In respect of water charges, currently, the “occupier” is the liable person for water bills [section 144 Water Industry Act 1991].
Section 45, The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 added a new section 144C to the Water Industry Act 1991 which when commenced would place a requirement on the owner of premises where those premises are occupied by another person (but not by the owner) to arrange for the water authority to be given information about the occupiers [s.144C(2)].
If the owner fails to provide the information then, the occupiers water charges will become shared jointly and severally with the owner [s.144C(3)]. See our full article here
The information required and timescales for providing the information are to be provided for within regulations which are as yet to be introduced.
In January 2012, a consultation for England was held in respect of the information and timescales regulations. Nothing further has been done presumably because:
In March 2011 it was announced that, as far as possible, micro businesses should be subject to no new regulation after 1 April 2011 for three years. Micro businesses are defined as those which employ fewer than ten people and so may include many private landlords. Initial estimates for the impact assessment suggested that 24% of the costs of this policy would be borne by micro businesses, but further analysis has shown that around 74% of private landlords could be classed as micro-businesses. 1
Wales have now announced a consultation on the regulations which if approved would define the information required and the timescales to provide the information in Wales. (Thanks to Anthony Gold Solicitors blog for the heads up)
The Welsh Government don't seem as concerned about the additional burden of extra regulation on small business (highlights in consultation document):
The UK Government announced in April 2011 that, as far as possible, micro businesses should not be subject to new regulations for three years after 1 April 2011. This moratorium does not apply in Wales. We are therefore proposing to include all businesses under the proposed regulations, including those defined as micro-businesses…
… If all of the landlords falling into the ‘micro-business’ category were exempt from coverage by the regulations, a substantial proportion of the rented sector would be excluded. Since this is the sector at which the policy is primarily aimed, exempting micro-businesses could be counter-productive and is likely to prove ineffective in achieving the policy objectives… 2
This consultation is very much based on the England consultation and draft regulations. It is proposed that the information that will have to be provided to the water authority will be:
- full name of the occupier;
- the occupier’s date of birth;
- the date the occupier began to occupy the premises;
- the owner’s name and address (unless already provided to the water company).
It is proposed that the above information must be provided within 21 days of any of the following events (not an exhaustive list):
- service of a notice by the water authority seeking information
- the occupier ceases to occupy the premises, but at least one other of the occupiers remain
- the premises become occupied
- new occupiers begin to occupy the premises
Where the information is provided within 21 days by post, telephone, email or some other prescribed manner (such as web form), the landlord will not be held jointly liable for the tenants water charges. However, if the landlord fails to provide the information within the timescale, the landlord will be jointly liable for the tenants water charges until the information is provided by the landlord or some other means.
In addition, landlords will have to take reasonable steps to inform the occupier that the information has been given to the water authority and tell the water authority if he believes any of the information is false or incomplete.
Details of how to respond to the consultation can be found on the consultation page here and must be submitted by 6 November 2013.