Landlords must be wary of water bills liability

Landlords need to carefully consider their liability for the water bills incurred by their tenants, after national legislation was changed in November 2012 to ensure property owners are made to pay up in cases where dwellers fail to do so.

Ever since the Water Industry Act 1999 made it illegal for water providers to disconnect supplies from households in the UK, even if they failed to pay their bills, the issue of unpaid invoices has been a significant one in the country. Many homes are known not to cough up the required amount of cash when required, leading to debt collection procedures taking place.

People who rent out properties to tenants should be aware that it is their responsibility to hand over details of the occupants to water companies. If they do not, they will find that they are liable for the bills built up by the tenant over time.

And with many people staying in rented accommodation for longer periods than ever before, the amount of debt that can be racked up is significant. No landlord wants to be left with a hefty unpaid bill once a tenant has moved out, so it is best to act according to the rule book from day one.

Legislation introduced in October 2010 was designed to make it as easy as possible for landlords to submit information about their tenants to water companies. It included the creation of an online tool to allow details to be entered quickly.

The Association of Residential Letting Agents has previously quoted industry figures from 2007 that showed some 19 per cent of domestic water customers found themselves in arrears with their supplier. At the time, this was far higher than the number who were falling behind with gas and electricity invoices.

It suggests there is a long-standing problem within the water market where bills remain unpaid for a significant period of time. And in homes where the occupant is a tenant rather than an owner, the potential for missing payments could be even greater.

Landlords are advised to spend plenty of time thinking about all the information they will require from tenants in order to meet their responsibilities. This is likely to include their names, previous addresses and future contact information. Owners should also consider how they can verify this information so that they are not at risk of picking up a large bill once the tenant has departed.

With the most recent change in legislation making it quite clear that landlords will be liable for unpaid water bills relating to their properties, it pays to be on top of the issue. Renting out properties can often be a case of balancing finances so precisely to ensure a profit is made that one major blow - such as an unpaid bill - can leave a landlord severely out of pocket.

As such, it goes without saying that staying in touch with legislative changes and acting accordingly should remain a top priority of all forward-thinking and shrewd landlords in the UK.

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Published on: February 20, 2013

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