Liability for electricity charges is determined by the rules of the law of contract.1Condition 22.1 SLC and Sch 6, para.3(1) EA 1989 Generally, the person who signs a contract is the person who is liable to pay under that contract. However, a contract can also be expressed through other means, such as online or verbally over the telephone. Many suppliers will accept you as a customer without you actually having signed a contract. A County Court case covering the pre-1989 law suggests that it does not matter if you actually apply in writing, or sign a contract, so long as it is clear who asked for the supply. While this case is helpful in establishing the liability to pay for customers who have requested a supply, whether in writing or not, it does not deal with the situation where nobody has requested a supply. Normally, once you take ownership, control or occupation of a property, you are deemed responsible for any consumption, but only from the date that you received a supply.2Sch 6 para 3(1) EA 1989 For this reason, it is essential that you take a meter reading as soon as you move into a new property.
Electricity suppliers – or debt collecting companies to whom they assign the right to collect debts – may attempt to secure payment from people who have used the electricity supplied rather than chase the people actually legally liable. Previous suppliers may also assign the right to recover debts from new suppliers where the consumer has switched supplier. One example is where, on the breakdown of a relationship, if the bill was in the sole name of the partner who has left, the remaining partner is asked to pay the arrears.