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

by Readers Question

13:25 PM, 14th August 2018
About 2 years 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.”


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Comments

Colin Massey

11:06 AM, 15th August 2018
About 2 years ago

Thanks everyone for the range of helpful comments. Fact is that we all learn from these things and now our AST's are modified to cover our position in the future, along with obligatory check in and check out documents. I have to admit that my logic says to pay the £126 - it will cost a lot more in time and hassle and stress to do otherwise. Fact is that if a tenant just leaves with no notice there is little we can do about that. We could agree a very low monthly payment but that would have required us to have accepted the ombudsman ruling, which we could not do. And give DD details to EON - again - no way. It is just sickening that so many bodies wish to assume that the landlord is wrong without considering the actual question. Other utilities and council had no queries on changeover date - but are wary of confirming anything as they are not asking me for money and the data is private o the tenants. Stuffed either way!

Mike T

13:03 PM, 15th August 2018
About 2 years ago

I agree Chris. Having been in similar situations in the past (before experience and 118 educated me) I dealt with things on a 'matter of principal' basis.
Don't let them get away with it. Challenge them, use the evidence you have etc is my preferred way. I realise that a busy hard working LL might not have the time to do this. However having, like Mark, relocated to where the sun shines
and zero degrees is only found in ones freezer, I find the challenge of 'not letting them get away with it' adds a little extra satisfaction in our laid back life.

Neil Patterson

15:46 PM, 15th August 2018
About 2 years ago

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.”

David Price

7:33 AM, 16th August 2018
About 2 years ago

Insist on a key meter in your ast. Change the meter before the next tenant.

philip ellis

7:53 AM, 16th August 2018
About 2 years ago

Been here myself.
I don’t micro-manage my tenants lives. A pair of teachers left a property of mine, clearly without doing the necessary sign off with BG. Nine months later I got a letter from BG asking if I was the owner and could I contact them, which I did. From that point on I was harassed my both BG and a subsequent debt collection agency for £120.00 for gas and electricity ‘used’ during a 10 day period in June. Clearly it was impossible to use this amount of energy and presumably the previous years consumption should have shown a typical usage. Regardless, I was pursued on an almost daily basis via automated phone calls and letters. I did call and explain to both BG and agency, but no one listened. This went in for a year. It eventually transpired that I was being pursued as they had no one else to recover the debt from and that it was based only on an estimated reading. I did comment that any court case wouldn’t be very successful based on an estimated reading !! Luckily they have now gone away, after nearly two years !!!
Surprisingly I had a tenant leave a mountain of debts the other month. I phoned up E.ON who weren’t worried in the slightest and just told me to mark two letters with Gone Away - and their system would automatically write off the debt.
I don’t like British Gas !!

Colin Massey

9:50 AM, 16th August 2018
About 2 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Neil Patterson at 15/08/2018 - 15:46
Thanks again for all replies. Ref suggestion by David Price to insist on having a card meter installed, it turns out that a landlord cannot insist on this - the tenant has the right to have either and with whatever supplier he chooses and any clause within the AST is unenforceable. My property in question is one where the tenant refused to accept a card meter.

David Price

9:55 AM, 16th August 2018
About 2 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Colin Massey at 16/08/2018 - 09:50
My tenants accept a key meter as a condition of the tenancy. If the landlord has no say in the matter how can he be held responsible for the bill.
No key meter no tenancy.

LordOf TheManor

9:57 AM, 16th August 2018
About 2 years ago

Reply to the comment left by philip ellis at 16/08/2018 - 07:53
I would speak to the online Citizen's Advice team who have a dedicated department dealing with utility companies. They helped me back in 2013. A few days after tenants had been evicted and the house was awaiting repairs (to the tune of +£10k) the utility company got in with a locksmith and removed both gas & electricity meters. Said utility company demanded I pay the debt & the cost of re-installing the meters... £1500. I was adamant I wasn't paying because the debt wasn't mine....however, without energy I couldn't get on with the repairing the house or cleaning it. I rang Citizen's Advice and within an hour they rang me back to say all was sorted! I paid £124 to have the meters re-instated and added that to the tenant's debt. Great job by CAB!!

On their website they say:

''It doesn’t matter if you’re not named on the bill - you’re still responsible for paying for any energy you used while you lived at a property.

However, you must have been ‘legally responsible’ for the property - ie your name was on a tenancy agreement or other legal contract. If it wasn’t, a supplier can’t prove you lived at the property.''

Have a look: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/energy/energy-supply/problems-with-your-energy-bill/find-out-if-youre-responsible-for-paying-an-energy-bill/

Colin Massey

10:18 AM, 16th August 2018
About 2 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Neil Patterson at 15/08/2018 - 15:46
This is a specific reply to the post by Neil Patterson where he passes on comments from the Energy Ombudsman. I am pleased that they have engaged and this exchange is very much in the interest of every Landlord. Therefore I respond as follows:
My case number was 01635469-01 OS:00764000004749
The Investigation Officer handling was Ms Lianne Knowles
I appealed Ms Knowles decision and was advised that I could appeal. I did so. The appeal was handled by Ms Knowles and she again rejected my appeal. I was advised that the decision was final and no further appeal was permitted.
You state that the landlord has ultimate responsibility to pay charges unless evidence is produced which shows the tenant should pay. In my case I produced four witness statements, which we provided to EON and the Ombudsman Service along with the option to provide these as Statutory Declarations or Sworn Affidavits or even attend a face to face meeting with the four witnesses and Eon. Ms Knowles ruled that EON were within their rights to refuse to accept any such evidence and to insist that a check out document signed by the tenant was the only acceptable form of evidence. Clearly, any tenant intent on committing fraud, would be sure not sign such a document. Both EON and Ms Knowles accepted that in a court of law, the witness statements would be admissable but said that EON were within their rights to decline.
In my opinion, by acting in this way and combining threats to ruin my credit rating if I did not pay, EON have acted unlawfully and by supporting their action the Ombudsman Service have been complicit and also acted unlawfully.
There are a whole host of other supporting factors in our case, including the fact that it would have been impossible to use £126 worth of electricity in a new 2 bed terraced property with Gas CH. We have 5 identical properties next to each other. I challenged EON to check the usage of the subject property but they said they could not discuss this as it was in breach of data protection. The former tenant sent us scans of payments to EOn made after he left and partial copy letters. he also said verbally that he had told EON the correct dates(same as we claim) and it was not his fault that EON are idiots. No doubt the payments made are not for the period in question but the fact that he sent alleged proof counts for something. EON and the ombudsman said they couldn't discuss these due to data protection.
So someone has to realise that an energy supplier cannot have it all ways. A tenant can change supplier - and meter - the contract lies with the supplier and tenant, not the landlord. Surely there should be an obligation of an energy supplier to engage with the landlord when a change is made if they wish to rely on charging the LL later for void periods?
As to the suggestion made by EOn and the Ombudsman service that the dispute is down to me and the tenant - what rubbish!! The contract is between EON and tenant - we have no case in law to bring any action against the tenant - he does not owe us money.
As I understand it, The Energy Ombudsman's role is dispute resolution. In this case, they have made no effort to resolve the case, only to take the easy option and side with the energy supplier.
I contend that the ombudsman has acted unlawfully by supporting EON who have acted unlawfully by adopting a position that they know would be rejected by a court.
As such, I further contend that the Energy Omudsman is not fit for purpose and should be replaced by an effective independent body which seeks to act on behalf of the public, not the Energy Suppliers.

Colin Massey

10:24 AM, 16th August 2018
About 2 years ago

Reply to the comment left by David Price at 16/08/2018 - 09:55
Thanks David Price. You are correct that most tenants will accept a PPM. However in the rare case that the tenant contacts the energy company later and wants to change meter or supplier there is nothing we can do as LL's and the clause in the AST is unenforceable. So unfair, but thats how it is. And with this Ombudsmans ruling, if a tenant does this and builds up a bill and lies about readings and leaving dates, we are supposedly left up as responsible. That's why I believe that this Onmudsman's policy has to be changed. Huge implications. And the more tenants who know about this, the bigger the problem will become. Everything is stacked against the LL.

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