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.
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