One of the big complaints of the water industry has historically been that tenants depart properties without paying their final water bill. This is asserted to cost the industry a large amount every year and ultimately leads to higher water bills all round.
Quite some time ago the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 inserted a new section 144C into the Water Industry Act 1991, the main statute which regulates the private-sector water utilities. This new section is targeted at landlords but actually covers any residential premises occupied by someone other than the person who owns it. Therefore it will catch parents who own property occupied by their children for example. The section simply states that if the owner fails to give "information about the occupiers" to the relevant water company then the owner becomes jointly and severally liable with the occupiers for payment of the water bill. Given that the occupiers will by this point have presumably disappeared this will of course mean that the owner will be left to foot the bill. Therefore the water company will either have enough information about the occupiers to track them down or will be able to insist the owner pays up.
However, this provision has never actually been brought into force so the issue has become moot. However, the Welsh Government consulted on taking the provision forward and bringing it into force in Wales only.
This provision has borne fruit and the Water Industry (Undertakers Wholly or Mainly in Wales) (Information about Non-owner Occupiers) Regulations 2014 were passed and came into force in Wales only on 1 January 2015.
The new regulations require all owners who do not reside in the property themselves to provide the water supplier with the following information about their occupiers:
- Full name
- Date of birth
- The date they first occupied the premises.
This must be done within 21 days of the tenancy commencing. For tenancies already in place these provisions will still apply and must be complied with within 21 days of them coming into force. That is by 22 January 2015.
The information can be provided by post, telephone, email or the online portal at www.landlordtap.com.
If the duty is not complied with then the owner becomes jointly and severally liable for the bill alongside the tenant until such time as the information is provided so any landlord that misses the deadline can still retrieve their position if they act promptly.
Tenants must be informed that this information will be given so it may be necessary to insert a new clause in tenancy agreements. However, many standard agreements already state that information will be given to utility companies so this may not be needed in many cases.
Whether or not this works will ultimately only be determined by whether water bills drop in Wales due to better collection of debts. No doubt, if it proves successful the water companies will agitate in England for the same provisions to be brought into force there.