Hello and thank you for your question. I will be very pleased to assist you. I'm a practicing lawyer in England with over 10 years experience.
Are you the landlord or a new tenant please?
May I ask if you now live in the property please or does someone else?
Hi I'm the landlord and my new tenant moved in last April, she has three children.
Thanks. Was the gas account in the previous tenants name or in yours? Did you ensure that final meter readings were given at the conclusion of the previous tenants tenancy and that the new tenant has a new account set up with the utility provider?
The tenant who left without paying didn't even bother to put it in her name she just stayed for the year and left without paying. I sent the gas Co her tenancy agreement, proving she was living in the flat at the time of the gas being used.
Thanks - so to who were the gas bills issued - your name or that of a previous tenant?
The new tenant moved inlast April and I have seen her documents from N Power with a welcome pack etc. So I assummed it was all set up. The problem is the new tenant is now telling me that NPower didn't actually connect her for whatever reason. So she has given me £300 towards the gas bill that she hasnt paid since last April. She is a foreign lady and she can't read or write English very well.
The gas bill was issued in my name! The bill was £1,600!! and now they have sent a revised bill for £2,200!!
Thanks. Finally do you recall if you notified the gas company when the new tenant moved in that the account should no longer be in your name?
Yes I phoned Scottish Power and told them I have a new tenant in the flat. That was about a year ago. Now I've received a letter telling me if I don't pay this £2,200 bill they will dis-connect the gas! Plus they are going to court to get a warrant to do so.
Thanks. Do they accept they received your notice or failing which do you have any evidence that you gave SP that notice on the phone - eg. confirmation from them?
No they didnt write back to me after I phoned them. I heard nothing. So I rented the flat out to this lady.
Thanks. The first step is to seek confirmation from SP that they acknowledge your notice given to them by phone before old tenant moved in. How you proceed will depend upon whether they accept this or not. If they accept this then liability falls to the old tenant by virtue of something called a "Deemed contract" as provided for by the Utilities Act 2000 and the debt is a matter between SP and the old tenant and for SP to pursue the old tenant. If they are threatening to cut off the gas you or the new tenant can make a complaint and refer if necessary to the energy ombudsman for a determination. They would have no right to do so in these circumstances as the debt is owed by a third party
If SP do not acknowledge you gave them notice as you claim however the position is different as follows:
In these circumstances it may be that you as the previous account holder will still be liable unless you can show on balance of probability that you gave notice as above to SP. If you cannot show this on the balance of probability then you may need to give consideration to paying the debt and then pursuing the new tenant yourself using a tracing agent if necessary to track them down.
If you are forced to do so you may need a tracing agent such as http://tracedebtors.com/ to assist you in finding the old tenant. You can if necessary pursue them in the county court using www.moneyclaim.gov.uk or you could issue a statutory demand.
Ideally of course you will have evidence (by acknowledgement from SP or otherwise) that you gave them the above notice on the phone and will not have to settle the bill yourself and can proceed as per the first scenario as above.
This is therefore lilkely to be your first step.
I faxed SP the tenants contract agreement (tenancy Agreement) proving that this tenant lived there at the time the gas was used. Isn't that evidence enough? I can't afford £2,200, and why should I pay this bill it's not me who used the gas?
As a landlord generally it is crucial to ensure that utility providers are notified and that you have evidence that you have done so to ensure that you avoid liability even temporarily for tenants bills. Utility providers can conveniently fail to keep records of verbal notifications from landlords and occupiers when it suits them
I also havnet a clue where my last tenant is. She may have gone back to Poland.
The tenancy agreement is evidence of who consumed the gas. However from the point of view of the gas company you continue to be liable for the gas until the earlier of a) you give them notice that you are no longer in occupation / responsible or b) the date a new occupier sets up a new account with the supplier (which here they did not do from what you say). Therefore it is crucial that you seek acknowledgement from the gas company of your notice.
If they accept you gave them notice then you should not have to pay. If they refuse to accept that you did then you may need to reluctantly work out a payment plan with them for now whilst locating the old tenant in order to pursue them for the debt. Providing they can be located you can pursue the old tenant in any event though obviously it would be far preferable if you can obtain the above confirmation from the gas co so it it their problem rather than yours to do so.
Does the above answer all your questions or is there anything I can clarify or help with any further?
I don't understand this part>>>> Therefore it is crucial that you seek acknowledgement from the gas company of your notice.......................................................................... I can send SP the new tenants tenancy agreement, proving I'm not living there, is that good enough?
Unfortunately not. What is key is the notice you say you gave the gas company by phone around the time the new tenant move in. It is this notice to the gas company that ends your liability to them as above. You can't do this retrospectively so the tenancy agreement - whilst showing another person occupied the property - cannot retrospectively change the position with the gas company re your potential liability to them. It is the notice you say you gave them by phone before/around the time the old tenant moved in that does that so this is what you need to seek acknowledgement from them on if you don't already have it.
Is there anything else I can clarify for you?
They arn't going to admit that! It was a phone call that's all. However at the time of the phone call I did send them the tenancy agreement of the person who ran off not paying her bill. I faxed it to them. Is this enough to prove giving notice?
Do you have proof of that fax?
No I havent got a fax machine so I had to use the one in the local library..But I think I could still find the agreement somewhere
e.g. a copy of the fax you sent or anything of that nature?
Thanks. What you did does constitute a perfectly valid notice and should be more than sufficient to get you off the hook as per scenario 1 above. The only difficulty is evidence if they deny you did what you say. That you gave notice in writing on the face of it substantially improves your position potentially. The supplier must maintain records of correspondence it receives from you and sends to you and providing they have logged it to your account properly you can obtain evidence of it by making something called a subject access request regarding your account. They are obliged to disclose all information they hold about you on your account including any correspondence received from and sent to you. You can if necessary make a subject access request under the Data Protection Act requesting all information they hold about you and in particular copies of all correspondence to and from you in the last x years.
In addition if you could find a copy of the fax you sent or any covering letter this may assist.
Are you happy with the information I have provided to you above or is there anything above I can clarify for you any further?
Can SP still cut the gas off in 3 weeks time if we are still in dispute? I have a tenant with 3 children
Whilst you are making the above enquiries you may consider raising a formal complaint in respect of the charges. This will transfer the matter to their complaints team. You can request that pending resolution of your complaint that they take no actions in relation to the gas supply in particular because the debt claimed is presently disputed. Under such circumstances they should not take any steps to seek disconnection. You can reserve your right to draw any contrary actions to the Energy Ombudsman if necessary which will be taken into account in any calculation of compensation though hopefully this will not be necessary.
Is there anything else I can help you with?
In your last paragraph you said>>>>>>That you gave notice in writing on the face of it substantially improves your position potentially....I didnt give them notice in writing, it was just a phone call, backed up with the faxed tenancy agreement....is this what you mean by 'giving notice in writing?
Oh you just faxed the agreement with no covering letter?
I cant remember if I faxed a covering letter, but I probably would have done, but not sure. I phoned SP and they asked me to fax the tenancy agreement over to them, then I heard nothing,so I presumed it was all sorted out
I fair assumption at the time. I would assume you would have sent some form of covering letter but clearly you no longer have a copy. What you did would appear to be the correct notice and should absolve you of liability. Your next steps would appear to be obtaining evidence that you did what you say using some of the above approaches. By expectation would be that you will be able to do so unless there has been a complete failure in administration so that the correspondence was not recorded on your account by the supplier.
If I can assist you further as matters progress I am very happy to do so. For now your first steps would appear to be escalating the issue to a formal complaint as above and requesting a subject access request on your account and seeking an undertaking from the supplier that they will suspend any action to cut off the gas pending resolution of the complaint.
So basically I'm relying on SP to be honest and or proficient in finding that tenancy agreement sent a year ago?
That and double checking your own records but remember it would be difficult for them to alter records on your account - i.e. delete correspondence as they have audit trails in place to prevent this sort of thing. They also have to legally disclose information they hold - it is not optional so it is not quite as reliant on them being honest as you may consider.
Ok but they can deny my phone call can't they...I cant prove my phone call to them
They could if it hasn't been logged properly but one would hope it was as was your written correspondence. It is necessary to take the above steps to establish the position.
ok thank you....can I get back to you once I've spoken to SP?
Yes of course. If you have no further questions just for now I should be very grateful if you would kindly take a moment to rate my service to you today. Your feedback is important to me. This will also save the thread and you can return to it at any time with any follow up questions.
ok thats great thank you speak soon