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Potential relief for landlords as UK government reviews water industry proposals

The failure of some customers to pay water bills adds approximately £15 per year to the bills of paying customers. Under The Flood and Water Management Act the government can make owners liable for payment of water and sewerage bills if they fail to provide specified details of occupiers.

However, mindful of the burden that regulation may impose, the government is considering whether ‘bad debt' can be tackled through a voluntary and non-regulatory approach, a move landlords would support if the correct system is put in place beforehand.

‘Government policy in other areas is pushing for personal responsibility and the same should apply here that landlords should not be held liable for their tenants' debts, which is simply unfair,’ said Ian Fletcher, director of policy at the British Property Federation.

‘We therefore welcome this review and agree that water companies could do more to limit bad debts. Many landlords do already voluntarily provide information, but this could be made far easier and therefore encourage far more data sharing with the right systems in place,’ he added.

The government believes that the lack of consequences of non-payment has contributed to unpaid bills from domestic water customers spiralling from £705 million in 1998/99 to £1.635 billion in 20010/11. The industry wrote off approximately £328 million of household debt in 2010/11 an increase of £168 million from the previous year.