Drains and sewers

Find out who is responsible for maintaining drains and sewers

It is important to understand the different types of pipework to find out who is responsible for maintaining each one.


A drain carries waste or surface water directly from one house into a public or private sewer. If you own the house in question, you are responsible for clearing and repairing the drains, gutters and rain water pipes.

If you are a tenant, your landlord is usually responsible, but depending on your tenancy agreement, the landlord may pass the costs onto you.

Private sewer

A private sewer can be used by two or more homes to carry waste water or surface water. These are used by homes, which are built after 1 October 1937. In these instances, the owners of all the houses using the private sewer are jointly responsible to clear and repair it. 

A private sewer can then run some distance before connecting with the public sewer. If a blockage or defect occurs before the connection with the public sewer, either the owners of the properties or South West Water (SWW) would be responsible for rectifying the problem. 

Public sewer

A public sewer carries waste water from two or more properties built before 1 October 1937 (with some exceptions), or has been adopted by SWW. They are usually under the highway, but some public sewers can be found in the grounds of private houses. SWW is responsible for clearing and repairing all public sewers.

Surface water drainage

The road gullies are the responsibility of the highway authority (Devon County Council) as are the drains connecting gullies to a public sewer.

Public surface water sewers are the responsibility of either SWW or Devon County Council if it is a designated highway drain.

Private roads, garage compounds and parking areas are the responsibility of the householders adjoining the private road or drained area. The householder is responsible for the pipe up to and including the connection to the public surface water sewer.

As the owner of a home, if you fail to meet your responsibilities, the council could take formal action to resolve the issue.

How to deal with blocked drains

If it is your responsibility to deal with a blockage, this can be cleared either by yourself or by contacting a drainage engineer. You can find contact details in the Yellow Pages under 'Drain and pipe clearing'.

How to deal with blocked sewers

If your house was built before October 1937 and is connected with another property, contact SWW on 0344 346 2020 (remember to record their reference number). You can also contact SWW if a public sewer is blocked.

If your house was built after October 1937, contact SWW to ensure that it is not their sewer. If they confirm it isn't, you will need to contact a drainage engineer. Again, please check the Yellow Pages for details. It will be up to you to liaise with your neighbours to split the costs.

If you are aware of a blocked sewer, where the owners haven't taken action, please report it to us so that we can look into taking formal action involving all parties. 

To report a blocked sewer please click the button below (you will need to log in or sign up to My Services to report).

Report an incident to us

Preventing blockages

It has been estimated that two thirds of blockages are caused by people flushing disposable items down their toilets.

The drainage and sewerage system was not designed to handle personal items such as sanitary towels, disposable nappies or incontinence pads. Nor can it cope with lots of food waste such as rice or fat, which tends to solidify in the pipes. Instead, please dispose of personal items appropriately

  • sanitary towels, tampons, condoms, bandages - wrap well and dispose of along with other domestic waste
  • disposable nappies - flush any solids (but not the nappy) down the toilet, before wrapping well and disposing with other domestic waste. Reusable nappies and nappy laundering services are available from various suppliers, who advertise in the Yellow Pages. Look under 'Baby goods and services'
  • razor blades - never flush these down the toilet. Instead, put used blades into a rigid container, that you are also throwing out with your other domestic waste
  • medicines - any unwanted or unused medicines should be returned to your local pharmacy
  • syringes, needles and incontinence pads - go to clinical waste collections for more information