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’.


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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12:27 PM, 20th August 2018
About 2 years ago

I find the ombudsman's carte blanche response insulting. The majority of good landlords have ample evidence, but this is often scantly dealt with by either the utility company and even the ombudsman. Basic common sense (such as the inability to use such quantities of power in a short period) is ignored and data protection used as a way to frustrate the proper dealing with these matters. We should expect fair treatment in all of these cases and the best outcome would be a new system - perhaps using smart meters (can these read meters on a daily basis if a tenant gives an incorrect leaving date?) that is fair to both tenant and landlord and stops wasting the time of tenants, landlords, utility companies and the ombudsman. We are living in times where almost daily reports of how artificial intelligence will do people out of jobs. In this case I would be glad of a (reliable) system - perhaps using smart meters, that could deal with these matters and cut out all the unnecessary work involved. For this to be continuing 20 years on from when I first became involved in these matters just beggars belief. I have spoken to a programmer called in by Scottish Power who believes that their legacy computer systems have scrambled data, preventing them from dealing with a lot of cases and perhaps leading them to rely on debt factoring in the hope of claiming some income from their inaccurate records. Whether this is true I don't know, but after my dealings with Scottish Power some years ago, I wouldn't be surprised.

Phil Landlord

14:26 PM, 20th August 2018
About 2 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Chris Daniel at 20/08/2018 - 08:56
Yep as I say, my experience NOW is I don’t fight on principal. This is because unless EON send me a massive cheque to compensate me for time, effort and frustration then even if I win £120 back and an apology plus free electric for a year it really wasn’t worth my while.

It’s costs me more in every sense of cost and I now focus on making more money, keeping positive and looking forward. Sometimes being right and even being proved right isn’t enough.

Easier said than done and I am sure in the future there will be examples I don’t follow my own advice.

Going back to the legality of contract change. Utilise companies will have the right to transfer ownership even with nothing signed. It will be a dispensation for utilises because if they didn’t then all house moves would result in a disruptive termination of supply. The supplier will have a send a letter to the subject property etc etc. Not saying it’s fair just it’s legal.

Colin Massey

9:07 AM, 22nd August 2018
About 2 years ago

Thanks for all the helpful replies and comments everyone. Fact is that the rule book of the utilities and the Ombudsman is based on the presumption that landlords are always wrong and liable for everything but cannot make decisions about change of suppliers or meters as that is the prerogative of the tenant.

I note that the ombudsman spokesman has not replied to Neil Patterson further to my last submission - I wonder whether Neil might press for a response from them? Are they going to openly admit that they are happy to support unlawful decisions made by energy companies? Such as the one in this case where they accepted that four independent witness statements could be ignored? And that they are in fact dictators and have no independent appeal process once they issue a ruling? These matters are of vital relevance to us all and I believe that this forum should expect replies to these questions?

Neil Patterson

10:21 AM, 22nd August 2018
About 2 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Colin Massey at 22/08/2018 - 09:07
I have emailed the Energy Ombudsman Spokesman to request a further reply to everyone's comments.

Tony McVey

12:04 PM, 22nd August 2018
About 2 years ago

I do not know why you bother consulting the Ombudsman. They have no power to change the law. Landlords are only liable to pay for electricity
which they consume. No utility company has ever confirmed the legal basis for liability for any unoccupied period. I have never paid a standing charge for any such period in over 30 years.

Colin Massey

9:50 AM, 24th August 2018
About 2 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Neil Patterson at 22/08/2018 - 10:21
Thanks very much Neil. We await a response with interest!

Colin Massey

11:36 AM, 31st August 2018
About 2 years ago

Hi Tony - fact is that the landscape is changing and the Ombudsman is supporting the utilities in unlawful activity. They issue a ruling which the utility company relies on. They then threaten to damage your credit rating by lodging a 'default' claim. For the sake of relatively low sums, none of us want to risk this, no matter how unlawful it is. A friend had this done a while back and found it to be irreversible - couldn't get anything at all for six years. That is why I feel that forums such as this one may be able to help to get this gross unfairness (and illegal action) stopped. Glad that you have not suffered in the same way, but it may only be a case of when, and not if.

Tony McVey

14:48 PM, 31st August 2018
About 2 years ago

Colin, I have no dealings with Utility Suppliers save for Water Boards who are in a special legal position. No default judgment can be entered against you without your being able to argue your case at a hearing. The Ombudsman has no power to change the law. Landlords who have not agreed explicitly or implicitly ( by using electricity) to enter into a contract are not liable to pay anything.

Colin Massey

10:03 AM, 11th September 2018
About 2 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Colin Massey at 24/08/2018 - 09:50Neil - I note that several weeks have passed and the Ombudsman's Spokesman is conspicuous by his absence. This could be interpreted as them not contesting the facts as presented - they have acted unlawfully by supporting EON's actions and therefore arguably are not fit for purpose. Would it be in the interests of Landlords everywhere for Property 118 to escalate and expose this abuse to higher levels? Surely they are accountable to someone?

Neil Patterson

10:06 AM, 11th September 2018
About 2 years ago

Correct, the Ombudsman does not want to get drawn any further on a specific case or point sadly.

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