Private drainage

The main types of drainage


A drain collects foul water (for example, from sinks, baths, toilets and washing machines) or surface water (rainwater) from a property. A drain can flow under another property's land, a pavement, or a highway, until it reaches a sewer.

Private sewer

Private sewers are sewers built after 1937. The difference between a drain and a private sewer is that a private sewer joins drains from two or more properties together. A private sewer can flow under the land of several properties, a pavement or a highway. These pipes, since the 1 October 2011, are now the responsibility of the water undertaker.

United Utilities and Northumbrian Water are the water undertakers in Eden, depending on the location.

You are still liable for blockages or problems on your own property's drain. If your private drain goes across anyone else's land, then there is likely to be reference made in your deeds and you should look here in the first instance of a problem.

Public sewer

A public sewer is a sewer built before 1937 (with some exceptions) or after 1937 and adopted by the water undertaker. If your sewer was built after 1937, your water undertaker will be able to tell you if your sewer has been adopted.

Some public sewers are found within the boundary of private properties. This can have planning implications if proposed development is close to a public sewer.

Road gully

A road gully is a chamber covered with a metal grate or grill at the edge of a highway, which collects and drains water from the highway. Road gullies are the responsibility of Cumbria County Council.

Report flooding, blocked gullies and drains.

Non-mains drainage

Non-mains drainage is found in rural areas of Eden. It is used when mains sewerage is not available. It is effective if correctly managed and maintained. There are three main types of system:

  • Package treatment plants
  • Septic tanks
  • Cesspools

A package treatment plant can treat sewage to the highest standard and is the only type of treatment that may be permitted to discharge straight into a river (subject to consent from the Environment Agency). There are several different types of package sewage treatment plants available, each with a slightly different treatment technique, but each type provides a treatment unit or biological zone where the sewage comes into contact with microorganisms that break down the organic matter in the sewage.

A septic tank is where sewage is stored in a watertight tank where bacteria break down solid matter to one third of its original volume. Settled solids are retained and a clear liquid flows out to a land drainage soakaway system. The land must be tested to ensure there is a large enough area available to take this drainage.

A cesspool is a watertight underground tank. Older cesspools are lined with brick or concrete, and more modern ones with plastics, polythene or steel. Foul water is stored until the time of disposal. A cesspool must be pumped out or otherwise emptied by a competent contractor. It is an offence for anyone other than a competent contractor to do this.

If you are looking to install a new system, the Environment Agency and drainage and waste disposal guidance from Building Control can provide additional advice.

Private drainage frequently asked questions

Who is responsible for cleaning or repairing drains?

I am an owner-occupier

The owner-occupier is responsible for maintaining drains, clearing blockages and repairing faults.

I live in a privately rented property

If you live in a rented property you will need to discuss cleaning drains with your landlord or property manager. Usually the property owner is responsible for repairing structural repairs and the occupier is responsible for cleaning blockages.

I live in a housing association rented property

You should contact your housing association for advice.

Am I responsible for a problem with my drain if it is beyond the boundary of my property?

Your responsibility does not end until your drain reaches a public sewer. This means you are responsible for cleaning and repairs, even if the problem with your drain is under someone else’s property, a pavement or a highway.

Who is responsible for cleaning or repair of private sewers?

All property owners upstream of a blockage or collapse are responsible for cleaning blockages and repairing collapses. If there is a problem with a private sewer, work should be jointly arranged and costs shared between everyone upstream of the problem.

Who can clean or repair my drain or private sewer?

Private contractors offer drain cleaning and repair. Many advertise in the Yellow Pages. It is advisable to discuss charges before authorising any work. We do not offer a repair service. Your home insurance company may be able to advise you on drain or private sewer repair.

What if my neighbour refuses to pay for cleaning or repair of a private sewer?

If the dispute cannot be resolved, you should contact us. We can serve a notice. All associated costs are equally proportioned between all householders upstream of the problem. If the notice is not complied with, we can arrange for works in default and reclaim their costs from householders. In addition to the costs of the work, there is an administration charge. Because of this charge, it is more economical to try to reach an agreement with your neighbours. Currently, the administration charge is £50 per property affected.

Who is responsible for cleaning or repair of public sewers?

Maintenance and repair of public sewers is the responsibility of the water undertaker. In Eden, the water undertaker are United Utilities and Northumbrian Water.

Why don’t my water rates cover drain and private sewer repair?

Water rates are for the provision and maintenance of a water supply, and maintenance of the public sewer network and sewage treatment.

How can I tell if my drain is blocked?

Waste will stop being cleared when the toilet is flushed. There will probably be an unpleasant smell.

What can block drains or sewers?

Toilets are designed to flush away human waste, toilet paper and water. Flushing other items, such as nappies, sanitary towels, incontinence pads and condoms can block a drain or sewer. Excessive disposal of cooking fats or oils can cause blockages, as they harden in drains. A fat trap in your kitchen sink can limit fats getting into drains. Tree roots can invade drains or sewers and block or collapse them.

What happens if my cesspool or septic tank overflows or leaks?

You are responsible for ensuring it is repaired. Under the Public Health Act 1936, it is an offence to allow a cesspool or septic tank to overflow or leak. This carries a fine of up to £200 (level 1 on the Standard Scale, of the Criminal Justice Act 1991) and a further £2 per day that the offence continues. If a cesspool or septic tank overflows or leaks polluting a water course, the Environment Agency can prosecute under the Water Resources Act 1991. A conviction carries a fine of up to £20,000, and/or up to three months' imprisonment.

What powers does Eden District Council have to deal with drainage problems?

An authorised officer can access a property at any reasonable time to investigate whether drainage problems could cause a public health risk. We can bring other people with us to offer specialist advice. We can serve a notice requiring the owner or occupier to perform appropriate remedial works. This gives forty-eight hours to clear the blockage. If it is not done, we will arrange for private contractors to clear the blockage and we will recover the costs of the work and administration. Currently, the administration charge is £50 per property affected.

If a repair to a drain or private sewer is not completed, we can serve a notice requiring owner occupiers to perform appropriate remedial works. This gives approximately eight weeks to carry out the repairs. If it is not done, we will arrange for private contractors to carry out repairs and we will recover the costs of the work and administration.

There is a right to appeal, which is explained on the notice.

Who can I contact for help?

For help and advice on private drainage problems, contact Environmental Protection, on the details below:

Last updated: Monday, 17 April, 2023.