London boroughs have powers to protect you where an owner, usually a landlord, fails to pay a bill.1s19 Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1972 as amended by s42 London Local Authorities Act 1990 They can make arrangements with suppliers, including paying the expenses of reconnecting the fuel supply. After reconnection, they have a duty, as long as they think it is necessary, to pay the supplier’s charges for future consumption.
However, the boroughs have no power to pay arrears – ie, for past consumption. This can be a stumbling block, as suppliers are under no obligation to reconnect the supply while money is owed. The supplier cannot chase you for the arrears because your landlord is the customer, not you. While such arrears are outstanding, a supplier may be reluctant to reconnect a supply.
You can get round this by getting the borough to recover the arrears. The borough has the power to take proceedings to recover money owing at the time fuel was reconnected,2s19(3)(b) Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1972 and these proceedings can be taken against either you or the defaulting owner. If you pay your rent to the borough under these provisions, you are treated as meeting your obligation to pay rent to the owner. You cannot be required to pay more than the rent that you would otherwise be paying to your landlord. Suppliers should be keen on this kind of arrangement and prepared to reconnect, as it means the borough does the supplier’s debt-collecting and, provided you pay your rent to the borough, payment is guaranteed. Boroughs can protect themselves by ‘registering a charge’3Registering a charge means to attach a charge to the title of the property at the Land Registry so that the owner cannot sell the property without paying off the charge. on the affected property to recover their expenses (including administrative costs). Local authorities usually appoint a particular officer – such as a tenancy relations officer – to deal with these matters. If they are reluctant to become involved, you can point out that they can put a charge on the property to cover their expenses and protect themselves. It is unlawful to have a blanket policy not to exercise these powers; they must consider each case individually. If you are told, ‘We don’t do that’, you can consider judicial review (see Chapter 14).