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18th February 2020

Sewer transfers and impacts

This article looks at the 2011 private sewer transfer, its lasting impact, the benefits and drawbacks, and how the CON29DW can help.

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This article looks at the 2011 private sewer transfer, its lasting impact, the benefits and drawbacks, and how the CON29DW can help.

Did you know that in October 2011 ownership of most private sewers, lateral drains and pumping stations that connect to the public sewer network were transferred to the ownership of the regulated sewerage companies in England and Wales? This meant an estimated doubling of water companies’ sewer network overnight.

Why was this change instigated? Previously homeowners with private sewers were responsible for their maintenance and repair and the associated costs, but many were unaware of this liability until a problem developed. The Government believed that transferring sewers to water companies, so that they are recognised as “public sewers”, would ensure they were properly maintained and alleviate pressure on property owners. Sewerage undertakers have a statutory responsibility to maintain public sewers.

A big change

There has been no historical requirement to record the location of private sewers. Consequently, at the time of transfer, water companies were unaware of the location of many of their new assets. Since the transfer, they have been working hard to map these sewers. This will take a number of years as water companies do not have the financial resources to proactively map these networks without passing these costs onto customers. Most companies are therefore adding sewers to their records as they come across them in the course of their normal operations, as well as utilising whatever historical records are available to them. These sewers are continually added to plans as companies uncover them.

Given the size of this transferred network it is likely that potential buyers will have a public sewer within or close to their boundary. With transferred sewers, not all of these may be shown on public records.

It’s always worth knowing what’s in, around and under a potential new home, especially if there are plans to extend or develop it. The CON29DW will show the location of all known public sewers, providing an invaluable resource in the home buying process.

Access and development problems

Water companies have statutory rights granting them access to private land to inspect and maintain their assets. Sewers under buildings or patios can create problems for access, and property owners have an obligation to ensure any public sewers in their land remain accessible. Whilst ensuring a water company can access private land is inconvenient for the property owner, if the sewer isn’t easily accessible, these problems can be even more troublesome, with water companies ultimately having the right to take all necessary steps to safeguard and access their network.

It’s also important for homeowners and homebuyers to know the location of public sewers if there are plans to undertake any development work. So, it is vital that homebuyers’ professional advisers are clear on their client’s intentions for the property.

Any development near a public sewer requires consent from the water company as part of the planning application, with companies having the right to require their sewers be protected, diverted, or in some case denying permission. Although a survey should always be undertaken to locate underground assets prior to development work, the CON29DW is an invaluable indicator to water company assets – both mapped and unmapped – affecting the property.

Not all sewers transferred – some complexities

With newer developments, there have also been instances where part of a network has been adopted, but other parts have not. Under the legislation, sewers that didn’t discharge into the public network weren’t transferred, so it’s now quite common on developments for foul sewers to have transferred, but surface water sewers, which often drain to watercourses, SUDS or other methods, are still private as they bypass the public sewer network.

There are also occurrences where the sewers directly serving a property have transferred, but some of the downstream sewers remain private – something which didn’t occur prior to the transfer.

Finally, although the sewer transfer was intended to be enacted in two stages, and future sewers to be adopted at the time of connection, the legislation for this has never been enacted. Some sewers were also exempt in the initial transfer. Consequently, in England, a network of private sewers is again building up.

How can DWSN members help?

The CON29DW, compiled by specialist and expert staff, is the best source for locating these sewers and identifying any potential risk.

Overall the transfer of these assets to public ownership is a good thing for homeowners, reducing their liability and removing the burden of maintaining sewers themselves. But it is always worth knowing what is in and around a property prior to purchase. The CON29DW remains the best source of identifying water company assets and making sure there are no hidden surprises.

If you want to find out more, use this postcode look-up to contact the CON29DW provider for the address you need to check.

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Building over sewers – avoiding risk for homebuyers and conveyancers

What are the implications for property owners and homebuyers and their professional advisers around building over public sewers.

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What are the implications for property owners and homebuyers and their professional advisers around building over public sewers.

The water companies of England and Wales are responsible for a vast network of sewer pipes, just under 450,000km of them in total. These pipes run under the ground all over the country, both in public and private land, connecting the majority of properties to the public sewerage system.

Restrictions

Water companies have statutory rights of access to public sewers and have the right to refuse any development that restricts this, or that could potentially damage their assets. As problems with sewers can cause serious damage to the surrounding area, it’s beneficial to all parties to ensure steps are taken to safeguard both the property and the surrounding sewers.

Nothing can be built over or close to public sewers unless the water company’s consent is first obtained, often in the form of a build over agreement. Anyone planning to build within three metres of a public sewer is therefore required to obtain permission from the relevant water company. There are also rules applying to other assets, such as lateral drains, which tend to vary by company, so it’s always important to check with them prior to any development work.

While water companies will always work with property owners to try and find a mutually agreeable arrangement, there are some circumstances in which permission must be refused due to the nature of the assets. Consent would not be granted to build over a pressurised rising main – where sewage is pumped uphill – or a large strategic sewer, due to the consequences of any potential damage. Restricting a water company’s access to manholes is also not allowed as it limits their access to sewers.

Obtaining a water company’s consent for any building work planned over or near a public sewer is vital. Without consent, your local council’s building control department might not sign off your building regulations completion certificate and without this, you may have problems when trying to sell your property. Water companies have legal powers, under Sections 159 to 171 of the Water Industry Act 1991, giving the right to maintain, repair, replace and renew public sewers. If any building work limits this, the water company could seek an injunction to remove the building and potentially recover damages.

How DWSN members can help

These restrictions highlight the need for a CON29DW Enquiry to be completed for any property transaction, as the report would confirm whether any build over consents are in place. Question 2.7 of the CON29DW asks “has a sewerage undertaker approved or been consulted about any plans to erect a building or extension on the property over or in the vicinity of a public sewer, disposal main or drain?”. This will highlight whether any development was undertaken with the water company’s consent. If there is the possibility of any development at the property affecting a public sewer and that the water company may not have been consulted, or the development approved, it is imperative that the water company is contacted as soon as possible to verify the situation.

With the vast network of public sewers throughout England and Wales, it is not uncommon for both new and existing properties to be built over or near a water company’s asset. While this is always something owners and developers need to be aware of, providing the company is consulted and proper steps followed, it need not be something that deters potential purchasers.

If you want to find out more, use this postcode look-up to contact the CON29DW provider for the address you need to check.

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Why a CON29DW?
7th February 2020

Ensure v. insure – The value of the CON29DW

Drainage and water issues – avoiding risk for conveyancers, homebuyers, and lenders

This article looks at the quality of information provided in drainage and water searches and discusses how conveyancers can ensure that they reveal the full picture for their clients.

 

 

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Drainage and water issues – avoiding risk for conveyancers, homebuyers, and lenders

This article looks at the quality of information provided in drainage and water searches and discusses how conveyancers can ensure that they reveal the full picture for their clients.

 

 

The importance of drainage and water information

Amongst the multitude of things to consider when purchasing a home, information about a property’s drainage and water may seem relatively unimportant. However, issues with either can prove both costly and inconvenient, and a comprehensive drainage and water search can help prevent unpleasant surprises later on.

Drainage and water issues can have a real impact on a property’s value and maintenance costs. An inconveniently located sewer can put paid to development plans, or the absence of a connection could lead to significant costs and inconvenience. Without getting the full picture on drainage and water connections and assets upfront, the home buyer, conveyancer and lender can all be exposed to substantial risk.

A comprehensive search of drainage and water assets in advance can highlight many potential issues, providing reassurance for all parties. There are a variety of different searches available containing varying amounts of information, and the most comprehensive of these is the CON29DW, developed in conjunction with the Law Society.

Homebuyers

Homebuyers that experience drainage and water problems can find themselves dealing with major disruption and considerable financial outlay to put things right.

For example, assumptions can be made in some searches about the household connections. If a property isn’t connected, then it may be reliant on a cesspit or septic tank for its sewage disposal. Obviously not the ideal choice for many homeowners, due to the potential maintenance costs involved with both methods, alongside the risk of leaking and flooding. If this occurs, the Local Authority has the power to deem it an environmental risk and force a homeowner to connect their property to the public sewerage system. This means the homeowner can find themselves responsible for both the cost of connection and the clean-up, which can easily run into thousands of pounds.

In addition, issues such as public assets within boundaries, water pressure, unadopted sewers, built over sewers, presence/absence of a water meter and sewer flooding can cause major headaches for home owners. Not all these issues are addressed in all searches but all form part of the CON29DW enquiry that would be completed in full.
How this impacts conveyancers and lenders.

The Law Society has recently rolled out the three new core values for the Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS), along with the new Core Practice Management Standards. Amongst these requirements, solicitor conveyancers have to effectively manage risk and demonstrate best practice and excellence in client care.
As lenders increasingly focus on property risk, having transparency on the drainage and water status of a property is a key component of the lending decision. Lenders’ handbooks require that “necessary searches” are carried out and that any “adverse” entries are reported to the lender. However, without full and complete information it can be difficult for conveyancers to identify any adverse findings.

Why use a CON29DW?

The CON29DW was developed in 2002 by stakeholders including the Law Society, government and water companies to provide a consistent approach to property-specific drainage and water information. It draws on extensive and complex water company datasets to provide answers to all 25 questions developed and agreed with the Law Society. Other drainage and water searches – which are not produced by water companies – often either omit some of the questions or use insurance to cover any risk if information is not readily available. While this may provide some reassurance, it is up to the conveyancer to decide whether it constitutes “best practice,” and the homebuyer to decide whether it’s as useful.

Trust the professionals

The Drainage and Water Searches Network (DWSN) is a membership trade body comprising those companies that compile complete and full responses to the CON29DW questions. It works closely with the Law Society, The Property Ombudsman, UK Finance and other industry and professional bodies to raise standards for homebuyers, conveyancers and lenders, and ensure the CON29DW continues to offer best practice, excellence and consumer protection.

DWSN believes that the CON29DW is the most accurate, comprehensive and essential drainage and water search on the market. While drainage and water may not be foremost in peoples’ minds when purchasing a property, serious, expensive problems in these areas can crop up. The CON29DW highlights these, ensuring the best protection for homebuyers, conveyancers and lenders alike.

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18th April 2019

UK Finance Annual Mortgage Lunch 2019

DWSN hosted a table with senior industry stakeholders at this year’s Annual Mortgage Lunch. Insightful speeches from Richard Rowntree, Managing Director, UK Mortgages at Bank of Ireland and UK Finances’, CEO, Stephen Jones, focused unsurprisingly on the key issues from the FCA’s recent Mortgage Market Report (26 March 2019).

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DWSN hosted a table with senior industry stakeholders at this year’s Annual Mortgage Lunch. Insightful speeches from Richard Rowntree, Managing Director, UK Mortgages at Bank of Ireland and UK Finances’, CEO, Stephen Jones, focused unsurprisingly on the key issues from the FCA’s recent Mortgage Market Report (26 March 2019).

The Report, whilst it concluded that the mortgage market is working well, had highlighted changes needed to protect consumers and that the consultation on new lending rules forms part of a package of remedies designed to help the market work better. Key issues included the challenges for “mortgage prisoners” and also for customers on reversion rates, estimating that there are currently about 800,000 consumers in this position.

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1st December 2017

BSA Annual Lunch 2017

DWSN were delighted to host a table at the recent Building Societies Association (BSA) Annual lunch on 15 November 2017. It was very well attended with plenty of opportunity for networking and lively debate! Speaking at the BSA Annual Lunch, BSA Chairman, Jonathan Westhoff, gave an update on sector action for older borrowers on the second anniversary of the first BSA report.

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DWSN were delighted to host a table at the recent Building Societies Association (BSA) Annual lunch on 15 November 2017. It was very well attended with plenty of opportunity for networking and lively debate! Speaking at the BSA Annual Lunch, BSA Chairman, Jonathan Westhoff, gave an update on sector action for older borrowers on the second anniversary of the first BSA report.

Commenting on the emerging demographic trends:

“The traditional first time buyer market we recognise is steadily shifting up the age range, with first time borrowing stretching beyond 65.   Others choose to borrow to help their family, secured on the equity it has been their good fortune to see grow. Recent recognition by the FCA of retirement interest-only mortgages was welcome.  A number of societies offer these mortgages, giving older borrowers a useful alternative.”

Jonathan Westhoff headshot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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