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If your landlord removes or restricts essential services such as electricity, hot water or heating, or fails to pay bills so that these services are cut off, s/he could be committing the criminal offence of harassment. ‘Harassment’ means action likely to interfere with your peace or comfort, including the withdrawal of services that are reasonably required at the premises such as the supply of gas or electricity.1ss1 and 3 Protection from Eviction Act 1977; R(S)A 1984 as amended by s38 H(S)A 1988; see also R v Sakaut (Sajeed) [2014] 0548/B4 The offence may be committed by the landlord of a residential occupier (which is wider in meaning than a tenant) or by an agent of the landlord.
The landlord must persistently withdraw the services that you reasonably require for peaceful occupation. To be considered to be ‘persistent’, there must be some element of ‘deliberate continuity’.2R v Abrol [1972] Crim LR 318, CA However, a single act that affects you over a period of time (eg, leaving an electricity bill unpaid for an extended period) should be regarded as persistent withdrawal.
A person convicted of an offence of harassment in the magistrates’ court may be jailed for up to six months or fined up to £5,000; if convicted in the Crown Court, the prison sentence may be up to two years and the fine at whatever level the court sees fit. Where you are the victim of unlawful harassment, you can also sue for damages, which can be very large if you have to give up your home.3s27 HA 1988; s36 H(S)A 1988 You may be able to obtain advice and assistance from the tenancy relations section of the local authority.
Proceedings may be taken in the County Court or High Court. An injunction may be obtained from the court, ordering a landlord to restore fuel supply (see here). In emergency cases, the injunction may be obtained outside normal court hours by telephoning the court. Damages are also available for breach of contract and for harm caused by acts of harassment, of which the cutting off or disruption of fuel supplies may be just a part. This area of law is governed by the law of tort which covers civil harms, wrongs and injuries. Four different types of damages may be available in a case of harassment or unlawful eviction, depending on the facts of the case. Potential claims may include:
    special damages, representing financial loss that can be identified – eg, cost of alternative accommodation;
    general damages, to put you back in the position you would have been in if the harassment or eviction had never happened. These include damages for pain, distress and nuisance;
    aggravated damages, which are awarded for especially severe harm and demonstrate the outrage and indignation of the court at the conduct of the landlord;
    exemplary damages, awarded where a landlord has acted with a deliberate disregard for your rights and her/his behaviour is calculated to make a profit. Exemplary damages are awarded where it is necessary to ‘teach a wrongdoer that tort does not pay’.4Rookes v Barnard [1964] AC 1129 at 1227; Stratton and Anr v Patel and Another [2014] EWHC 2677 To sustain an action for exemplary damages, other torts such as trespass, assault and nuisance would have to be shown in addition to action for breach of quiet enjoyment.5Kenny v Preen [1963] 1 QB 499 at 512, CA
Your landlord has a defence if s/he can show that s/he had reasonable grounds for interfering with your peace or comfort, or for withdrawing services – eg, the gas was turned off because of an emergency such as a nearby fire.
Local authorities are often prepared to prosecute landlords for harassment. You can ask the tenancy relations officer to intervene.
1     ss1 and 3 Protection from Eviction Act 1977; R(S)A 1984 as amended by s38 H(S)A 1988; see also R v Sakaut (Sajeed) [2014] 0548/B4 »
2     R v Abrol [1972] Crim LR 318, CA »
3     s27 HA 1988; s36 H(S)A 1988 »
4     Rookes v Barnard [1964] AC 1129 at 1227; Stratton and Anr v Patel and Another [2014] EWHC 2677 »
5     Kenny v Preen [1963] 1 QB 499 at 512, CA »