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Empty Property: Should I Pay Supply Charge?

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 12 Dec 2018 | comments*Discuss
Supply Charge Property Electricity

Landlords' responsibilities for utility charges on empty properties are something of a grey area. The situation varies according to the utility in question, the company supplying the property, the contract(s) that were in place with the tenants and what happened when the tenants vacated the property.

A Perfect World

Let's take the best case scenario first. In an ideal world a tenant will let the supply company know when they are going and leave a forwarding address. When they leave the liability for any charges after that will pass to the landlord, and when a new tenant arrives they will take up a new contract with the existing supplier or a new one.

This means the landlord will be paying charges accrued during the void period, but of course if the utilities are barely used then those charges will be very low. The alternative is to terminate the contract and allow the supply to be cut off. This probably makes sense for a telephone service, but not for a gas or electricity supply.

Telephone accounts can be closed and when the new tenants move in they should easily be able to start up a contract with a new telephone supplier. As the line will still be in place the reconnection should be quick and the charges low.

Disconnecting Gas and Electricity Supplies

Gas and electricity supplies are a bit different. Apart from the fact that it is considered acceptable for tenants to set up their own telephone supply, it is not acceptable to provide a rental property without electricity and gas (or whichever form of heating is used). Cutting off and reconnecting a supply usually entails a visit to the property by qualified engineers so suppliers may levy charges for disconnecting and reconnecting. It would be difficult to get tenants who would accept paying those charges.

If you find yourself with bills coming in from a utility supply company who had a contract with the departed tenant the liabilities may end up with you. Although the tenant has gone, under certain circumstances the utility supplier may consider that a 'deemed contract' is in place and you will be picking up the tab.

Supply Charge

If a property is vacated the landlord should get in contact with all the utility suppliers and inform that the tenants have moved on, with their new addresses if possible. The utility companies may then make standing charges for maintaining the supply, even if there is no usage.

This is down to the individual contract with each supplier, some may do this and others may not. But if you find that tenants have left without sorting this out and you are being hit for supply charges, it's unlikely that you can do anything about it. If you think the situation is unfair, you need to get legal advice.

Consider Leaving Utilities Up and Running

To be honest, with gas and electricity you are probably better off leaving the supplies connected in any case, particularly if you want to find a suitable tenant as soon as possible.

Finding that tenant will be much more likely if the house is lit and heated, and in winter it will pay to have the heating on to avoid any frozen and burst pipes. Getting rental income coming in faster will outweigh any small charges for gas and electricity charges on an empty property.

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These energy suppliers always seem to try it on and exhort hard earned money from property owners and the public in general. I have retail shop property’s one of which became vacant on 31 August 2018 with the meter readingsbeing submitted to Utility Warehouse and the previous tenants account closed.Based on previous experiences with nPower and others, I also took photographs of the meter readings for possible future reference.The electric supply (no gas) was the switched off at the meters and remained unused until 01 December 2018 when a new tenant took a lease. The meter readings were the same as 31 August 2018 with ZERO electricity being used or taken. In spite of this, Utility Warehouse insist a ‘Deemed Contract’ came into effect and I as owner were liable. This is the interesting bit. The Utilities Act 2000, Schedul 4, clearly states 2a: Where the owner or occupier of any premises TAKES a supply of electricity which's has been conveyed to those premises by an electricity distributor” andc:the owner or occupier shall be deemed to have contracted with the appropriate supplier for the supply of electricity as from the time when he began to take such supply. In simple terms.....no usage of electricity taken = No Deemed Contract. It is a grey area that needs clarification as I believe owners are being ripped off by these energy suppliers and the legislators need to put the matter right with the public.
The Landlord - 12-Dec-18 @ 4:18 PM
I have a rental property which has been occupied from 2009 to September of this year. The tenant has now moved out. The Electricity supplier now says they underbilled and are trying to recover several thousand pounds of back billsover that period. They say the back billing rules don't apply. They say they are allowed to charge for void periods, but have not told me their authority for such a charge. As there is no contract between myself and the utility company, I am trying to find, the legal basis for such a charge, it must be statutory, do you know where I can find it? They claim there was a void period from February 2014 to September 2015, and they are seeking to bill me for over 3000.00 for that period. I am fire proof on that because there is abundant evidence that the property was occupied, but I do need to know if there are circumstances where they can charge the owner for accounts where the tenant defaults, in the absence of an express agreement. They have asked for the name of the tenant, but if I provide such personal information I may well be in breach of the GDPR. They say I won't be, but I have contacted the office of the information commissioner, and s/he does not agree, effectively saying the utility company should at the least threaten legal proceedings, which they have not yet done. I need to know:- 1) What is the legal basis for a "void" charge, and 2) If there is any basis for charging the owner for the tenants default, if the tenant is known. 3) In what circumstances would the utility company be able to avoid the back billing rules. Do you think you can help? John
John - 8-Oct-18 @ 6:10 PM
Hi, our company is a Limited company and we rented a property for 1 year in 2006-2007. The gas was never used and was disconnected in 2007 while we were in the property but the meter was not removed. Having not been in the property since 2007 we recently began having issues with credit accounts due to 'exceeding payment terms by 150 days' which we knew was not the case. Following an investigation a couple of months ago with Expedia it was found to be an issue with BG and on contacting BG we were informed we would need to pay a standing charge for the past 11 years. We have received no communication in the interim period. What rights do we have? Should the landlord be liable for this period or can it simply be argued with BG that the standing charge should be dropped and the meter should have been removed? At the moment, BG have simply attended the property, confirmed the meter is still in position and say the standing charge is still owed.
DSC - 23-May-18 @ 2:59 PM
Hi, I works at a small community Library run by a charity. Over the summer Balfour Beatty conducted roadworks and disconnected our gas supply, but never reconnected it. We only realised this when we came to turn the heating on last week. Are we still obliged to pay British gas for the Standing charge during this period?
brassedoff - 11-Oct-17 @ 2:20 PM
Sue - Your Question:
I have an annexe which has been occupied by my son for several years. He moved out recently and I have had the gas meter disconnected. I have no intention of renting out or using for family use. Why do I have to pay a service charge? Is my only option to pay to have the meter removed?

Our Response:
Unfortunately, removal is your only option if you do not want to pay a service charge. Different companies charge different amounts for removal as well as this has not been standardised either.
UtilityCharges - 4-Jul-17 @ 2:14 PM
I have an annexe which has been occupied by my son for several years.He moved out recently and I have had the gas meter disconnected.I have no intention of renting out or using for family use.Why do I have to pay a service charge?Is my only option to pay to have the meter removed?
Sue - 21-Jun-17 @ 10:59 AM
Please help. In a dispute with Scottish Power over my empty property, they sent me a final bill and were going to close the account, which they did. Trying to get the electricity on for Monday as I have workmen going in to do a lot of work, so was advised to contact them to start the account again. Well, after 3 hours on the phone, being cut off twice, they are saying that I owe them the standing charge at £1.92 a week since they closed the account. They couldn't give me an exact figure as it is a prepayment meter(unreliable prev tenant) and I have to go and put the key in to get a figure, he said it was quite a lot that I owe them and can't have electric until I have paid, fair enough, but they are missing the fact that they closed the account, not me. Where do I stand? Help
On the verge of exha - 8-Jun-17 @ 5:41 PM
When purchasing our house our surveyor was unable to test the gas equipment, hob and boiler as there was no gas.We contactedBG who repeatedly insisted the supply was connected.We moved in last week and despite BG continuing to insist that we had a supply, we clearly didn't. We found out that SNG did work in the road and turned it off 9 months ago as the house was empty and they couldn't do a safety test.BG didn't know!We finally gotconnected but the boiler and hob didn't work.Had we know this we would have haggled with the vendor.We didn't know because BG repeatedly insisted the supply was connected anddidn't tell us the gas had been disconnected.Are they liable to us for our expense in replacing these items?
Wendy - 2-Jun-17 @ 4:31 PM
Rented house out for 2 years left gas and electric bill in my name as it was a key now I've moved back into house and my electri and gas top ups where if I put £12 pounds on they where taking £3 so I've been in touch they say I owe £255 it's not my debt can I do anythink about this thanx
Hugo - 18-Jan-17 @ 9:55 PM
should i be charged a daily standing charge as the house has been vacant for 9 months due to flooding
tel - 4-Nov-16 @ 12:53 PM
I am joint owner of several properties with my ex husband. He says the properties have been empty and unoccupied since our divorce ten years ago. How can I find out if the utilities have been used during that period ie if there have been tenants that have had utilities connected for use? And am I legally entitled as a joint owner to obtain this information? I do not need details of the occupiers or details of their consumption, just to know whether the properties have been leased to tenants during the ten year period.
Stan - 16-Oct-16 @ 10:05 AM
The property will incur standing charges regardless of whether energy is used. The utility companies charge landlords executors etc. at their default rate which is considerably more than you would pay on a negotiated contract. Always best to change suppliers and opt for one with the lowest standing charge. Terminating the supply is also worth considering. Most utility companies use so called separate debt collection services but these are normally owned by them. I have had experience of being hounded by Unicom's debt agency who made my life a misery. There behaviour was reprehensible. They even sent documents that were made to look like they were issued by the court but were just cons. At the end of the day if you have to settle then send them a cheque for what you think is reasonable make it clear that this as full and final settlement. If they cash the cheque they will be deemed by the court to have agreed this settlement. It is a bad place to be in. The utility companies are worse than most rogue traders, and ofcom appear to be on a permanent lunch break for all the use they are.
chris smith - 15-Aug-16 @ 3:01 PM
Scorpy - Your Question:
My dad died last July and his house has been unoccupied since then.I've been trying so far unsuccessfully to sell it.Recently I received a bill from British Gas for £176 -in spite of the fact that the house is unoccupied and the gas (central heating ) hasn't been used!-when I rang them they said it was standing charges but the customer service adviser also said I wasn't "personally liable" because the account was in my dad's name not mine and I was the executor.Is this true?-they also sent me a letter threatening g debt collectors.Is there a way I can get out of paying this ?-it seems ridiculous to have to pay this.

Our Response:
You could consider getting it disconnected if it's not use. British Gas will have a claim off your father's estate...as executor you have to priotise any debts and pay creditors accordingly.Here's how you should prioritise any debts:
Secured creditors such as mortgage or car loan etc
Funeral expenses
Expenses incurred in adminstering the estate (you as executor should keep a note of any expenses you incur)
Unsecured creditors - e.g. debts to local and central government. utility bills, bank loans, credit and store card debts
Interest due on unsecured loans
Deferred debts- such as money borrowed from a friend or family member
UtilityCharges - 20-Jun-16 @ 10:04 AM
I moved out of my rented property on the 7th Oct, informed the elec/gas company, started a new account with them at my purchased property on the 8th Oct. They issued be with a refund of over £300 for overpayments. Iofficially handed the keys back on the 31st oct but had to pay rent until the 8thNov with the the new tenants moving in on the 9th. Am i liable for all the standing charges for this period.......
lou1978 - 8-Dec-15 @ 1:36 PM
I am about to sign the lease on a shop The previous tenant left without paying and the Gas & Electricity supplies were disconnected. Who's responsibility is it to pay for the reconnection, mine or the landlords ? He is suggesting I contact the suppliers and arrange and pay for reconnection
Neenee - 1-Aug-15 @ 3:58 PM
@smileymiles. Many companies do continue with a standing charge on an empty property. You should send a copy of the death certificate and request a breakdown of all costs, credits and debits from them, to help you verify whether amount charged is correct.
UtilityCharges - 17-Apr-15 @ 2:28 PM
I am the executor of the will of a person who died in January 2014.I contacted edf in February 2014 and informed them of the death.They said they would cease the accounts. There was a £300 credit on the account at that time. The house has remained empty since January 2014 and is up for sale.I have been received estimated bills every month or so and really just put them in a file.As I want to tie up the loose end with this account I contacted edf, I got fobbed off 5 times, hung up on twice. In the end I emailed the CEO and his office are trying to sort it out. Do I have to pay a standing charge if there is no one in the house and it has been empty since January 2014? I am received a bill for over £260 and cannot get to the bottom of the charges, which do include a standing daily charge Thanks
smileymiles - 17-Apr-15 @ 11:24 AM
I sympathise with this being in the same position. My gas meter has now been removed from the empty property - no gas used- but standing charges in my name. They had the wrong name at first - now corrected and are seeking to charge my own property where I have no outstanding bills. My tenants left owing nothing but a new account was set up without my consent and charges began.
gassed off - 28-Mar-15 @ 11:40 AM
change your telephone number , it will cost them a lot more if they take you to court. I had 2 peeps chasing for my sons debts, I pay off a bit but leftapprox £300 outstanding now they have left me alone.
dai - 12-Nov-13 @ 11:02 AM
I am in the middle of a dispute with Eon over a bill for £95.00, if anyone has "taken them on" then please give me some advice, remember its only £95 so the value of my time verses the "big boys bulling" may become an issue. I have an investment flat which was let long term, the tenants finally left 5 months after their tenancy expired, under a cloud and owing rent. I live 400 miles from the property so once all the rubbish left inside the flat was removed and all the paintwork repainted, put it in the hands of a local agent who let it and now manages it for me. Eon sent a number of bills during the 8 week void period, I called them a number of time explaining the property was empty so the "estimated readings" where wrong and the agent would inform them of the new tenants when they go in. Alas the old tenants had given a meter reading 400 units lower than it actually was so the unfurnished empty flat showed a usage (not even an appliance so not the fridge as Eon have suggested). I have spent several months explaining what happened, Eon have now used a dept company which calls me daily to demand payment each time I explain the position, I have even complained to both company's that they are harassing me which is an offence, they log my complaints and call the next day with more threats and as for the post you would think i was a criminal. Has anyone got any ideas to help or should I just let the bullies win and move closer to the campaign of rip of Briton or are Eon French?
landlord - 16-Aug-12 @ 4:35 PM
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