By James Smith*
Two years ago I realised that my landlord, a northern based housing association, was breaking the law by adding an additional charge to the amounts I was paying for gas, electricity and water bills. I challenged this, and although it took me two years and legal action, I was finally successful in getting the charge removed.
Persistence pays, and the residents on my estate received up to £1,100 refunds. The landlord remained intransigent until the end. They only admitted their ‘error’ late in the day, and only provided a refund after the hearing, despite claiming that I had been refunded previously.
I doubt that the housing association refunded previous tenants or their estates, and I have no way of finding out. However, there is a great deal of information available on the web now, so this article is aimed at raising awareness and providing key links for others who might want to make similar challenges.
The Law and Utility Charges
Payment to landlords for gas, water and electricity are regulated by the Regulators OFGEM and OFWAT. Essentially, landlords must only pass on the cost of private utilities at cost, with no mark-up or admin fees.
For utilities in common areas (eg corridors, external lighting, gardens etc), landlords may however, charge a reasonable uplift. If tenants find that they have been paying additional charges , claims may normally go back up to 6 years.
In some cases tenants had been overcharged by over £120 per year and received refunds of over £700. Historically, landlords often deny such claims and tenants have had to resort to the Small Claims Court or First Tier Tribunal. With so many previous cases reported in the press however, tenants should be able to avoid having to take legal action, but may have to be persistent.
If you are experiencing a similar problem, the following guides may be useful:
Official guidance on the rules
Lease advice on utility charges
A court ruling
The case of the Royal Borough of Kingston-Upon-Thames
* The resident’s name has been changed to ‘James Smith’ to protect his identity.
4 May 2021