Your liability when no one has contacted the supplier
You may be liable to pay the supplier if:
•there is no tariff customer and no one has a contract; or
•the liability of the tariff customer or contract holder has come to an end; and
•you have, in practice, been supplied with electricity.
This situation often occurs when people move into new premises where the existing supply is already connected, or where the bill was in the name of another joint occupier but that person has left. There is nothing illegal about continuing to use the supply in another person’s name, or where the bill is addressed to ‘The Occupier’, so long as you intend to pay for it. Anyone who uses fuel without intending to pay could be prosecuted for theft (see Chapter 9). The suppliers could rely on the law relating to ‘unjust enrichment’ to ensure payment in these circumstances. This applies when someone unjustly obtains benefit at someone else’s expense. In England and Wales, the idea of unjust enrichment arises in the law of restitution; in Scotland, the equivalent is found in the law of recompense. However, if it can be shown that the supplier continued to provide fuel in spite of a request to disconnect or terminate a contract then the doctrine of unjust enrichment and the requirement of restitution do not apply.
Establishing who should pay the bill depends on the facts in each case.
Sasha is a sole occupier and did not ask for a supply because it was already connected when she moved into her flat. She receives bills addressed to ‘The Occupier’. Based simply on the facts, Sasha could be held liable for the bill from the date she moved in.
Where there is more than one occupier, establishing who is liable is often more difficult. Facts which might be relevant in establishing who is liable include:
•your status as an occupier;
•the extent of control you have over the use of fuel;
•your actual use of fuel;
•the degree of control you have over income within your household;
•the terms of any tenancy agreement;
•the date you moved in and the date another occupier moved in;
•where the bill was previously in the name of another joint occupier, her/his status as an occupier and the date s/he left;
•whether you are registered at the dwelling for council tax purposes or for other utility bills.
It is advisable to give the supplier notice that you are leaving, to avoid disputes about the end of your period of liability, and supply an up-to-date meter reading. Keep a record for yourself, such as a note of the reading, a photograph of the meter and the date in the event that a dispute arises over your final bill.