Where can I go when the Energy Ombudsman takes tenant’s word?

by Readers Question

13:25 PM, 14th August 2018
About 2 months ago

Where can I go when the Energy Ombudsman takes tenant’s word?

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Where can I go when the Energy Ombudsman takes tenant’s word?

One of my long term tenants left a property on 26th January 2018, but advised his electricity supplier that he left on 1st January and provided a fraudulent reading. The first I knew of this was in March when EON charged me £126 for the ‘unoccupied’ period from January 1st to 25th.

When I queried this (short version) I was advised that only a ‘check-out’ document signed by the tenant would be acceptable as evidence that the 26th date was correct. We had no such document as the tenant left a few hours earlier than expected and clearly did so as he know he had lied to EON. We have no other similar differences of dates with other utility suppliers or the council ref council tax who would be on this straightaway if it were true.

We provided 4 witness statements from people who knew the date the tenant left. One from a person who helped him to move, one from the new tenant who had visited the property on occasions before the 26th. Also, it would have been impossible to use £126 of electricity in 25 days even if occupied which it would not have been. We offered to get the statements provided as Statutory Declarations or Sworn Affidavits but EON were adamant that only the ‘check-out’ document would be acceptable to them.

I appealed internally but all EON managers declined to change their position.

I then appealed to the Ombudsman. Bottom line (short story) – they supported EON and said that they were within their rights to decline any other evidence and I had to pay the money. They said that this was in effect a third party dispute between me and the former tenant, which of course in law it is not.

What is very disturbing is that none of the EON people or the Ombudsman were familiar with the terms AST, Statutory Declarations and Sworn Affidavits! How can they therefore make informed and unbiased decisions?

The other galling thing is that the former tenant changed to EON as supplier, I have never had dealings with them, yet they charge me money (I do know that they have a right to do so for void periods) as they say I am responsible for payment, yet when I argue the facts about usage etc they state that they cannot discuss anything as their customer is the tenant and covered by data protection!

Am I cracking up? Am I right in thinking that the world has gone mad? Are the lunatics actually running the asylum?

The serious aspect is that the Ombudsman Service by their ruling are stating that any tenant can lie about moving dates and they will accept this evidence in ‘good faith’ and that the landlord has to pay for any shortfall!

Personally I do believe that this principle has to be challenged but as the Ombudsman person said, their decision is final and cannot be appealed!

Is their anywhere to go with this? It does seem to be an issue that has great implications for all landlords. And with this ruling, I do believe that the Ombudsman Service is indeed not ‘fit for purpose’.

Colin

Editors Note:

I have had contact from an Energy Ombudsman Spokesman who responded to this readers question as below:

“Disputed liability between landlords and tenants is an issue that crops up frequently here at the Energy Ombudsman.

“Our view is that the landlord or owner of the property is responsible for any gas and electricity charges, unless they can demonstrate that a tenant was responsible for the disputed period.

“In the absence of appropriate information to demonstrate that responsibility lies elsewhere, it is reasonable for the energy supplier to seek payment from the landlord.

“Landlords are running a business and, as such, have a greater responsibility than tenants to ensure they obtain and retain relevant documentation and evidence, especially as these problems can arise several months after a tenant has moved out.

“Without access to the precise details of Colin’s case, it isn’t possible to comment further. In answer to Colin’s question about escalation, our website https://www.ombudsman-services.org/ contains information on our service standards and complaints procedure for anyone who is unhappy with our service.”



Comments

Neil Patterson

13:28 PM, 14th August 2018
About 2 months ago

Hi Colin,

Can you find the tenant. I have tried fighting the ombudsman and British Gas before over a historic bill. You can just face a brick wall.

Maybe worth changing tack and taking legal action against the tenant?

steve p

14:28 PM, 14th August 2018
About 2 months ago

Do you have a letter from the tenant with the date they are leaving?

I have come across this before where even though the tenant tells the energy company they are leaving on the right date they give a slightly false reading to the energy company, so you as a landlord end up paying for some of their energy...

I always make sure tenants are their for a check out, do a cursory look, mainly to look for obvious damage but mainly to make sure there is nothing left, you would be surprised how many tenants leave stuff they don't want, then I write the energy readings on a piece of paper and offer for the tenants to also check the meters and sign, I use words of the affect. "I the tenant accept that I have checked and confirmed that the following reading are correct for the check out of [property name] on [date]"

Get them to sign and date....

Last tenant I did that suddenly realised I was doing it and said "Oh ok can you message me those readings as I think I told the energy company different readings"...

Ian Narbeth

15:16 PM, 14th August 2018
About 2 months ago

I am afraid it will cost you far more than £126 to do anything.
The police are not interested in fraud. You could try a private prosecution but the standard of proof is very high and you could spend thousands of pounds and countless hours of your time.

If you have not yet paid you could try challenging EON to sue but you will probably end up with a bad credit record. Sorry but you'll have to put this down to experience.

Dancinglandlord

9:29 AM, 15th August 2018
About 2 months ago

Utility companies are as we all know extremely difficult to deal with. If you had a deposit and the appropriate contract clause allowing you to deduct for unpaid bills, plus photographs of the meter reading with proof of date (e.g. that day's newspaper next to it), then you could have simply deducted this from the deposit. Of course knowing what the tenant has given as a final meter reading might come some time after we have returned deposits, so this isn't a perfect solution. I also have taken a couple of utility issues to the Ombudsman and find them extremely anti-landlord. In one case an employee of mine was argued with by the ombudsman who accused him of taking a matter to a solicitor - we had to point out that the issue had been taken to a solicitor by the utility company and that we had reasonably been trying not to for over a year over a meter that had been removed but they were trying to charge us £600! What galls me is that there is no compensation for the considerable waste of time caused by the incompetence of utility companies who often factor debt out without bothering to examine the correspondence or facts of the case. Another way to avoid these problems might be to offer a bills inclusive package, but you'd still have to deal with the utility company.

David Lawrenson

9:38 AM, 15th August 2018
About 2 months ago

Interesting case.
As a matter of course, we always take meter readings ourselves on last day of tenancy - and so do our inventory people. With photos. We therefore have the evidence.
On same day, (we get in first, which make a difference), we then call* (never email) the energy co and make a note of who we speak to there and the exact time when we give them the readings. (* OK, calling takes a long time these days and listening to the usually awful music and those insulting always the same pre-recorded message saying "Your Call is Important ... High Call Volumes, yada yada....but we feel it is worth it!!!)
We also have it in our TA that we will pass tenant details onto the utility cos when they leave (inc new addresses), though we have never actually done that yet, but would if pressed in a case like this.

David Lawrenson
http://www.LettingFocus.com
Landlords Consultancy

Chris Daniel

9:44 AM, 15th August 2018
About 2 months ago

Very annoying, but quite simple to me. Utility bill is a 'debt' plain and simple Other that debts to the state [ i.e. Council tax etc, where the govt make those enforceable with legal sanctions, ultimately imprisonment - bias I know. 'owe us money and we'll throw you in jail, - owe anyone else and you can whistle for it'. ! ] all other debt is a civil matter.
Given all the evidence you have, I would change supplier and tell EON to take you to court. You could represent yourself and production of the witness statements you mention would be 'check-mate' Not that EON would take you to court.
I think I'd also make an F.O.I. to EON for the number of similar complaints they receive annually, and write with all that information to your M.P and Which magazine. Try to get as much publicity as possible also writing to the board members of EON individually ( a few are likely to be landlords ? )

Martin Thomas

9:48 AM, 15th August 2018
About 2 months ago

If this happened to me, I would let them take me to the small claims court. You can't deal with some of the idiots employed by energy companies that constantly hide behind 'data protection'. I reckon that a judge, faced with the evidence would rule in my favour. It's a risk but on principle, that's what I would do. If EON is based in Timbuktoo, you can apply to have the case changed to your local court on the grounds "that's the locality where the property was situated" - that would cramp EON's style for a start.

Annie Landlord

9:49 AM, 15th August 2018
About 2 months ago

I always call the energy suppliers with the readings I take on checkout. I have had tenants do a runner twice, so couldn't be certain when they moved out, but those tenants of course hadn't provided any readings to the energy company! If an energy supplier has queried my information, a S21 date, or date of moving stipulated on a letter has sufficed. Unfortunately as you didn't call the readings in at the time Colin, I'm not sure if there is any more you can do.

Michael Freer

9:55 AM, 15th August 2018
About 2 months ago

That's a fine pickle to be in and one we all face from time to time.
A few thoughts that you may have already been through:
Did the tenant put in writing to you they were going to vacate on the 26th? If so, then he was, under the terms of the AST, still resident until this time so liable for utilities until that date.
Did the tenant's Council Tax liability end on the 25th or 1st? If it's the latter, it further demonstrates they were still at the address during the time EON is trying to charge you.
If your photo of the meter has a date and time stamp (metadata or in the picture) on it for the 25th then you've got some solid evidence, EON would have to prove as incorrect.
If you've been through the above already then maybe as others have indicated, it's best to take it on the chin, work out how to stop it happening in the future and get a better tenant into the property, if you haven't already, then chalk this all up as a learning point.

Anne

10:16 AM, 15th August 2018
About 2 months ago

This doesn't solve your issue but it can make them wait for their money.

Once you have decided you have no option but to pay this, offer them £5.00 a month. They will have to accept this because you are offering to settle the debt and to take you to court would cost more money and potentially get the same sort of settlement from the court

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