Sewer Adoptions Homeowner Information

What is the process for sewer adoptions?

The following graphic explains the steps that need to be completed when a housing developer applies for United Utilities to take ownership of their sewers once they have been constructed.

Wastewater adoption diagram

View diagram as PDF


The following questions explain the situation when sewers haven’t been formally adopted by United Utilities.

  • When a housing developer builds new homes, they are expected to construct the sewers to an agreed standard if they wish the local water company to take ownership of the sewer. 'Adoption' is when ownership of the sewer passes from the developer to the local water company including responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of the sewer. We will only adopt the sewers when we are confident they have been designed and constructed to comply with our requirements. We may also ask the developer to carry out any remedial work to bring their sewer up to an adoptable standard before we take ownership. Until then, the sewer continues to be owned and maintained by the developer.

  • Until the sewers are adopted by United Utilities, the sewer is classed as 'private' which means responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of the sewers will be with either the developer or all the residents who are using the sewers, either party would have to pay a third party to rectify any issues, such as sewer blockages on the estate.

  • Adoption in England is not mandatory, it is the developer's choice whether they wish to offer their sewers for adoption, maintain the sewers themselves or pass this responsibility onto the residents. If they wish to offer up their sewer for adoption by us it must first meet our agreed standards. If the sewer does not meet our standards then we cannot take ownership of it until remedial work has been undertaken.

  • How do I know if the sewers on my development have an adoption agreement?
    If you live in the North West, you can contact us by emailing or calling 0345 026 8989 and choosing option 4.
    We will be happy to confirm if there is an adoption agreement in place for your development.

  • Residents should contact the administrator if one has been appointed. They will be in contact with the developer's supply chain such as the contractors who built the sewers to see if they can complete any works and provide any survey information if required.

  • If an administrator has been appointed they will seek to allocate this responsibility. If not then the residents will become jointly responsible for the unadopted sewers and pumping stations on the estate.

  • In order to progress the adoption, we need to carry out a number of inspections to make sure things are built correctly. This includes visual inspection of the access points (manholes) and review a CCTV survey of the pipes (usually provided by the developer or their contractor). We also need to review it against an 'as-built' drawing - this is a technical survey drawing of the sewers on site, this will allow us to check the levels and gradients against what was initially designed.

  • The traditional sewers may run by gravity to the lowest point on the site and in some cases a pumping station will collect the wastewater and pump it through a pressurised sewer called a rising main. In order to adopt this part we need to carry out an inspection with the developer's contractor who is maintaining the site to make sure that it is fit for purpose. This includes a survey of the civil engineering aspects (such as the well and valve chamber), the mechanical and electrical elements as well as the rising main.

  • These defects will need to be rectified before the sewers can be adopted. Usually this is completed by a specialist civil engineering contractor and/or a specialist pump contractor for pumping stations.

  • Potentially yes but the bond values are usually very low and only a proportion of the value of the work, mainly designed to get the developer to complete the adoption process. Therefore it is unlikely that the bond amount will cover the value of work to be done although we will explore this as an option if possible.

  • No, at this point the sewers are still owned by the developer and we are not responsible for any work that needs to be undertaken to bring the sewers up to standard. The work must be fully completed to allow the sewers to be adopted by us.

  • We would be happy to help you through this process and can attend a meeting to talk you though the steps required to progress adoption.

  • Normally, if a new development has a road that is to be adopted by the local authority then they may insist that the sewers are adopted by a water company first before they take ownership of the road.

  • The highway department typically hold a significantly larger bond than is held for sewers, sometimes over 10 times more. Bond values for sewers are usually very low and only a proportion of the value of the work, mainly designed to get the developer to complete the adoption process. Therefore it is unlikely that the bond amount will cover the value of work to be done although we will explore this as an option if possible.

  • No, as this is technically a private asset we cannot do the work. Our inspectors may be able to provide you with a list of civil engineering contractors within the area for you to approach separately.

  • Please see the process flow at the top of this page which explains the adoption process for developers.

  • There is no requirement for the developer to offer up the sewer for adoption so we cannot force them to construct it in a specific way. There is also no legislation which can force developers to construct sewers to a specific standard.

If you have any further questions concerning the adoption process please email us using or call 0345 026 8989 and choose option 4.