16:52 PM, 26th January 2012, About 12 years ago 11
Buy to let landlords could be made to pay water bills for departing tenants if they fail to pass on their details under a proposed new law.
Water companies write-off around £328 million a year in unpaid bills – costing every consumer £15 a year, says the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
Although landlords have a legal obligation to tell gas and electricity companies the identity of any occupiers, no such requirement exists for water companies.
DEFRA has launched a consultation on the proposal which brings water bills in line with other utilities.
Environment Minister Richard Benyon said: “We will consider the consultation responses before making a final decision but we must find a way to fill the information gap which is at the heart of this problem.
“It is just not right that responsible people have to pick up the bills of those who are not paying.”
The consultation proposes introducing either regulations or an option to volunteer the information.
Regulation would make landlords liable for the water charges in rental properties if they fail to supply tenant contact details to water companies.
The other option calls for landlords and to share this information voluntarily.
The changes will only apply to England.
Meanwhile, councils are ready to carry out mass credit checks on homes to find out who lives there to prevent council tax fraud.
Credit reference firm Experian says the councils can check identities without permission because they are trying to detect crime.
Lewes Council, Sussex, tested the process and found council tax fraud in 2% of cases – in total around 350 cases were uncovered that resulted in collection of £125,000 in unpaid tax.
Data protection laws let councils and other official bodies carry out the checks without informing householders, providing they announce their intention in a general leaflet, poster or newspaper advert.