Landlord responsibility for utility bills: FAQs

Landlords Nov 23, 2021

With the immense volume of paperwork that accompanies new tenancies, it can be difficult to keep track of additional bill payments. Utility bills are typically the responsibility of tenants, but if the paperwork is handled incorrectly during a tenancy changeover, landlords may need to get in touch with suppliers to absolve themselves of any liability for payment. When utility bill responsibility is managed correctly through a proper tenancy agreement clause, tenants are in charge of paying utility fees for the entirety of their tenancy. However, unpaid bills can become a point of contention, potentially involving law enforcement visits in severe circumstances.

For more information concerning tenant and landlord responsibilities for utility bills, check out our FAQ guide down below.

When is the tenant responsible for paying utility bills?

In most tenancies, the tenants are responsible for paying utility bills, including water, electricity, gas, council tax, landline services, TV licence, and internet. There should be a specific clause within the tenancy agreement stating who is responsible for utility bill payments to avoid any confusion in the future. When tenants are responsible for their utilities (i.e. in all cases unless otherwise agreed), they are obliged to pay their bills the entirety of their tenancy.

Neither the new tenants nor the landlord are responsible for the unpaid debts of previous tenants. When new tenants move in, the utility accounts with each relevant provider must be changed into the name of the new tenants, either by the tenants themselves or by the landlord (depending on landlord preference).

When is the landlord responsible for paying utility bills?

Landlords are typically required to pay utility bills between tenancies, when the property is vacant. In cases where landlords are in charge of an HMO, they may opt to pay for the utility bills directly if they are renting out the property by bedroom. In this case, the landlord would include the cost in each tenant’s monthly rent (split accordingly).

Landlords can also end up being responsible for utility payments if the relevant names weren’t changed on the utility accounts after new tenants moved in. Since landlords are responsible for paying utility bills during periods of vacancy, the previous tenant’s name should be replaced with that of the landlord’s until a new tenant moves in. Landlords should immediately change the relevant utility information once the new tenant has moved in to avoid being chased for payments they shouldn't owe.  

While tenants may be responsible for changing the utility names, if the landlord handles the changeover this may reduce any confusion and provide peace of mind. In cases where the tenant mistakenly puts the utility bills in the landlord’s name, the landlord can be absolved of any payments once proper documentary evidence of the tenant’s residency is shown to local council and the energy supplier.

How can I prove my tenants occupied the property?

The written tenancy agreement can act as proof of tenant residency. Do not discard tenancy agreements after a tenant has vacated. The document can be a lifeline for landlords who find themselves being chased for unpaid debts by irate service providers.

What if a tenant moves out without the landlord’s knowledge?

Landlords should notify utility service providers as soon as they realise their tenant has moved out without proper notice. Landlords can provide the tenancy agreement as proof of residency to the service providers to avoid being liable for the unpaid bills. In instances where the tenant has registered the landlord’s name on utility bills, despite the tenancy agreement stating the tenant’s responsibility for utility payments, the landlord may avoid being liable for unpaid bills by showing the providers the tenancy agreement.

What if bailiffs have shown up at the property?

Bailiffs are enforcement agents that will visit the last known address of the debtor in the instance of unpaid utility debts, after a series of ignored warning letters. Bailiffs will give at least a seven day’s notice for their initial visit and can take some of the tenant’s belongings when payment for the bills is refused. Bailiffs can only begin the requisition process after the debtor's residency has been confirmed. If the debtor no longer lives at the address, the bailiffs can take no further action.

If the debtor does still live at the property, tenants can avoid greater fines or the removal of their belongings if they pay their debts before the bailiff’s initial visit. If bailiffs are denied at the door or payment is refused, tenants may be liable for an even greater amount of outstanding debt or may have certain belongings from outside their home removed (e.g. their car). If bailiffs are allowed inside the home and payment is still not made, then the bailiffs can take some of the tenant’s belongings to cover the unpaid fees. Bailiffs cannot take a tenant’s essential items, such as clothes or necessary kitchen appliances, or belongings in the property that do not belong to the tenant in debt.

Best tips for managing utilities at a rental property

To make the managing utilities handover process as seamless as possible, landlords should follow these examples of best practice:

  • Once your new tenant moves in, immediately tell your local authority about the change in occupier in order for the next council tax payment to be addressed to them.
  • Take meter readings at the beginning and end of tenancy for your inventory (recorded with a dated and time-stamped photo).
  • If you decide to inform utility providers of the change in tenancy, supply the providers with copies of the meter readings you took.
  • Provide tenants with the contact information for all utility service providers.
  • Ask your tenants for confirmation that all utility accounts have been correctly updated with the new tenant’s information.
  • Keep a copy of your tenancy agreements, for past and current tenants.

For the most part, landlords should not be the ones responsible for utility bills during a tenancy. Tenancy agreements with utility bill clauses will provide the clearest answers to any questions relating to responsibility for charges, so it's worth making the arrangement explicit in the text of the contract. Landlords are not usually burdened with paying back unpaid utility bills if these were the tenant's responsibility, but can occasionally find themselves chased for debts if paperwork hasn't been handled correctly. Be sure to be upfront with tenants about what’s required of them prior to move-in to avoid any potential headaches or unanticipated admin surrounding monthly utility fees.

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