As It Happens

This British family's home has flooded with sewage 17 times in 2 years

A British mother of three says her house has flooded with raw sewage from the entire street 17 times in the last two years, and there’s seemingly nothing she can do about it.

Vickie Thomas says she didn't know about the house's drainage issues when she bought it 2018

Vickie Thomas and her three children live in a home that repeatedly floods with raw sewage from their neighbours' homes. (Submitted by Vickie Thomas)

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Vickie Thomas has seen all of her neighbours' nasty business. 

The British mother of three says her house has flooded with raw sewage from her street 17 times in the last two years, and there's seemingly nothing she can do about it.

"It comes straight out of the sewer pipes itself and there is feces, used sanitary products, all within the water that is entering the house," Thomas, 36, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"You name it — everything you flush down the toilet or put down your sink, it ends up in my house."

Thomas says she's seen food floating in the mucky mess, and on two locations, dead rats. After a February flood, she says she became severely ill. 

"I kept saying, 'I feel rubbish, my body hurts, my skin's tight all over my face.' My skin was cracking and bleeding," she said.

"I was talking to the doctor and she said, 'You know, your symptoms and what you're displaying reminds me of somebody that's been in contact with raw sewage and contaminated rat products.' She goes, 'But, you know, that wouldn't apply to you."

Her doctor diagnosed her with leptospirosis, a sometimes fatal blood infection that tends to affect people who work with sewage or dead animals.

Can't sell, can't claim insurance 

Thomas lives in Pontesbury, a small village in Shropshire, England. When she first bought her home in August 2018, she says she had no idea there was anything wrong with it.

"Unbeknownst to us, the lady that owned it prior to us was a very elderly lady and she had been having issues, but had never reported it to the water company. She had just claimed on her house insurance," she said.

She says an inspection showed no signs of flooding: "We thought we were buying a house that was fine."

Thomas says her home in Pontesbury, England, has flooded 17 times in two years. (Submitted by Vickie Thomas )

But for Thomas, insurance is not an option. She says her premium is too high. And she certainly can't sell the house in its current condition.

So instead, she's churning out cash for repairs and to replace her water-damaged furniture and property. She says she's racked up £10,000 ($17,514.37 Cdn) in damages so far, and that's not counting the most recent flood last week. 

She says she's begging the area's water company, Severn Trent, for help.

The company told As It Happens that it's done "extensive" work on Thomas' home, and is working toward a long-term solution.

But so far, Thomas says nothing has helped.

The root of the problem 

The problem, she says, is that her home is the end of the sewage line for five houses on her street. That means her neighbours' raw sewage backs up at the lowest point in the pipe system — her house.

She says Severn Trent first attempted to fix the problem by installing a non-return valve on her property. But she says it lacks the holding capacity to actually prevent the flooding.

The flooding is so bad, Thomas said she contracted a bacterial blood infection. (Submitted by Vickie Thomas )

In September, she says they came up with a better solution. One of her neighbours who has a large property agreed to have their septic tank diverted to another system.

"So we thought, great stuff. You know, this is something that could potentially save us," she said.

That work was supposed to begin in November, she says, but nobody ever showed up. She says the company told her in January that it didn't have the budget for the repairs, "and I'm just to manage the best I can."

Instead, she says the company told her to ask her neighbours not to use their toilets and sinks whenever its raining. 

Severn Trent denied that it advised anyone not to use their facilities, and says it is working hard to help Thomas. 

"We completely understand how devastating experiencing any type of flooding can be, and we're extremely sorry for the issues and any distress caused. We want to assure Ms. Thomas that we're continuing to carefully review all options to find an effective, long-term solution to the problem," a Severn Trent spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

"We've already spent tens of thousands of pounds carrying out extensive work at her home, including installing a number of non-return valves, flood doors and new chambers to help protect her and her neighbours, and we'll be looking to carry out more work where possible to further reduce the risk of flooding."

Nowhere to turn 

In the meantime, Thomas and her children — aged 10, 12, and 13 weeks — have nowhere else to go.

"We had what we called our safe house, which was my mum. And no matter what time of day, whether it was two o'clock in the afternoon or two o'clock in the morning, she would come here, she would get my kids and she would take them to her house. She lived two minutes up the road," Thomas said.

"Unfortunately, I lost my mom in April of last year to COVID. So we haven't got that safe house anymore. My children haven't got that house to go to. So when we flood like we did last week, we are stuck here."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Vickie Thomas produced by Niza Lyapa Nondo. 

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