Is it Illegal to Cover a Drain Cover in the UK?

Keith Baker

By Keith Baker

Last Updated on June, 2024

Ever looked down at the drain cover in your garden and worried about how it ruins the aesthetics of your garden? Well, you’re not alone.

Many have the urge to cover up the drain cover in their garden to make sure it doesn’t spoil the look of the garden. But can that be done? Is it legal to do so? Let’s find out!

Quick Summary

  • It is not illegal to cover a drain cover in the UK, but it is important to ensure easy access for emergency situations.
  • Drain covers serve multiple purposes, including safety and preventing blockages, and should be maintained regularly.
  • There are various laws and regulations in the UK governing the use and accessibility of drain covers, with penalties for non-compliance. It is important to consult with professionals when making changes to drain covers to ensure compliance and safety.

Is it Illegal to Cover a Drain Cover in the United Kingdom?

a drain in the walking pathway covered with a drain cover

Drain covers, manhole covers, and inspection chambers play critical roles in the public sewer systems. And being a property owner, you must be responsible for making sure that these access points are kept clear and easily accessible.

This is especially important during emergencies. The efficiency and safety of your drainage system can only be ensured if you maintain these areas freely. But is it illegal? NO IT’S NOT!

The Purpose of a Drain Cover

Typically, a drain cover is a plate or grid strongly built that lies on the opening of a manhole or drain. 

It not just serves one purpose but rather serves in many ways. It acts as a filter, allowing only water and small particles to flow through the drain. Any large debris and animals will not be able to enter the drain. Along with this, the drain cover also prevents accidents. 

Drain covers in residential areas are mostly small in size and can be decorative as well. However, the commercial drain covers that you find on industrial areas and streets are much more solidly built. This is to withstand heavy traffic.

Importance of Drain Covers

SAFETY. It is the most important factor of drain covers. Falling into an uncovered drain is the last thing you’ll want!

Drain covers are especially important for preventing accidents. They prevent humans or other animals from slipping into the drain and ensure public safety. Apart from that, as I mentioned, it also helps to keep large debris from entering the drainage system and creating blockages. 

The Potential Risks of Covering Your Drain Cover

If you still think you need to cover your drain cover, remember that you are gonna be damaging your property’s drainage system. Some potential issues are reduced water flow, waterlogging, and flooding can occur and also extend to other areas.

Drains can also potentially be blocked when covering the drain covers, and this can lead to sewage buildup, which will end up causing unpleasant odours.

Also, if you have a damaged drain cover, the risk of someone falling or tripping will increase, so having a mark or temporary fencing to locate the covered drain is important.

Even though you are trying to better the aesthetics of your garden and so you want to cover the drain cover, you can end up damaging your property. And not just that, you will have to spend so much money on repairs.

How Can You Cover an Inspection Chamber in Your Garden Without Blocking it?

a picture of a drain cover in a household

Within the sewer pipe network of your property, inspection chambers and manholes are located at critical points. It also acts as an access point used for drainage maintenance, which the water company and utility workers can use to access and survey the pipes/drains and carry out repairs.

Manholes and inspection chambers are important to main public sewer systems as well. Therefore, the responsibility typically falls in your hands to ensure that the manhole covers are easily accessible.

Access to drainage systems must always be ensured, making sure in case of an emergency, they can be easily accessed. 

So, all your temptations of trying to cover up your drain cover with soil, turf, potted plants or any permanent covering is not advisable because it can cause serious trouble, especially during an emergency. But there is an option!

Special recessed manhole covers are available, and they have a detachable inset tray that you can switch around to suit your environment better. These recessed manhole covers are available in various shapes and sizes.

These covers can also be fitted with infills containing gravel, concrete, tile paving, and fake grass too!

Sometimes infills can contain real grass too, but this will need more attention and maintenance, and this option can help you find something that blends in your garden much better while still maintaining the accessibility of the draining system. 

Can You Build Over an Inspection Chamber or Manhole Cover? 

You might have plans of upgrading your garden and would have drawn up plans that might require you to build on top of the inspection chamber or at least cover it up. However, the building regulations dictate that inspection chambers must not be covered up or paved over.

You can’t seek permission for your construction work from the local water authority unless the new construction’s foundation is located a minimum of 500mm away from the manhole or inspection chamber.

If your plan needs the inspection chamber to be covered up, you will have to redesign the project with no obstruction to the inspection chamber to gain authorisation. 

Or, you will have to make arrangements to relocate the inspection chamber or manhole to ensure it is not covered up. You will also need to get a build-over agreement so that it can help you avoid problems later on.

If there is any structure present that seems to be blocking the drain covers, the water company has full authorization to remove it. 

Can I Paint or Decorate a Drain Cover?

Yes, you can! 

You can try to blend the drain cover with your garden by painting it or decorating it, but you must consult with the local authority to make sure the drains won’t be blocked and access won’t be restricted.

Practical Implications

Drain covers that are covered or blocked raise so many safety risks which need to be addressed, especially in places with high foot traffic. Imagine falling into a poorly covered or uncovered drain. Uh!

Such accidents can cause serious injuries. Therefore it is important that drain covers are maintained properly with regular checks and clean up.

UK Laws and Regulations for Drain Covers

a covered drain in a road

There are several laws and specific regulations in the UK governing the use and accessibility of drain covers. 

One such legislation is the Highways Act 1980, which is relevant to public roads and pavements. It states that local authorities must ensure that the safety of highways is maintained with no obstruction. Access to drains also must be well maintained.

Another relevant act is the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 defines ensuring the safety of the public and employees as a general duty of employers. This indirectly covers drain cover maintenance in public and commercial spaces. 

Apart from these, the local council also has regulations regarding the obstruction of drain covers, specifically within residential areas. Also, if covering a manhole creates potential risks, safety measures such as warning signs or alerts should be put up to make people aware of it.

When planning for significant alterations to drain coverings, it is necessary to obtain planning permission. You can contact the local authority to clarify any doubts. 

Penalties for Non-Compliance

Non-compliance to the laws and regulations or basic rules relevant to maintaining and covering drains can lead to several legal consequences. These include small fines for a minor violation and severe legal action in the instance of a significant disruption or accident.

Temporarily covering a drain is generally fine, but permanently covering it without the local authority’s approval can result in legal issues.

So if you are planning significant changes, make sure to get permission from the authorities and make sure that safety considerations are prioritised. 

Consulting a Drainage Expert

It can be very helpful to consult a professional drainage company or experts when covering drains. They offer invaluable support and guidance to navigate through the drainage network and make sure legal requirements are complied with.


Drain covers are very critical when it comes to maintaining the drainage systems of either your private property or commercial building. But there can be times when the drain cover ruins the aesthetics of your garden or premises. And do you think covering it up would be great?

But nope, it is not advisable as easy access to the drain cover must be maintained, especially for emergencies. Blocking drain covers can also cause drain blockages and other unpleasant consequences.

One option that you have though, is the special recessed manholes that come with a detached tray that can be swapped around to fit your environments.

But answering the main question, is it illegal to cover a drain cover in the United Kingdom? NO, IT ISN’T. But it is not advisable as well.


If you notice a damaged drain cover, it’s recommended to report it to your local authorities or a professional drainage company.

The regulations for drain covers on commercial properties are more strict due to higher foot traffic and safety risks. Compliance with these regulations is crucial for public safety.

The responsible party for public drain covers is the local council, while for private properties it falls under the responsibility of the owner.

In the UK, you generally should not build over a drain cover. Building regulations usually require access to drainage systems to be maintained clear for inspection, maintenance, and repair. However, if necessary, special permissions and specific conditions might be arranged with the local water authority, which could include relocating the drain or installing access elsewhere. Always consult with the local council and water authority before undertaking any construction over a drain cover.

In the UK, drainage rights involve homeowners’ ability to connect to public sewers with permission, responsibilities for maintaining private drains, water companies’ rights to access for maintenance, and mechanisms for resolving disputes through mediation or legal action. Regulations vary locally.

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