The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 makes significant changes to who is liable to pay water bills. In particular it will affect property owners.

What’s changing?

The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 adds a new section 144C to the Water Industry Act 1991 [s.45 Flood and Water Management Act 2010]. Currently, the “occupier” is the liable person for water bills (Guild members see later for full details).

s.144C will 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 undertaker 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)].

When does the change take effect?

As yet, this has not been announced. Although parts of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 came into force on 8 April 2010, section 45 (which is the part we are interested in) comes into force in England, in accordance with provision made by order of the Secretary of State, and in Wales, in accordance with provision made by order of the Welsh Ministers [s.49(3)(d) & (e)].

We will update this article as soon as we become aware.

What is the information required to be given?

Again, unfortunately this has not yet been announced. It is likely to be names of occupiers, address of premises and commencement of tenancy. The Act currently allows The Minister to make regulations about the information to be given [s.144C(4)(a)].

We will update this article as soon as we become aware. For now, the consultation information is available here

How long will I have to provide the information?

Again, this has not been announced. The Minister may make regulations about timing and procedure [s.144C(4)(b)].

We will update this article as soon as we become aware. (See above for consultation)

If I provide the information about the occupiers, could I be liable to pay an unpaid water bill at the end of the tenancy?

No. An owner will only become jointly liable for any unpaid water charges if the owner has failed to provide information about the occupiers within a certain time of the tenants occupying the premises.

Why type of property do the changes apply?

The changes apply to “residential premises”.

“Residential premises” means premises that are—

(a) occupied by one or more persons as a home (but not necessarily as their only or main home), and

(b) a “dwelling”, a “house in multiple occupation” or “accommodation for the elderly” within the meaning of paragraphs 1 to 3 of Schedule 4A.

[s.144C(6)]

Can a letting agent be jointly and severally liable for the tenants water charges?

The owner is always liable (and not the agent or trustee) [s.144C(7)], however, it would most likely be the case that if the agent failed to notify the water undertaker of the relevant information, thus causing the owner to be liable, the owner would probably have recourse back onto the agent. This though would depend on the individual circumstances.

Agents would be well advised to amend their contracts to make it absolutely clear who is to provide the relevant information to the water undertaker.

What if I have tenants in occupation when section 45 comes into force?

This has not yet been announced. The changes are not retrospective but a landlord would be well advised to notify the water authority promptly when section 45 comes into force to avoid any problems.

It seems transitional provisions are going to be detailed and in particular s.45(2) suggests that for current occupiers at the time of section 45 coming into force, the water undertaker may have to first serve notice on the owner asking for the information before the owner will become liable.

Transitional provision of an order commencing this section may, in particular, provide for application of the duty in new section 144C(2) to depend on service of a notice by an undertaker.

We will update this article as soon as we become aware.

What if I have squatters, will I be liable?

The Act does not place any requirement on rent being payable. Therefore, rather bizarrely, if an owner fails to provide information on the occupiers (including squatters), then according to the Act, the owner will become jointly and severally liable for the water charges!

What is the current position (before section 45 comes into force)?

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