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Drains and sewers

What are 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.

Who is responsible?

As an owner/occupier (or landlord) 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.

For further information on who is responsible for what, please see the United Utilities sewers and drains explained guidance.

Help and advice - who to contact

  1. For highway and land drainage, please contact Lancashire County Council
  2. For sewers and shared drains from several properties, contact United Utilities
  3. For your own pipes, gutters and drains, seek advice from an appropriate contractor
  4. For private drainage (eg a septic tank), or neighbour nuisance please contact Lancaster City Council on 01524 582935 in office hours, or out of office in emergencies call 01524 67099

Role of Lancaster City Council

The council has a statutory duty in the interests of public health to ensure that blocked and foul-smelling private drains are cleared and, where appropriate, to recharge the householders for this service. Any recharge is apportioned equally to all households feeding into the sewer up to the point that it is blocked and follows the serving of a notice.

We may become involved if:

  • Private households, being served by a drain and/or private sewers are unable or unwilling adequately to deal with the problem. In these cases we are able to serve a Legal Notice requiring the work to be done. The work may be done by us in default of the owners. However this will be subject to an administration charge and it will normally be more economical for the owners to agree amongst themselves to arrange for the works to be carried out.
  • Access is not possible or denied onto a property to investigate the situation. An authorised officer of the council may enter the property at any reasonable time to assess the extent of the problem.
  • We have reason to believe that a risk to public health exists and it is unlikely that the person(s) responsible will be able or willing to carry out necessary works.

We have a number of options for service of notice in respect of private drains and sewers using public health acts, the building act and other provisions but legal action is complicated and can involve extra expense and delay. However, legal action should not be necessary where owners are aware of their shared ownership and clearance and repair will be quicker and cheaper if they can agree to have works carried out and share costs fairly amongst themselves.

Last updated: 12 August 2019

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