Householders will no longer be responsible for expensive sewer repair bills, as private sewers and drains are to transfer to sewerage and water companies.

Around 200,000km of privately-owned sewers and lateral drains in England are to transfer to water and sewerage companies from 2011.

At present, if a private sewer of lateral drain needs to be repaired, it falls under the responsibility of the homeowner even if the problem is outside the property boundary and often without their knowledge prior to purchase.

Insurance policies do not always cover the costs of such repairs, and it is estimated that well over half of all houses in England have a private sewer or lateral drain, the part of a drain that lies outside the property boundary.

The announcement was made by environment secretary Hilary Benn, who said: “Millions of householders are unwittingly sitting on the ticking financial time bomb of private sewers and lateral drains. They may not realise it, but if something goes wrong they have to pick up the bill. The transfer to water and sewerage companies will create a fairer system for all and save many households the agony of finding thousands of pounds to pay for repairs.”

A review of private sewers began in 2001, prompted by the concerns of householders and a consultation in 2003 revealed a high level of support for transfer. Defra looked at how this transfer could be achieved in a further consultation in 2007.

The costs of transfer will be met by an increase in the sewerage element of bills across the nine sewerage companies currently estimated to be around 7.5 pence to 23 pence per week.