The Residential Landlords Association is backing the Walker Review proposal to re-introduce sanctions for non payment of water bills – but still has concerns about implementation.
Disconnection has not been an option for the last decade – and that is said to be one of the reasons for bad water debts rising from around £684 million to a massive £1.2 billion.
Another is that water users are not obliged to give their personal details in order to obtain a supply.
And private sector landlords are now supporting this top level move to correct this.
“The statistics show the ridiculous state we have reached,” says Richard Jones – lawyer for the Residential Landlords Association – whose members own over 100,000 private rented properties throughout the UK.
“First of all – customers don’t even need to provide their name in order to receive water and sewerage services.
“Then – there are no immediate penalties for not paying the bill. The energy companies are allowed to disconnect but not the water companies.
“This adds up to a nonsensical situation …the present government banned disconnections in 1999 and then, 10 years later, wonders why water debt is rising so much faster than other utilities. This is increasing by about 21 per cent a year – which costs each bill-paying water customer around £12 extra on their bill.
“The Residential Landlords Association welcomes the government’s Walker Review – which has been investigating the problem and adopted many of the RLA’s recommendations. The committee has listened to our case, adopting our proposed scheme for who will be liable when a property is tenanted. In particular, they listened to our arguments and decided not to make landlords automatically responsible for water charges in shared houses.
“Their final report has just been published and we welcome the proposals which have come after extensive and constructive consultation and a great deal of careful consideration of the issues we raised with the committee.
“The review proposes that future defaulters can be taken to the Magistrates Court and, as a last resort, they can be sent to prison. Whilst this can mean that at last there is a real tool to force reluctant payers to pay, we believe it would be far better to reduce the supply to the property.
“At the moment our prisons are overflowing so it does not seem a good idea to add to the prison population when there is a far better alternative. It is possible to install trickle valves to reduce the water supply to a property while still allowing a sufficient supply for hygiene purposes. Unfortunately the government still seems adamantly opposed to the idea of any kind of disconnection.
“We recognise that a significant proportion of debtors are tenants of rented property who leave without paying their bill and we, as landlords, have a moral obligation to help find a solution to that problem. We also support taking stronger sanctions against debtors but much prefer reducing their water supply rather than imprisonment.
“We support the recommendation that existing legislation should be amended to enable water users to be named – and we would co-operate in identifying tenants who are responsible for payment of the bill.
“If they then leave, without paying, the water company will have enough information to pursue them through civil or criminal courts as well as ensuring that future credit is more difficult to secure.
“We also support stronger sanctions against debtors – including disconnection of water supply,
“All that now remains to be seen is whether the government will actually take action on the Walker Review findings.”
The Residential Landlords Association is a leading national organisation with members owning over 100,000 properties in the UK’s professional private rented sector. The range of members’ services – on www.rla.org.uk – includes legal advice, insurance, financial services, credit referencing and training.