Tenants Changing Suppliers – The Pitfalls

by Heather Moriarty-Phillips

13:52 PM, 19th June 2012
About 6 years ago

Tenants Changing Suppliers – The Pitfalls

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Tenants Changing Suppliers – The Pitfalls

Tenants, utility suppliers, landlords and change don’t often mix too well. I wanted to share a problem that I have had with a utility company charging on disputed meter readings and standing charges and the impact of the law relating to deemed contracts when a property is void. Happily I have resolved this after much correspondence and standing my ground.

As you know, tenants have a habit of changing the utility suppliers. In my case a tenant in 2009 changed to a company supplying both gas and electricity, when the tenant left they were not present when my letting agent did the check out. The letting agent (large company in Norwich) did the meter readings and recorded them on their system. The tenant was not present to agree the meter readings but they must have given different readings to the supplier when requesting the final bill.

The property was void for three months. Before the next tenant I was charged for over £200 worth of gas and electricity and standing charges so I wrote to the company supplying my home address but heard nothing from them.

Three years on and with another change of tenant, letters addressed to me had been left at the property and by this time late payment penalties etc had been added on and a debt collecting agency had been instructed to chase me. I contacted both companies immediately and disputed the meter readings but the utility company insisted the only readings they would accept were those agreed by the tenant.

I complained as a professional unbiased letting agent had taken the readings, but that was not good enough they said. I pointed out that not only were inventories not a legal requirement, it is rare (in my experience) for tenants to be either present at check out or if they are they refuse to sign inventories for fear that may prejudice their tenancy deposits being returned. Still the company insisted their readings were to be used. Then I tried, it’s not my contract approach to be met with tough, Schedule 6 Electricity Act 1989 contained in schedule 4 para 3 of the Utilities Act 2000 (for electricity) and Gas Act 1986 schedule 2B para 8 (for Gas).

A lesser mortal might have curled up at the edges but determined to go down fighting, I came up with the essence of a contract is an agreement and there would have at least to be agreement as to meter readings! Still a stand off until I suggested we all met up in court and eventually they accepted my agents readings, backed down on late payment charges and I agreed to pay the minimum usage (remember it was void) and in the spirit of settling I would pay the standing charge, thus reducing the bill from £235 to £41.

The moral of the story is if at all possible to get the tenant to sign the meter readings but if not make sure the readings are either recorded with time and date very clearly and ideally even if you are using an agent contact the utility companies yourself as the contract will be deemed to be the landlords. The agents I find do not take any trouble to protect the landlords in these circumstances.



Comments

17:54 PM, 19th June 2012
About 6 years ago

i would suggest taking photoes of the meters at the time of move in and vacation, let them argue that fact
Peter

9:31 AM, 20th June 2012
About 6 years ago

I always photograph the meters on my mobile phone with date and time in picture - have won a few disputes with this approach!!

9:33 AM, 20th June 2012
About 6 years ago

1) *I* close the bills myself by ringing the closing reading through at the time and giving the tenants home address for the final bill. If it has just been closed by the tenant they have the address to send a bill for any difference. Of course if the tenancy is not continuous you won't want to give your own name - you're just the 'old tenant' on the phone. As I understand it power companies can't bond you to themselves as the lanlord by default (although water companies are down that road?)
What a pain though if in your scenario the tenants switch you to a standing charge company and you have the stuff switched off in a void period which you then get charged for.
I'm no master though - I once did a check out whilst letting the cleaners in to start their proceedings - they complained there was no hot water - I went to check the fuse box etc and discovered the meter had been replaced by one that needed a card to operate it - which was missing - -guess what the tennats had defaulted - pay as you go installed - kept the card in their pocket - nightmare - good job I wasn' going to stay there for couple of days or I really would have been in the dark...
No bill passed on to me I guess - as pay as you go - but had to organise getting proper meter back.

22:58 PM, 20th June 2012
About 6 years ago

The problem is tenants can change to a PAYG meter with NO reference to the LL.
Yes you can put in your AST that no change may be made but the energy companies will still not advise a LL if things are changed or proposed to be changed.
It is outrageous that a tenant can change the meter without any reference by the energy company to the LL.
Personally my AST states no change in metering though I have no issue in changing energy provider , providing they advise me.
Due to DP law energy providers refuse to contact LL should there be any drastic changes in the energy account.
Energy providers suffer most of their losses from tenanted properties.
If a tenant changed meters without my permission I would have to request that they give an additional depost to cover the costs of converting back to credit meter.
If the tenant refused I would evict.

9:48 AM, 21st June 2012
About 6 years ago

That's the case is it (PAYG meter etc.) - not good!
I do now have a single clause which states amongst other things that if this takes place a solictor will be envoked to deal with the situation as it is not allowed in the tenancy agreement and that from the off the tenant will be responsible for the solictors costs in dealing with the situation. (It refers to various points in the agreement by number) It's probably not strictly cocha (spelling?) but might make the point understood!

15:02 PM, 22nd June 2012
About 6 years ago

We just got hit with a bill as our last tenants changed to a provider that has standing charges without telling us, so we can to pay these charges over the void; the usage was very close to 0. The first concect we had from the provider was getting the bill, they did not write to use when the last tenants transferred it into our name.

16:19 PM, 22nd June 2012
About 6 years ago

They cannot change it to your name whilst they are still there and if in your name they should contact you at your address.

11:37 AM, 24th June 2012
About 6 years ago

Heather
Well done for standing your ground and getting a good result! We tell the tenants it is their responsibility to make sure they attend the check out and meter readings for their own protection. When they discover their deposit won't be repaid unless they do, it focuses their attention!


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