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Should landlords pay their tenants’ water bills?

tap waterThis is a question government is asking (per s45 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010) after innumerable tenants ride off into the sunset leaving their water bills unpaid.

In a way you can’t blame them. If things had deliberately been setup to provide optimum conditions for bilking, it could not have been done better:

  • The water companies are not allowed to cut off the water, however much money is owing on the bill
  • Or insist on a contract with the occupier before providing a service
  • There is no duty on landlords to provide details of occupiers to water companies (or indeed any utilities), and
  • Many landlords are worried about providing details as they fear it may put them in breach of the Data Protection Act

As a result, even if the hapless water board does find out the name of the debtors, they are often long gone by the time the bill arrives. Resulting in a massive culminative debt which costs the rest of us £15 per year, each. 80% of water debt is run up by tenants.

So what are they going to do about it?

Well, proposals are afoot to make it compulsory for landlords either to provide details of their tenants or to pay the bill themselves. However the government doesn’t think compulsory rules are very nice, and would much prefer to make it voluntary.

Also, last March they said that micro businesses wouldn’t have any new regulations after 1 April 2011 for a three year period, so its all a bit embarrassing.

But before doing anything they want to know what YOU all think about it. There are two proposals:

Option 1.

This is that landlords will be liable for water bills unless they provide the following details of their tenants within 21 days of being asked

  • the full name
  • date of birth and
  • the date the occupier moved in

A special website would be created to make things easy, plus this is information landlords will normally have on their records anyway.

However,

Option 1 (says government) would place a burden on private and social landlords who are providers of housing. We want to explore whether we can achieve the same outcome of ensuring that water companies have the details of occupiers, but through a voluntary compliance with a non-regulatory approach.

This is the second option.

Option 2

This is that landlords will be asked to provide the details voluntarily, so water companies can issue bills to the right people.

Of course option 2 will mean that often landlords will fail to give the information. So, says the goverment

We are therefore also interested in exploring whether other organisations which hold data would wish to enter into mutually beneficial data sharing agreements with water companies. …

The arrangements may be mutually beneficial because water companies themselves may hold data which is useful to partners. It may be in the legitimate interests of both parties to decide to share data on debtors in order to build up a fuller picture of occupancy and debt.

Government believes that if enough organisations came forward to be part of voluntary agreements and they worked effectively, Option 2 could work as effectively as  regulation to give water companies the information they need to pursue debtors.

But what do we, the public, think about large organisations sharing data about us in this way?

If you have strong views about either option, or maybe have another suggestion to make to government, now is the time.

For example what about amending the Data Protection Act (or making regulations under it) to make it crystal clear that providing this information will not put landlords in breach?

You will find the paper here (its only 14 pages). But you can also share your comments here, below. Which option do  you think they should go for?

Tap water picture by wwarby

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Important note. If you are reading an old post, remember that the law may have changed since it was written.




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4 Responses to Should landlords pay their tenants’ water bills?

  1. I always notify the water company when a tenant either takes on a new tenancy or leaves one of my properties.

    At the start of a tenancy I get the tenant to sign a document in duplicate (I keep one copy the tenant keeps the other) showing what the gas and electric meter readings are.

    They also sign to say that they are happy for me to notify the gas, electricity and water companies as well as the Council Tax of their contact details and that they have moved into my property. At the end of the tenancy I do the same again showing the meter readings and their permission to pass their forwarding address details/final meter readings onto the utility companies etc.

    I have never had a problem with this, in fact most tenants are only too happy for me to do this on their behalf.

  2. I also think Julie´s practice is the best way. This is common practice in Germany too, and also the tenant´s interest is to know, what is shown on the meter when he moves in. Nobody wants to pay for the consumption for the one who moved out.




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About the post author:

Tessa Shepperson

Tessa is a lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law. She runs the Landlord Law website (now in its 12th year) and is a director of Easy Law Training Ltd and Your Law Store. Tessa also sits on the Property Redress Scheme Council. When not working she enjoys reading, cooking and messing around on the computer. You can also find her on Google



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Tessa is an English lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law.


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