The Welsh Assembly is consulting on the implementation of s144C of the Water Industry Act which requires landlords to provide address information to water companies in respect of departing tenants.

Background

Back in 2010 the government passed a piece of legislation that primarily dealt with flooding and the management of water, the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. However, s45 of this Act also inserted a provision into the Water Industry Act 1991, the main statute which regulates the private-sector water utilities. This provision was inserted at the behest of those companies as a means to help reduce the level of bad debt in the water industry. The water companies asserted that it was tenants leaving properties without providing a forwarding address which were one of the main causes of this problem.

S144C applies to residential premises occupied by persons other than the owner. It 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. Frustratingly, the Act makes no mention of exactly what “information” should be gathered leaving that to secondary regulations and it also only offers up the possibility of owners escaping liability by making best efforts as a possible option to appear in secondary regulations as well.

While this section caused a lo of concern when it was introduced it has been forgotten somewhat, largely because it has never been commenced and the necessary regulations have not appeared. The Welsh Assembly, with its consultation appears to be looking to end that period of slumber.

Welsh Consultation

The Assembly states that the level of bad debt in wales adds around £20 to the average water bill. This is believed to contribute to poverty and so the aim is to cut debts and thereby bills. Their solution is to implement s144C in Wales using the Water and Sewerage Information (Non-owner Occupiers) Regulations.

What is Required?

The new regulations will require landlords to provide a water company with:

  • The occupier’s full name;
  • The occupier’s date of birth;
  • The date the occupier first began to occupy the property;
  • The owners full name and address if it is not already known to the water company.

Notably there is no requirement to pass the water company any form of contact details or forwarding address for the occupiers. This was an area of concern for many landlords. However, there is an obligation to tell the water company if the owner thinks the information is false or incomplete.This information must be given to the water company within 21 days of a series of trigger events. The most important of these is the start of a tenancy of the property.There is an escape from liability for owners if they tell the water company that they think the information is false or incomplete and makes reasonable efforts to obtain and supply correct information.If the information is not supplied within the 21 day period then the owner will have a liability for the water bills until such time as the information is supplied.Finally, there is an obligation to inform the occupiers that this information will be passed on.

Landlord’s Position

Owner is actually defined as the person collecting the rent. However, there is an exemption for agents from liability so the obligation falls on the landlord to comply. That said many agents will no doubt assume a contractual obligation to their landlords to do this for them.The information required is collected by most good landlords anyway as a self-protective measure and so it should not be too onerous a process save for the irritation of actually providing the information.

Next Steps

The consultation is open until 6 November. Assuming nothing that is said changes the Assembly’s mind then they intend to bring this into force in March 2014. Agents will want to think about their tenant application forms to ensure that they are collecting the necessary information on them and taking steps to verify its accuracy and also including a statement to the tenant that this information will be passed on.