New regulations, which come into force today, will transfer an estimated 200,000 km of residential and commercial private sewers in England and Wales to the authorities on 1 October 2011.
The transfer will take place automatically, providing the sewer or lateral drain was connected to the public sewerage system on 1 July 2011. Sewers and lateral drains will transfer regardless of their condition.
A sewer is a pipe which serves more than one property, while a drain serves only one property. A lateral drain is that part of a drain which is outside of the property boundary.
After the transfer has taken place, property owners will only be responsible for the repair and maintenance of drains within their property boundary.
Sewers owned by railways are exempt from the regulations and there is an "opt-out" facility for land belonging to the Crown. Sewers and drains within the grounds of a particular property which serve only that property will also not be transferred.
There will be another transfer at a future date for sewers which are not yet connected to the public network. New private sewers and drains that connect to the public network after that second cut-off date will have to be built to a minimum national standard, and the owner must first enter into an adoption agreement with the sewerage company before the connection can be made.
A government consultation on the new build standard is expected imminently.
Pumping stations form part of the sewer on which they are located, so privately owned pumping stations will also transfer to the water authorities. This transfer will happen progressively over the next five years, by 1 October 2016 at the latest.
Repairs to privately owned pipes cost property owners approximately £221 million each year, Government figures suggest.
The cost of the transfer and future repair and maintenance costs will be met by an increase in the sewerage element of water company bills on a regional basis.
"The transfer will stop the financial threat of customers being hit with huge repair bills for sewers that sometimes aren't even on their property. It's a much fairer and simpler approach which will also improve the overall quality of the network to reduce the chance of problems in the first place," said environment minister Richard Benyon in a statement.
Landowners can appeal against the transfer if it will put them at a disadvantage. This may apply to those with so-called 'lift and shift' provisions, allowing them the right to insist that sewers running over their land are moved if they wish to develop that land. These rights will disappear once private sewers transfer.
Affected property owners will receive notification of the transfer with their water bills and in the local press by 1 August 2011. Appeals must be lodged within two months of receiving this notification.