RULES: John Davies at his property. – Picture by Peter StoopCHANGES to Hunter Water ‘‘customer contracts’’ have shifted potentially expensive repair bills from the authority to property owners.

The changes, which Hunter Water defends, involve the definition of the ‘‘point of connection’’ between a property owner’s sewage system and the main sewer lines owned and maintained by the authority.

Plumbers say that point was traditionally near the property boundary, and was often marked by a ‘‘boundary trap’’ or ‘‘boundary shaft’’.

Householders were responsible for pipes on their side of the connection point, while Hunter Water was responsible for lines running under streets or neighbouring properties, to the sewer main.

But this is no longer the case.

A Hunter Water spokeswoman said yesterday the organisation had consulted widely on the new contract, which was explained to customers, the media and MPs, and posted on the organisation’s website.

But customer John Davies said he found out the costly way when repairs were needed at a family property at Kotara South.

An old sewer pipe on the property had given way and raw sewage was flowing through soil underground just before Christmas.

‘‘They said the point of connection was on the main under a neighbour’s property, and we – not them – were responsible for the costs of those repairs,’’ Mr Davies said.

‘‘In my opinion, the government realises the Hunter sewage system is an ageing asset that will increasingly need repair and updating and they have quietly shifted their responsibilities onto the individual.’’

He said the new rules raised legal questions about access to neighbouring properties or digging under streets that were better handled by having Hunter Water do the work.

Mr Davies also said it could be a form of double-dipping if Hunter Water had included the likely costs of such work each year in setting its charges but was now passing the costs on to the public.

Toronto plumber Jason Preddle said Hunter Water had written to plumbers in July last year telling them of the new arrangements.

‘‘There’s more work for us because it’s now customers not Hunter Water having to get the work done but it’s bad for consumers,’’ Mr Preddle said.

He said the pipes in question could easily be two or three metres underground and repair jobs could easily cost $10,000 or more.

The Hunter Water spokeswoman said sewer pipe responsibilities had not changed with the new contract. Previously, Hunter Water had ‘‘assisted customers to undertake repairs to the customer’s sewer shaft, which was always the customer’s responsibility’’.

Plumbers have told the Newcastle Herald that repair responsibilities have changed.

And Mr Davies said plumbers seemed to be the only people who had been told about those changes.