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Rural Land & Business
Many landowners will be aware of utility pipelines running under their land, although not all landowners will be aware of the risks they face as a result of some of these pipes.
Where the contents entering a pipe are being controlled by a utilities company, they will be responsible for both the pipe and the material within it. As a consequence, any damage howsoever caused to land as a result of a leak or blockage will be compensated.
The problems start when the contents are not controlled by the utilities company. Under the Water Industries Act 1991 the ‘Statutory Undertaker’ is under no obligation to compensate for bursts because they cannot be held liable for the 3rd party contents.
The most common example of this is where a sewer blocks as a consequence of the material put into the pipe by a third party. Under this circumstance, any blockage and resultant spill is not deemed to be the fault of the utility company. As they have not been negligent, they do not have to offer any compensation for the damage. In addition, there is no statutory requirement for the utilities company to clean up the mess. The CLA have historically lobbied against this policy but the situation remains the same.
The main way to protect yourself from these costs is to ensure that your insurance policy covers you for damages as a result of pipe bursts. The cost of this additional cover is probably not too costly and at your next insurance renewal it is worth getting quotes with and without this cover to check the difference in the premium.
There is however some good news. Where a utility company has to take access in order to fix the pipe, they will have to compensate for all damages arising as a result of their actions whilst on site.
Additionally, some utility companies may offer compensation or assistance in the clean-up of the land as part of their code of practice which can normally be found on their websites.
Whilst there is no statutory requirement for the utility’s pipework to be up to standard, they do have a duty of care to maintain it. If you believe a burst is a result of negligence on their part, you can use the Freedom of Information Act to try identify the cause of any burst.
If you are unfortunate enough to suffer a burst sewer beneath your property and suffer damage as a consequence, try to ascertain as quickly as possible, the cause of the blockage and whether the Utility Company is negligent but in the meantime, check your insurance policy to ensure that the risk of a burst sewer is one which you are covered for.
Chris Thyer, GSC Grays Richmond tel: 01748 829210