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Tricky Dickie

Scottish Power have applied for a Warrant of Entry

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Scottish Power have applied for a warrant of entry to disconnect gas and electricity supplies regarding a disputed bill for energy supplies to a property I own.

I have never requested them to supply me personally with electricity and gas services for the period of time in question.

Can anyone please tell me what evidence they will need to provide to the court to obtain the warrant of entry,surely they will first have to prove that I am personally liable for the debt which as I said I am confident they will not be able to do.

Also is there some sort of pre action disclosure proceedure whereby I can force SP to disclose the information they intend to rely upon in court?

This situation has arisen regarding a property which was newly built some years ago and was let out to a tenant as soon as it was completed.

The tenant was responsible for applying for the gas and electricity supplies however I suspect that the builder did not inform Scottish Power that they had sold the property and to disconnect the services(I have checked the information the builder had in the handover pack they gave me and the meter readings section was blank).

I also guess that as the services were already connected the tenant just carried on using them without ant reference to the utility company.

It is my understanding that the utilities company can only enforce payment against a party that actually has previously requested that they provide services which in this case would either be the builder or possibly the tenant but certainly not myself.

Any information regarding the above would be greatly appreciated.

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Electric companies don;t disconnect the supply when someone moves out until someone else moves in (well not normally anyway). I imagine the builder did contact Scottish Power, otherwise they would be getting the warrant, not you. Whether the builders notified them who should be responsible after their responsibility ended? Should Scottish Power be relying on the builders' word?

Mind you, as it is not you living in the property it wouldn;t really personally effect you if Scottish Power disconnected the supply, would it?

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Can anyone give any accurate information to establish the legal issues regarding responsibility for paying energy companies,it is my understanding that they have to establish that they have a contract with a person to demand payment.

The fact that a person owns or occupies a property is not sufficient to establish such a contract exists.

Lets say a builder sells me a house and during its construction he arranges for 5 tons of sand to be delivered every week to the site.

When he sells me the house he forgets to cancel the order and the builders merchant carries on delivering the sand every week for the next five years(unlikely I know but the principles are the same.

Five years later the builders merchant realises he has not been paid for the sand delivered for the last five years so he sends me a bill and I dispute it on the grounds that I had never requested the sand therefore it must be a gift.

If the builders merchant wanted to take action in court he would have to prove that some contract existed between him and myself and that that contract had been breached.

No contract- no breach- no possible action.

Only dealing with legal issues where is the contract between SP and myself if I have never requested they provide energy to a property?

I am convinced SP are well aware of the situation but tracing the tenant who has scarpered would be a problem and taking on the builder would involve dealing with their lawyer so as usual the line of least resistance is to chase whoever is left whether its their responsibility or not

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If your tenancy agreement states that the tenant was responsible for paying the gas and electric then I agree you are not responsible. I'm assuming as well, you did not get any previous bills from Scottish Power for this address in your name?

I would have thought if the above is the case, then that would be the easiest road to go down when dealing with Scottish Power. Whether a contract needs to exist for gas or electric seems rather a messy subject, open to various interpretations. Scottish Power though, cannot say you are responsible for paying just because your tenants have done a runner.

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If your tenancy agreement states that the tenant was responsible for paying the gas and electric then I agree you are not responsible. I'm assuming as well, you did not get any previous bills from Scottish Power for this address in your name?

I would have thought if the above is the case, then that would be the easiest road to go down when dealing with Scottish Power. Whether a contract needs to exist for gas or electric seems rather a messy subject, open to various interpretations. Scottish Power though, cannot say you are responsible for paying just because your tenants have done a runner.

 

Don't know how long there had been bills being sent to the address but after tenant moved out I found one addressed to 'the occupier' then one sent recently to my name/occupier and just after that a notice saying they were applying for a warrant of entry.

Wonder how they got my name?

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The builders would have assigned a company to supply the fuel at your address. Once the property is sold, the owner or occupier takes over. No contract needs to be signed, its a deemed contract until you, the customer, choses to change your supplier. It sounds to me like a possibility that the builders have maybe only just advised Scottish Power that you bought the property? If you can provide a tenancy agreement for your tenant then they would not need to chase you for the outstanding balance. From what I can make out from your post, Scottish power would not have been informed that you had a tenant, the builders would not be able to pass this information on so your name may have been supplied by the developers. The tenant should have contacted Scottish Power to advise they were responsible for the fuel, but clearly didnt do that.

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The builders would have assigned a company to supply the fuel at your address. Once the property is sold, the owner or occupier takes over. No contract needs to be signed, its a deemed contract until you, the customer, choses to change your supplier. It sounds to me like a possibility that the builders have maybe only just advised Scottish Power that you bought the property? If you can provide a tenancy agreement for your tenant then they would not need to chase you for the outstanding balance. From what I can make out from your post, Scottish power would not have been informed that you had a tenant, the builders would not be able to pass this information on so your name may have been supplied by the developers. The tenant should have contacted Scottish Power to advise they were responsible for the fuel, but clearly didnt do that.

 

You are probably right that the builder gave SP my name but what I can't understand is that I found a letter in the property from SP dated early June addressed to 'the occupier' then a very recent one including my name.

So from that I can only conclude that either SP have been writing to 'the occupier' for years and then finally contacted the builder for a name or alternatively for years they had not pursued payment then sent correspondence to 'the occupier' then finally found out who the owner of the property was.

Either way they appear to have been incredibly lax in trying to pursue their money.

Thanks for the advice regarding the tenancy agreement,I hope that SP will accept that they should be pursuing the tenant,just not sure whether I can find the original one showing the date when the tenant first took residence,have moved house since.

If not as I understand it worst case scenario if SP can not accept information from me or get the money from tenant is it correct that in any event they can only back charge 12 months for gas and electric?

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The utilities can only bill the user of gas and electricity. Sometimes a landlord will pay the bill as agent for the occupier and recoup the money in the rent. This should all be spelt out in the lease. So unless you have made this arrangement with your tenant you are not liable. Even then the bill should go to the user (occupier) who should then ask you to pay the bill. It is usually possible for a landlord to request that bills go directly to him to cut the tenant out of the loop but this would have to be set up with the utility which you have clearly not done nor intended. Unless they can show that they had this arrangement with you they can persue the occupier only.

 

This kind of problem is very common with newbuilds and is symptiomatic of the very lax systems that utilities use to monitor newbuilds. They rely on builders owners and occupiers to keep them informed which is not good enough simply because these informants are unreliable with insufficient knowledge of the system. They should be sorting out who their customer is by proper investigation and this may include site visits at regular intervals not less than once per year.

 

If they have not billed the occupier of the premises for three years then the billing code will prevent them collecting from the occupier except for the last year.

 

As soon as a new occupier uses gas or electricity he has set up a 'deemed' contract so there is now no need to apply to use the supply. This saves the utilty the expense of written contracts and the expense of the old system of off and on switching and meter reads at a change of occupancy at which time the occupants details were checked or obtained. They expect new customers will inform them of their details and start meter readings. The customer is expected to chase them. They say that this is 'for the convenience of customers'. They appear to have no sensible method of checking that occupancy has changed or that unoccupied premises now have an occupant. It should be routine for them to do this at least once per year so that they do not lose money via the billing code but prsumably this would not be cost effective. So they just muddle along and blame everybody but themselves.

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Pelham,thanks for your post.Its not surprising that tenants do not inform the utilities that they have now occupied a property and that they want to pay for the energy,I wonder how many landlords are aware of this?

But back to my case,from what I have learned here it would seem to me the best course of action would be.

1.Inform SP again that the tenant and not myself is responsible for payment and give them the information I have about the tenant and current whereabouts.

2.Request that they provide substantiation of the reasons they have applied for a warrant of entry

3.If they persist with the warrant of entry go to court and defend it on the grounds that the account is in dispute and that there should be a reasonable time allowed to resolve the dispute before a warrant of entry for disconnection is allowed.

4.Worst case scenario agree to pay for the previous 12 months usage as from what I understand in these circumstances they can not demand any more then try to get the money from the previous tenant( noy much chance of that)

5.What happens if in the meantime I get another tenant who moves in whilst this dispute is ongoing and they contact SP to confirm they are the occupant and agree to pay for the usage-will SP tell them no way or will they accept the request?

If there is no agreement with me and a new tenant is in occupation in the future will they disconnect them?

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3) I cannot see that it would be sensible for them to go for a warrant of entry for disconnection. Their case is against your previous tenant not you. A disconnection would be an embarrssment to your future letting so they would be putting pressure on you to pay and I do not think that a maigstrate would allow this - but you must go to court otherwise they may well get a default warrant. You must point out to them and the court that there no way that the account lies with you.

 

4) how can they demand money from you - they should do their own collection. You are not responsible or your tenants bills.

 

5) they cant do that. A new tenant is legally entitled to be supplied.

 

They can only disconnect a new tenant if they have grounds to do so. If the new tenant is paying the bills there would be no grounds and in any case the utility would not give up a new customer to spite you.

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3) I cannot see that it would be sensible for them to go for a warrant of entry for disconnection. Their case is against your previous tenant not you. A disconnection would be an embarrssment to your future letting so they would be putting pressure on you to pay and I do not think that a maigstrate would allow this - but you must go to court otherwise they may well get a default warrant. You must point out to them and the court that there no way that the account lies with you.

 

4) how can they demand money from you - they should do their own collection. You are not responsible or your tenants bills.

 

5) they cant do that. A new tenant is legally entitled to be supplied.

 

They can only disconnect a new tenant if they have grounds to do so. If the new tenant is paying the bills there would be no grounds and in any case the utility would not give up a new customer to spite you.

 

Pelham,thanks very much for your help,feeling much more positive now will get stuck into SP on Monday

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