As a result of recent changes to the law, landlords could find themselves with the bill for any unpaid water charges if they fail to inform the utility company of a tenant’s details.
Up until recently, a tenant’s arrears with any of the utilities (water, electricity, gas or telephone) had not been a concern of the landlord. The contract for the supply is directly between the legal occupier and the supplier, and the letting agreement should state clearly that the tenant is responsible, so the landlord is invariably in the clear.
This has always been the case until now (with the exception of houses in multiple occupation, HMOs, where the landlord is always responsible for utilities supplies to the property and is expected to recover from the individual tenants).
Following the introduction of the Water Industry Act 1999, water utilities companies, are no longer able to cut off supplies to those in arrears, essentially removing the only threat they had for non-payment.
This has lead to increasing concerns from the water utilities companies who are faced with ever increasing debts from tenants, especially when landlords fail or refuse to notify them of tenants’ details.
Following Ofwat and government reviews on how water charges are to be collected, and specifically over this landlord issue, the recommendations have now lead to changes in the law under Part 2, s45 (1-3) of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, which came into force in October 2012.
These changes mean that a landlord who fails to notify the water company of a tenant’s details will become jointly and severally liable with their tenants for overdue water charges.
Landlords should always inform via telephone, or preferably in writing, all the utilities suppliers of the tenants’ full details when a new tenancy starts. Likewise, when a tenancy ends, the landlord should again inform the utilities companies, providing a forwarding address for the tenants whenever possible.