Many of our homes are connected by a system of drains and sewers. When these pipes get blocked, the issue needs to be sorted as soon as possible to prevent smells, leaks or even flooding.
But if a drain gets blocked, what should you do and who has to pay for it?
The water that flushes out of your toilet or down your sink goes into a 'private drain,' which is the responsibility of the property owner (whether that's you or your landlord). When the drain leaves your home and passes under a road or pavement, it's called a 'lateral drain.'
When waste from more than one property meet, this pipe is known as a sewer. In most cases these sewers are public – meaning, they're the local water company's responsibility. A change in the law in October 2011 transferred many sewers and lateral drains into public ownership, so if you've dealt with sewer issues in the past it's worth checking whether ownership has changed.
If a blockage is in a drain on your own property, it's your duty to clear it or pay a private contractor to do it for you. Lifting the drain inspection chamber should help you check if there's a blockage on your property.
If you're not sure where the blockage is, contact your local Environmental Health Officer (EHO) who'll be able to inspect the property, help identify the problem and suggest next steps. Ask your neighbours if they've experienced any problems – this will help you get a fuller picture.
If the blockage appears to be in the sewer, you'll need to contact the local water authority, who are responsible for maintaining, cleaning and unblocking sewers. They should be able to resolve the problem.
If your sewer is one of the few remaining shared private sewers, you'll need to share the cost of clearing a blockage with your neighbours. Your EHO will help with any potential disputes but be warned: they might charge a fee for their service.
We'd all rather not think about blocked drains and sewers, but around three quarters of blockages are caused by people flushing away things that don't belong in drains or sewers in the first place. This includes nappies, sanitary towels, plastic bags, cooking fat, plaster and cement, condoms, waste food, paint, cleaning wipes, clothing and cat litter.
Think twice before putting these items down a sink or toilet. They can snag on pipes and cause stubborn blockages that need to be dug out to clear them, causing much more disruption than taking a few steps to the bin in the first place.
If you do experience a drain blockage, get it sorted as quickly as possible. Delay is likely to only cause a stink!
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