnosing cross-contamination is by drain tracing.
The Risks of Cross Contamination
From the 1920s onwards, the UK water industry has worked to keep foul waste water and storm or surface water systems separate.
This is to ensure that sewage treatment plants are not having to deal with large amounts of rainwater on top of the considerable volumes of foul waste water.
Storm water should reach soak-aways, or rivers, while foul waste goes into sewage treatment.
However, where there are misconnections, foul waste may find its way into the storm water system, with a consequent pollution threat to rivers.
This pollution can be from faecal waste, but also chemicals from washing machine detergents.
Risk and Responsibility
Surveys of residential areas have found significant percentages of appliances misconnected, meaning they were emptying directly into rivers and streams.
Often this is not deliberately malicious, but arises from people not understanding the sewage system.
It may be that, for example, a washing machine kept in the garage has been connected to the nearest outlet, but that this may in fact be a storm drain, and not meant for waste water.
There are also plumbing innovations, such as saniflo, that allow for a toilet to be fitted pretty much anywhere. However, it must still be connected correctly so that it discharges into the foul water system.
There are consequences: the homeowner is responsible. There can also be problems if you misconnect a storm or surface outlet to the sewer, leading to the sewer flooding.
Remedial Action
The temptation is simply to connect to the nearest available drain – this often occurs with new builds and extensions.
If this is the case, it may not be immediately obvious that there has been a misconnection.
This is where drain tracing comes in. Sonar technology allows us to use sound to build up an accurate picture of a drainage network.
If you are the owner of a property, you must be sure your drains are connected properly, and legally.
We can make sure you know, and take the right action to resolve any misconnections leading to cross-contamination.
Contact Drainage Consultants today to find out more.


The subject of adopted and unadopted roads is quite complex, so it naturally follows that problems with the drains and sewers are similarly tricky to negotiate.

The vast majority of roads in the UK are public highways. However private roads exist within the bounds of private property, be it a home, a factory, a farm or any other type of commercial or non-commercial land. There do exist public highways that run through private land; these are often public rights of way that have been in existence since before the land was made private.

What are unadopted roads?

In between the public roads and the purely private roads lies a grey area: unadopted roads. The word “unadopted” comes from the fact that they have not been adopted by the local authorities. They are generally the responsibility of the owners of the adjacent properties to maintain, although some unadopted roads are privately owned by parties other than the property owners.

Many, if not most, unadopted roads are not actually private. They are necessary access routes to all sorts of properties, and are deemed publicly accessible.

How common are they?

directgov1_000According to a 2010 government Standard Note (SN/BT/402), there are around 40,000 unadopted roads in the UK, totalling 4000 miles (making their average length about 160 metres). The same study reckoned that to make them all public and pass the maintenance costs to the authorities would cost in the region of £3bn – so it probably isn’t going to happen any time soon.

To find out about road adoption by the council, visit Directgov Local.

Am I responsible for maintaining unadopted roads and sewers?

Just as maintenance of the roads is the responsibility of householders, so is the upkeep of the sewers. And if the authorities deem an unadopted road (or its sewers) dangerous or unfit for purpose they can force the property owners to pay for it, or even forcibly do it themselves and bill the property owners. It’s not hard to see how a damaged sewer could represent a public health issue, so a damaged sewer on a road whose residents refuse to pay up could well elicit such a response.

Note that this applies to the owners of the properties that face the affected road (who are known as frontagers), not tenants of rented accommodation. i.e. this is an issue for your landlord or housing association.

Residents of unadopted but public roads can understandably feel aggrieved that they should have to pay for damage caused by non-residents using the road. However, this is an unfortunate drawback of living on such a semi-private road. Some councils might have a sympathetic ear for residents (who are Council Tax payers, after all) and offer to pay for some degree of maintenance, especially on routes that affect the local economy, but there’s no guarantee.

CABLogoFrontagers on unadopted roads can apply to have their roads adopted by the authorities. If successful, the costs of maintenance will be borne by the public purse. Similarly, they can apply to the local sewerage company to have their sewers adopted. The sewerage company will almost certainly require that the sewer is brought up to a modern standard before they consider adopting it, although if they see an advantage in owning the sewer (for example if improving it would improve flow in the locality), they might be swayed to bear the cost themselves. The Citizens Advice Bureau has a useful page on this subject.

People living on unadopted roads with unadopted sewers are occupying a twilight zone between public and private ownership. Sadly, the frontagers on many unadopted roads are not minded to collectively maintain their roads and underground works, and they are often potholed and in poor states of repair. Often it takes a disaster such as a sewer collapse or blockage for them to take action, and even then, downstream residents might claim not to owe anything to the kitty.

Most unfortunate are those who are sole frontagers on a lengthy road that’s publicly accessible but unadopted. They could well have to foot large bills alone if the worst happens.


Not many house-hunters ask who owns the road when they put in their offers on their dream homes. However, if the road looks like it’s in a poor state of repair, it could be a giveaway sign that the road is not under the control of the local authorities and that it could end up being their responsibility (or partial responsibility) to have it maintained.

If you have a problem with the drain that services your home or business, do you know who is responsible for paying to restore the flow to the drainage system?

In 2011 the law changed regarding who is responsible for the different sections of the drainage system that services your home or business.

Prior to this time, the owner of the premises was responsible for the drain system up to and including the connection to the main public sewer (normally located in the public highway), so if there was an issue with your drain at any point between your property and the main sewer it would be your responsibility to pay for. This is not necessarily the case anymore.

This guide should give you a clear understanding of the section of the drainage system that you as a home or business owner are responsible for.

What is the difference between a drain and a sewer?

  • Drain - A pipe that drains waste and water from a property or group of properties that falls within the boundary of the property
  • Sewer - Carries water and waste from a number of properties

As a property owner it is important to know which elements of the sewers and drains near your property are your responsibility and which fall under the care of the local water company.

In a bid to improve sewer maintenance and bring about greater transparency, the Government changed the law and transferred ownership of certain aspects of the sewage system from private property owners to the water companies.

Since October 2011, property owners have only been responsible for waste outlets designated as their own private drains. Anything else – classified as public sewers – falls under the responsibility of the water companies serving the area.

Residential Property

In the case of detached, semi-detached, terraced building or flats / apartments, the owners are only responsible for sections of pipework that are not shared with a neighbour and fall within the property boundary (including any garden or yard space).  If the drainage system is shared or is beyond the boundary of the property, it is the responsibility of the local water company.

Residential Property


The law change has also affected businesses.  The drains that are within the grounds of a business remain the sole responsibility of the property owner (provided they are not shared), and once the drain reaches the site boundary the responsibility is transferred to the water company.

Business or Retail

Schools and Universities

The same applies for school and universities:

School and Universities

 In essence, you are only responsible as a home or business owner if the drain is in your private boundary and it does not serve any other properties.

What are the rules if my business is on a Retail Park?

If your business is on a Retail Park, this is usually slightly different. Although the drains are shared on a Retail Park they are not the responsibility of the water company as they are usually all owned by the landlord of the Retail Park, up to the Retail Park boundary. In this case it is therefore the responsibility of the landlord to have the drains cleared and/or repaired if they fall within the boundary of the Retail Park.

What about septic tanks, private treatment systems and cesspits?

Currently, when such systems are privately owned, their care and maintenance is the sole responsibility of the property owner. If a septic tank or treatment system serves more than one home or business, it is the responsibility of all the buildings it serves.

What should I do if I think I have a drainage problem?

Firstly, you need to find out if the problem is centralised to your own property’s system or if there is an issue with a nearby section of the public sewer. Speak to people in nearby homes / businesses and see if they are experiencing similar problems. If they are, it would suggest that the problem lies with the public sewer system and should therefore be reported to the local water company.  However, if not then it could just be your own property – in which case, you need to get in touch with a reliable drainage specialist.

If there is an issue, it is essential that you get it resolved as soon as possible. For business owners, besides posing health risks for customers and those in the immediate area, untended blockages and other sewage issues can lead to prosecution. Laws state that property owners must have essential maintenance and repair work carried out when necessary.

My property is served by a private pumping station – how am I affected?

In the case of some buildings – particularly more remote properties, or housing developments and business parks – a pumping station serves as a connector to the main sewage system. Private pumping stations were not transferred over to sewerage companies in 2011 – but the Government does have plans to move them over by 2016. Until then, pumping stations are the responsibility of their owners.

Regardless of how individuals and businesses have been affected by the transfer of certain system elements to sewerage companies, good has come from the changes. Now, ownership of each section of drain is clearly defined, which means lengthy disputes over maintenance can easily be avoided and repairs can be made more swiftly.

By calling in reputable drainage specialists, you can ensure that maintenance and repairs will be carried out to the highest standard, and work will comply with current laws and legislation. Using a combination of industry experience and expertise, together with the latest in CCTV technology and other services, professionals can work to solve any drain-related issue.

If you have a commercial drainage system that serves your business and you require investigation, rehabilitation or maintenance work please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us on 0845 226 5060.