When a tenant dies his Utility Bills die with him?

by Readers Question

11:44 AM, 10th July 2019
About 5 months ago

When a tenant dies his Utility Bills die with him?

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When a tenant dies his Utility Bills die with him?

Death is an unfortunate fact of life and occasionally a tenant passes away. Common sense dictates the Utility Company should just write off the bill, but no it puts the bill into the name of the Landlord. There then follows correspondence with threats of reporting to Credit Reference agencies. I have two current, with two separate Energy Suppliers, where they have put the bill of deceased tenants into the name of the Landlord (myself).

So what is the answer? There is an issue of Wasting Time and of Harassment. Keep all the letters and send a Letter Before Action claiming General Damages for up to £10,000.

You will need to be equipped with a copy of Lisa Ferguson v British Gas which you can look up on the Internet:

Reference Court: Court of Appeal (Civil Division), Judge: Sedley, Jacob, and Lloyd LJJ, Date of judgment: 10 Feb 2009

Summary: Harassment – Protection From Harassment Act 1997 – Companies – Corporate liability – Threats to customer – Course of conduct – Knowledge – Striking out.

You need to be equipped with a copy of The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 which you can download from the Internet.

Write to the Chief Executive pointing out that Directors are now responsible for the actions of their employees. Also the Company is Vicariously Responsible for the actions of its Debt Collectors.

It is important that you ask for a Subject Access Report (SAR) which may be referred to as a Data Subject Access Report (DSAR). It is the same thing. Ask for SAR from both the Utility Company and Debt Collector. There is no charge. Keep a note of the time you spend on a Spreadsheet. You can claim £19 a hour under the High Court Rate for Litigants in Person (LIPs).

The Utility may seek to fob you off with a Deadlock Letter. That means they will not pursue you further, but will not remove the debt from their books, and will report the Landlord to Credit Reference Agencies so as to prevent the Landlord from obtaining further mortgages.

If and when the Energy Supplier removes the Debt then immediately switch the supplier to a different energy Supplier because if you do not the Debt will be put in the next tenant’s name and if they have a key meter (electricity) or quantum meter (Gas) the key will be loaded to recover the deceased tenant’s debt.

Fergus Wilson



Comments

Jay James

20:31 PM, 11th July 2019
About 5 months ago

In answer to the header question the answer is an unequivocal yes (from the landlord's point of view).
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From the executor's point of view, the debt does not die with the death of the tenant. The executor must pay it from estate proceeds. If these are insufficient, the debt then dies completely.

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However, that does not stop utility companies lieing, putting notes on any other person's credit file or making threats. These things could be illegal, but there is nothing to actually prevent them. If they do take place, you must just accept them or use the law as best you can to undo or reduce their actions.
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As to the utility costs from the date of death, the landlord is responsible for those.
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Michael Barnes

11:39 AM, 12th July 2019
About 5 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Jay James at 11/07/2019 - 20:31
"As to the utility costs from the date of death, the landlord is responsible for those."

Why?

If the T is (stated in agreement) responsible for utilities until the tenancy is ended, then responsibility surely passes to the executor until either proper notice to end the tenancy has expired or a surrender of the tenancy has been accepted by the LL (council tax excepted).

Jay James

18:56 PM, 12th July 2019
About 5 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Michael Barnes at 12/07/2019 - 11:39
Thank you for picking me up on this Michael. I have made a mistake. I should have made clear that "As to the utility costs from the date of death, the landlord is responsible for those.", is based on an assumption that the tenant's death ended the tenancy. Further compounding my error is that the assumption may or may not have been correct in the situation at the top of this page.

Douglas Barley

9:31 AM, 13th July 2019
About 5 months ago

What about Council Tax? I had a situation where unfortunately my tenant died in Doncaster, I would not consider forcing his relatives to clear the property at such an unfortunate time and gave them just over 2 weeks in which to remove his goods - the rent had been paid until then anyway, however his estate cancelled his council tax payments and good old Doncaster Council then pursued me for the Council Tax until the property was re-let - including the time when in law I would have not been able to re-let as the rent had been paid until the end of that month. Absolutely disgusting and shows what a disgraceful state of affairs this country has come to. - needlessly to say I challenged Doncaster Council but they were not the least interested - money grabbing LA's again.

Jessie Jones

10:26 AM, 13th July 2019
About 5 months ago

The rules regarding Council Tax and the rules regarding utility bills are different.
Generally speaking, utility bills arise from a 'contract' between the supplier and the tenant. When the tenant dies, the contract dies, but the liability remains with the estate.
The Landlord takes on an implied contract from the moment they take on responsibility for the property. Allowing relatives time to remove the deceased's possessions is a form of control over the property, so an implied contract exists and the landlord becomes liable for the utility bills.
Council Tax is not a contractual liability, implied or otherwise, but is a statutory liability, and so the rules are very different. In some areas, Councils waive liability for properties that are vacant for up to 6 months. In others, they apply another rule that effectively doubles the liability in vacant properties once they have been vacant for over 12 months. These rules are discretionary, which is why there is variance across different councils. I have properties across 2 council areas. In one I get 3 months to find a new tenant, paying zero council tax. In the other there is no period of grace.
Water bills are altogether different. Legislation provides that the landlord is liable for the bill unless they have taken all reasonable steps to inform the water supplier of who the tenant is. But in my own area they seem perfectly happy to entirely waive the bill whilst a property is vacant.

Gunga Din

10:27 AM, 13th July 2019
About 5 months ago

I'm in dispute with Hartlepool at the moment. A tenant moved out two weeks before the agreed date and told H'pool sh'e moved out. H'pool of course are chasing me for the Tax as of that date. I put it to them that they are holding me liable for the C Tax on a flat when a) the previous tenancy was still extant, b) it still contained some of the tenants stuff, c) I could not legally enter and d) the tenant hadn't returned the keys. I await a reply.....

Michael Barnes

1:17 AM, 14th July 2019
About 5 months ago

Government web site says that on death there is an exemption from council tax. However, it is not clear if that is only for owner-occupiers or if it also applies to tenants.

If there is no exemption, then the council is right to pursue the LL, but the LL should then seek payment from the estate of the tenant.

Michael Barnes

1:18 AM, 14th July 2019
About 5 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Gunga Din at 13/07/2019 - 10:27
They are right to pursue you for the CT; you then have to pursue the T. That is the way the CT legislation is written.

Michael Barnes

1:22 AM, 14th July 2019
About 5 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Jessie Jones at 13/07/2019 - 10:26
"Allowing relatives time to remove the deceased's possessions is a form of control over the property,"

It is my understanding that the tenancy continues until it is ended either by the Executors giving notice or by agreement between the executors and the LL. Therefore it is not a case of the LL allowing time; it is operation of law that allows it.

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