It's not uncommon for unpaid utility bills to be left behind after a tenant moves out - but is it the landlord or tenant who should foot the bill? This depends on what's specified in the tenancy agreement and whose name is registered with the utility companies.

If the landlord is registered with the utility companies

If the bills are in the landlord's name, the tenant can pay the landlord directly for the utilities they use. This should be outlined in the tenancy agreement and means the tenant is not liable to pay bills directly to the supplier. If a landlord has their own name registered with gas and electric companies this could leave them liable to pay any debt accrued by the tenant.

If the utility bills are in the landlord's name and there is debt at the end of a tenancy the landlord can make a claim against the deposit to help cover the cost.

If the tenant is registered with the utility companies

If the bills are in the tenant's name, the tenant is liable to pay the bills from the date they move into the property. The tenant should contact the supplier with the details of their move-in date and meter readings at the time they moved in. The tenant will not be responsible for any debt accrued by the previous tenant.

If there is any debt at the end of the tenancy, the utility company should pursue the tenant directly. The landlord shouldn't claim against the deposit because the debt is related to the tenant, not the property.

What if there is more than one tenant?

Anyone who puts their name(s) on a utility bill is responsible for any outstanding charges. If all tenants' names are registered with the utility company, this places responsibility on all tenants if a bill isn't paid - this means the utility company can pursue a tenant for any debt, even if they have paid their share of the bill.

How landlords can ensure they're not responsible for their tenant's debt

Landlords are not responsible for their tenant's unpaid utility bills as long as they follow these steps:

  • Inform the council tax department when there is a change of tenancy and give them the name of the new tenant and, if possible, contact details for the outgoing tenant.

  • Inform utility companies of a change of tenancy and provide meter readings for the end of the previous tenancy and the start of the new tenancy, where applicable. Meter readings can also be included in the inventory.

  • Make sure you have a clause in your tenancy agreement making it clear the tenant is responsible for council tax and utility bills.

  • Keep a signed copy of the tenancy agreement on file in case of any dispute.

If there is a void period between tenancies, who is responsible for the utility bills?

If the property has no tenant, then the landlord, as the owner of the property, becomes responsible for all utility bills. Landlords can lower the cost of bills by ensuring the electricity and heating are not used often.