Liability for Surprise Bills?

in Water bills
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ipb62ipb62 Forumite
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Hi all,

Three years ago we moved into a new flat. At the time we were told that we had to pay for cold water through a certain company, and that boiler costs were a part of the service charge. However, we recently found out that there is a second company who charges us for hot water, even though they have never got in contact with us. Consequently, there are three year's worth of unpaid bills to settle.

From a legal perspective, are we liable for bills for a service we were not made aware of and did not consent to? If we had known at the time we would have happily paid the bills, and of course will be happy to do so going forward. It just feels like it isn't quite right for a company to allow three years worth of debt to accrue without attempting to establish why this is the case and contact the new residents. We have no intention of cheating anyone, simply wondering if there are any legal guidelines for this sort of thing.

Thank you for your help!

Replies

  • CardewCardew Forumite
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    Welcome to the forum.
    Are you renting? If so it should all be in the rental agreement; if it isn't included see the letting agent.
    If you own the flat, see your solicitor for guidance on the deeds.
    There obviously should be a system to advise the company supplying hot water that a flat is occupied; normally that would be the managing agent who collects the service charge.


  • theoreticatheoretica Forumite
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    ipb62 said:
    Three years ago we moved into a new flat. At the time we were told that we had to pay for cold water through a certain company, and that boiler costs were a part of the service charge.
    Who told you and was it in writing?
    But a banker, engaged at enormous expense,
    Had the whole of their cash in his care.
    Lewis Carroll
  • ipb62ipb62 Forumite
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    We own the flat and we do pay a service charge. We were told by the estate agent but unfortunately didn't get it in writing. I fully see how it is our responsibility to ensure we are paying all the bills for which we are liable, but we just had no reason to doubt what we had been told and it didn't even occur to us that there could be a separate company supplying hot water. 

    That part wasn't really the fault of the hot water company, but it does seem a little dodgy for them to allow three years of bills to mount up. It's already a quite considerable sum, what if this had hit us ten years down the line and we were suddenly facing a crippling charge? I'm wondering if there is any rules for protecting consumers based around this or precedent for challenging some of the charges?

    Again, definitely acknowledge that hot water isn't free. We just thought we had already paid for it and three years seems like a long time to allow something like this to go on for. Thank you for your help!
  • CardewCardew Forumite
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    Unfortunately the law states a person/company can go back 6 years(5 Years in Scotland) to recover a valid debt - even if that company are at fault for not sending the bill.
    Estate agents have a standard disclaimer about accuracy of their details - although that disclaimer has sometimes been challenged. IMO your solicitor should have made you aware, in writing, of all charges.
    Presumably the managing agent neglected to inform the hot water company that the flat was now occupied??
  • freeshafreesha Forumite
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    No water company provides hot water.
  • CardewCardew Forumite
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    freesha said:
    No water company provides hot water.
    ?? Not sure what you mean by 'water company' in the context of this thread. Obviously the Ofwat registered water companies like Thames Water, Severn Trent etc don't provide hot water.

    However there are plenty of blocks of flats that have hot water provided from a central source by a private company.(usually a boiler in the basement) Sometimes this hot water included in the Service Charge, sometimes a flat charge, and sometimes the amount of hot water used in an individual flat is metered.

  • dogshomedogshome Forumite
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    Seems that you have a flat with some sort of "District Heating Scheme" - Big boiler in the basement instead of one in each flat, but these usually supply both Hot water & Heating - How is you flat heated ?

    DH Schemes are common in Germany where the residents pay reasonable charges, but I'm afraid that in the UK there is little regulation, so consequently the suppliers are 'Gold Mining' their charges.
    With no information given by the EA I think you have been scammed to a degree, which is a common theme on this site where owners / renters went into a flat, and were then taken by surpise with DHS charges


  • macmanmacman Forumite
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    How can you say 'we didn't get it in writing'? Your leasehold agreement must surely make it clear as to what services are provided and what are not within the service charge?
    'Boiler costs' is meaningless: to me that would simply mean maintenance of the communal boiler and it's associated network, not the actual fuel or hot water costs.
    If the billing has not been raised in 3 years, then a formal complaint to the managing agents is in order, as they presumably contracted with the supplier? Are your neighbours similarly affected?
    Some compromise should be reached whereby you are given an extended period in which to pay off the debt: with conventional suppliers this would be the same period over which the debt accrued. How much is now owed?
    No free lunch, and no free laptop ;)
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