Cutting the admin burden of utility contacts

Cutting the admin burden of utility contacts

Like a lot of urban landlords, we have had a fair bit of tenant turnover this last 15 months as the CoronaPsychosis drags ever on – now with, surprise, surprise, “new, improved mutant variants”.

Who’d have predicted that? And right on time to kick any restoration of the rights your Grandparents fought for down the road a bit further.

With frequent tenant changes, one thing to watch out for is to always make sure that you don’t get billed for utilities you don’t use or were not even in occupation for.

Typically, we will allow for a few days between tenancies, just in case, to do fixes and necessary re-decorations.

During that time we may be liable for a small amount of energy usage and for Council Tax, though often these days, we landlords are exempted from paying council tax where the property is unoccupied and empty, (though you have to tell them this is the case).

And it is important to make sure you don’t get billed for any water or energy use or council tax when you are not there – when it is the tenant’s responsibility.

This can be a problem, because we have heard of many bills being sent to the let property address for the attention of landlord, (often despite the utility or local authority being aware of a landlord’s correspondence address). If the bill gets sent to the property address and the landlord is not made aware, the bill can turn red, then into a bad debt – and before you know if, your credit rating is ruined, often without you even knowing there’s a problem.

So how to do we control this effectively?

Well first, we make it clear to tenants that they must tell us of any correspondence addressed to us at the let property address.

And we make it a requirement of the tenant’s moving in processes to set up all utilities – and for them to give the utilities and Council Tax folks the correct dates of moving and the meter readings (if applicable).

We ask the tenants to send us their own final or move-in bills too as proof they have actually done this.

I did not put this responsibility onto tenants in the past, but unfortunately the utilities and Council Tax offices seem to have given up even trying to answer calls and it takes far too long to fill in their tenant change forms on the Internet. So, to save time on this pesky admin, I make it a responsibility of the tenant to do this.

Of course, we cannot enforce the tenants do this legally, but most are happy to comply – and send us the proof too. So it is one less admin job for us to do.

On the very rare occasions the tenants don’t do this, we have some template letters for sending to utility firms or the Council Tax people.

These usually have to be posted – because these days, most organisations seem to have done away with simple email addresses – everything has to be done on line on very consuming online forms. Normally, it takes at least 3 weeks for them to turn round and respond by snail mail. (We always get Proof of Posting Certificates).

In the areas where we operate, the only good utilities to deal with are the Water Utilities. Both Thames Water and Southern Water have call centres that can still answer phone calls in less than 2 minutes and do all the admin over the phone.

For the energy companies and Council Tax the service they offer is frankly, usually crap, so where we have to contact them about tenant changeover, we prefer posting template letters.

For TV, phone and broadband, we do not get involved at all – this is entirely up to the tenant – with all costs being to their account. We make this clear as soon as we make an offer of a tenancy.

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