Here is a question to the Blog Clinic from Lisa (not her real name) who is a tenant. Note that I have removed the name of the energy company for legal reasons.
We recently left a rental property after being told it was being sold by the landlord. During our tenancy though we received a number of energy bills from an Energy Company (addressed to The Occupier) for various amounts. To cut a VERY long story short, the Energy Company were not the supplier for the property and the bills were sent to the landlord – after a long battle (between landlord and the Energy Company), it was confirmed to us that the Energy Company had rectified their mistake and the account had been closed.
A few days before we moved out I noticed an a bill from the Energy Company on the doormat addressed the The Occupier (2 years after everything had been dealt with and closed down). The bills dated back 3 years!! When we left I sent a copy of the bills to the agent acting on behalf of the landlord, along with supporting documentation from 2 years ago and clear evidence that the bills were nothing to do with my husband and I.
You can imagine how shocked I was (4 months after leaving the property) when a bill from the Energy Company showed up at our new address, but this time addressed to US personally, chasing over 3 years worth of unpaid costs!! It turns out that despite the agent knowing full well we never held an account with the Energy Company etc., that they decided to phone them, give them our forwarding address and ask for the debt to be sent direct to us. Surely they must be in breach of something?
They can’t just think to themselves “hey, this looks like a ball ache to sort out, lets just transfer the problem over to the previous tenant and let them sort it”. This was stressful enough to deal with when we actually lived at the property, but now the debt is actually in OUR name rather than ‘The Occupier’ and the Energy Company are saying we are liable for the debt – all because the agent gave them our forwarding address.
There are three things you can do, but first, you need to raise a complaint with the letting agents and ask them to sort it out and also write to the Energy Company and explain the situation to them. If the problem continues, you can do the following:
1 Complain to the Energy Ombudsman
You will find them here. Your complaint will be that despite accepting previously that they were not the supplier for the property, the Energy Company are now chasing you.
You will find guidance on how to raise a complaint on their website although you will see that you must first raise a complaint with the Energy Company and give it an opportunity to resolve the issue.
2 Complain to your agents Property Redress Scheme
All letting agents must belong to a Property Redress Scheme and you should find the name of their scheme on their headed paper, emails and website.
Again, you will find details of how to bring a complaint to the scheme Ombudsman on the scheme website but again you will need to have raised the issue with the agents first.
The Ombudsman has the power to fine the agents up to £25,000 but they can also order them to apologise and to take action to help you.
3 Complain about the data breach
Generally, landlords and their agents are allowed to forward details of non paying tenants to energy suppliers – as the Data Protection Act was not passed to make it easier for tenants to avoid paying their utility bills.
Although the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) prefer this to be set out in the tenancy agreement, Indeed you will probably find that your tenancy agreement authorises them to do this.
However, this should not be in circumstances where they know that the debt is not due from you. Which is the case here.
The Information Commission has guidance on its website on what you should do if your information has not been handled properly, including a template letter. I suggest that you write to them about this aspect, maybe in a separate letter.
There is a lot in the news at the moment about Data Protection due to the introduction of new Data Protection Rules (known as GDPR) on 25 May 2018. So hopefully the agents will take your complaint seriously.
If they do not you can report this to the ICO although note that they do not have the power to award compensation as the Ombudsman Schemes do. They also say that you must raise your complaint with them, within three months of ‘your last meaningful contact with the organisation concerned’.
I hope that you will be able to resolve this issue.