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Who is responsible for clearing the snow from the pavements in the UK??

Inca in the snow

Inca in the snow

The walk to John’s shop – the post office and general store in our village – was quite arduous today. Usually it’s a five minute stroll. But the snow made it heavy going. Even in my trusty Bearpaw sheepskin boots.

Walking in snow that’s over 10 cm is quite tiring as you have to lift your feet as high as a badly operated puppet. At some points in the journey it was easier to walk in the road.

Just a handful of houses had cleared the pavement in front of their houses. The rest, like me, had left the snow.

In the old days everyone used to clear the pavement outside their houses but nowadays most people are frightened about being sued if someone slips. Some people think that this is an urban myth but in reality the Local Authority is liable for clearing the roads and the pavements in the UK.

Your responsibility lies in clearing a path from the pavement to your house. If you clear the path outside your house and someone slips there you can be sued.

It seems a shame to me that the fear of litigation stops UK residents from being neighbourly. What do you think?

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  1. Islandgirl

    Hi Fiona, I am originally from Germany and there the rules are completely the opposite. You will be sued if you have not cleared the pavement (and in some cases the road as well) if someone slips. Even in blocks of flats, there is a rota among the tenants every two hours to clear the access paths and pavements. I am always puzzled that here nobody bothers. The snow gets trodden down and starts to melt and then new frost makes it the perfect ice rink…. if the pavements are cleared from the start as soon as melting sets in, they are free and good to walk on. I am hoping that we will come round to this way of thinking in the UK as well.
    Thanks for your inspirational blog.

  2. Michelle in Scotland

    The last sentence on this local council website says it I think – it is an urban myth. Not helped by the media suggesting that you can be sued. Read it here.
    (Sorry can’t get it to look pretty.)

    Danny says: Tidied for you, Michelle. Thanks.

  3. It seems so strange to see all the snow you are having and hearing about the freezing temperatures across Europe on the news when we are sweltering away here in sunny and humid Queensland, Australia.

  4. It is a myth that you can have legal action taken against you for clearing a pavement of snow. Although, theoretically it is possible due to the way the law is written.

    How sad it is that we now live in a society that is scared to do unsolicited acts of kindness for “any” passerby. However, whats more upsetting is how people blindly follow rumours around health and safety purely due to nothing more than scaremunggering.

    I read a report some years ago from the HSE that stated the HSE was responsible in part for 80% of industrial accidents in the UK. This appears to have come about as individuals and companies are more interested in documenting processes rather designing good quality processes in the first place.

  5. I think it is a tragedy that people are so litigious personally I clear my path from the house to the car and sufficient of the pavement outside to make it safe. Just a snow shovel and a bit of elbow grease sees it done pretty quickly if the snow is fresh

  6. So funny – only in a welfare state would people expect someone to come along and clear the snow off your sidewalks – can you imagine what it would cost for the snow to be removed (by hand) off all the sidewalks in Britain, but a lot of people dont understand uses for taxpayers money.

  7. I think it is a shame that people would even consider suing others for this. It is what stops people clearing snow in UK. I would never dream of suing someone for that, as I am responsible for me.

  8. Here in Northern Virginia, it is your responsibility to clear your own sidewalks within 8 hours of daylight after the snow falls. If not, you can (and will, especially if a neighbor reports it) get fined for failing to clear a path. While I agree with Joanna that fresh snow is safer than a path with some icy patches, a path covered in packed snow becomes really dangerous quickly! To reinforce the point, the District of Columbia is trying to change both the fine (from $50 to $250) and the method of enforcement (to enable simple tickets to be written instead of the current cumbersome legal process).

    Other than the walk, I hope that you are enjoying the snow! When I lived in Oxford, I loved seeing the town in the snow!

  9. Ned Ludd

    As I understand it, you can only be sued for negligence – for instance if you used hot water to clear the snow, resulting in an ice slide! Or if you moved the snow against a parked car, or on to your neighbour’s pavement.

    There’s a good page at covering some of these issues.

  10. I think that is a difficult one Fiona because sometimes by clearing the path it becomes even more slippery than if the snow had been left on it. I think it depends on what the forecast says, clear if it is going to warm up soon as then it clears all the faster but don’t if it isn’t because snow is safer to walk on than ice.

    By the way, what’s the problem in walking in 10cm deep snow :oD, titchy amount

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