Drains and Sewers FAQs

How does the sewer/sewerage system for my property work?

If your property is of individual design (e.g. not of similar look to your neighbours) then it is likely to have been constructed with a single drainage connection (one for foul/waste water and possibly one for surface water as well) into the main public sewers. In these circumstances there will probably be a private drain from the house to the property boundary (curtilage), which is the private responsibility of the owner or occupier of the property but from there onwards it is the responsibility of Thames Water.

If your property is of similar design (e.g. of similar look to your neighbours and likely to have been developed at the same time) then the property is likely to have been connected to several other properties. In these circumstances each house will have a lateral drain emerging from it and each will be the responsibility of the owner or occupier of that particular house. From the point where two or more drains join together it is the responsibility of Thames Water.

Thames Water website contains definitions and pictures of what should be a public sewer and what might still be a private lateral drain. If you are in any doubt as to whether the problem is located in the public system or it is one for private action to resolve you must contact Thames Water who can provide you with a definitive answer.

Who is responsible for the private drain serving a rented property?

Generally, the landlord will be responsible under his maintenance obligations in respect of the property and your tenancy agreement should clarify this, together with any procedure to adopt in the event of blockage. Should your Landlord refuse to clear the blockage however it will be your private responsibility.

If you rent your house from Accent Housing, you must contact their maintenance team. The out-of-hours number will have been given to you. This Council has nothing to do with the Housing Association who are completely separate and have their own arrangements in place for dealing with maintenance and related emergencies.

I have bought my Council house (or Housing Association house), who is responsible for the private drain?

As the new house owner, you are responsible for maintaining the drains yourself.

What are Road Gullies and who is responsible for them?

A road gully is a small chamber covered by a heavy iron grating; they are the familiar feature found in the gutter of roadways. Their function is to drain surface water from the road. It is Surrey County Council Highways Authority that is responsible for the maintenance of these.

What if there is a dispute and I cannot get the responsible party to clear the blockage or investigate a defect? 

Where there is dispute you can bring this to the attention of the Local Authority who may investigate the matter for you. Ultimately however the responsibility will be either a private one or one falling to Thames Water Utilities Ltd. If you are in any way dis-satisfied with the service you have received from them you will have to make a formal complaint firstly through their complaints procedures and then if still dis-satisfied through The Consumer Council for Water.

Emptying Cesspools and Septic Tanks

These are still used in outlying areas of the Borough where there is no connection to the treatment works or other public outfall. If operated with care and consideration, and in the right ground conditions, they can work satisfactorily for extended periods. If you need yours emptying, you will need to find a suitable contractor. The Council does not offer this service so you should seek companies through the usual trade papers or internet sites. If you do not empty your septic tank or cesspool and it causes flooding to your or any other third party land the Council may have to take formal action to ensure that it is emptied.

My neighbour's cesspool/septic tank/foul drain is overflowing. What shall I do?

In the interests of good neighbour relations you should, first of all, advise them as often they will not have realised. Most will respond favourably and get it sorted out. If a resolution cannot be found then please report the matter to Private Sector Housing Enforcement in Regulatory Services by telephoning 01276 707100. They will then take the matter up with the owner directly.

My drain is blocked, what can I do?

First and foremost it must be cleared without delay. If you are competent enough to attend to the blockage yourself it is often surprisingly simple to clear with a set of drain rods, some knowledge of your property and a little common sense. However, you will need to take some simple Health and Safety precautions such as attention to personal hygiene, and care to avoid accidents with inspection covers and open chambers. If you are in doubt or not confident in approaching the problem yourself, then ask friends and family to recommend a specialist contractor or jobbing builder.

My drains are blocked, can anybody help?

Surrey Heath Borough Council has no direct labour to deal with problem blockages to private drains. If you do not have friends and family that can recommend a specialist contractor you can use any of the recognised trade papers or internet sites for contractors who can deal with the problem for you. Please be aware that these companies may charge higher than average fees, particularly outside normal working hours. Others may spend increased time on site (with increased charges) as they may have little or no knowledge and experience of drainage problems. Always ask for a scale of charges first and get more than one quote.

I have had repeated blockages in my drain. Might there be an underlying fault?

There may be an underlying fault, however a stubborn blockage which was not completely cleared can cause rapid recurrent blockages. If you are in doubt you can have a CCTV survey of the drain carried out once it has been cleaned. Specialist contractors can do this for you. Such a survey will identify any cracks, breaks, holes, collapses, root ingress, or other fault, it will also enable the accurate location of the problem so that repairs may be targeted if the drain needs to be excavated.

If you decide to employ specialist contractor to conduct such a survey make sure that you receive a video or CD of the survey and written report to keep. In many cases where the fault can be attributed as "accidental damage" then the investigation and remediation process might be covered by your household insurance and you should in the first instance contact your insurers for clarification.

A large tree is near my drain. Will I get problems from this?

Generally, it is better to discourage tree growth on or near the line of drains and sewers but there need not necessarily be any cause for alarm, in practice, the risks are small. In any case, it is not always possible to control activity in remote third-party land. As far as the law is concerned trees cannot be implicated. In a properly constructed and sound drainage system tree roots should not be able to get in. For tree roots to penetrate a drainage system there would have to be a defect.

Roots are naturally drawn to moisture, particularly during dry spells when they can enter the pipe or an inspection chamber through these defects and cause longer-term blockages or further structural damage. As previously explained though, many insurance companies will consider root ingress to be accidental damage and as such may be covered by your household insurance policy. Check with your insurers for clarification. In all cases however evidence of tree roots in a drainage system must be taken as an indication of a pre-existing defect.

Is it possible for the Council to arrange for clearance?

If you wish, the Council can arrange for a clearance or repair for you. Please be aware though that the Council will be using a local contractor and will charge an Agency fee of 30% of the cost for clearances and 16% for repairs. Where there is a defect, collapse or other damage that requires repair or the clearance requires the use of specialist plant and other equipment then this will be reflected in the final invoice the true nature of which would be subject to speculation on a case by case basis.

Please also be aware that should you have a blocked drain and it remains un-cleared such that it causes nuisance or otherwise affects neighbouring households or the general public then the Council may have to take formal action to ensure it is cleared. This will usually take the form of a clearance notice. Failure to comply with the requirements of such a notice will result in the Council carrying out the works in default and re-charging the cost incurred back to the notice recipient together with the appropriate administrative charges.

How can I reduce the incidence of blockages in my drain or the public sewer?

Items such as disposable nappies, sanitary products, cotton buds, food waste, hot fat etc. should never be put down the toilet or sink, these should instead be wrapped and binned. Do make everyone in your household aware of the consequences!

If your question hasn't been fully answered and you feel you need further advice or information please do not hesitate to contact one of the Private Sector Housing Enforcement Officers or the Drainage Engineer in Regulatory Services by telephoning 01276 707100.