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Landlords to pocket hundreds in energy bills help: Renter rights

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

One in eight renters could miss out on hundreds of pounds in help with rising energy bills as there’s no legal requirement for landlords to pass on government grants, a charity warns.

Tenants with a landlord who manages their bills are locked out of accessing the £150 Warm Home Discount, and they could also miss out on the upcoming £400 energy grant due in October.

This is because the funds are available to those who pay their energy supplier directly.

Charity Citizens Advice said more than one in eight private renters – the equivalent to 585,000 people – could miss out on vital support as a result.

It warned that those on low incomes, young people and people of colour are more likely to be renting, so these groups are disproportionately affected. And it comes as one in five renters expect their rent to go up this year.

But with some tenants preferring contracts where energy bills are included in the rent, the charity said it is worried that many won’t know they’re missing out on government support.

There is no legal requirement for landlords to pass on the £400 energy grant to tenants and no guidance on how it should be “managed fairly” by landlords, Citizens Advice said.

Private tenants fall through the cracks

The charity has highlighted a number of ways that renters could potentially miss out on support due to the way their energy bills are managed.

If a tenant’s energy contract is in their landlord’s name, they’re unable to change it.

Landlords could also pay for energy and then ‘resell’ it to tenants. However, the landlord is only legally allowed to charge the tenant the same price they paid. But the charity warned that tenants can struggle to enforce their rights if they think they’re being overcharged.

In other cases, tenants are charged via ‘sub-meters’ where landlords organise energy for the building, usually through a business energy supply contract. But the energy price cap doesn’t apply to these contracts which means they’re faced with price increases, as well as missing out on support.

Those with pre-pay sub-meters are at greater risk, and could be left without energy if they can’t afford to top-up.

In one case seen by the charity, a man with mental health problems had less than £10 left on his pre-pay electricity sub-meter, but he couldn’t access the Warm Home Discount as he wasn’t the named billpayer. In another case, a renter had bills included in their rent, but was put on a pre-payment meter by the energy supplier because their landlord failed to pay the bills.

With a million rented households already in fuel poverty and with the number expected to swell, Citizens Advice is urging the government to bring forward clear guidance for landlords on how they manage the £400 energy grants if they control their tenants’ energy contract.

‘Vital support reaches people it’s intended for’

Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “With the price of energy at a record high, it’s vital that government support reaches the people it’s intended for. We’re worried that many tenants are falling through the cracks, putting them at risk of missing out on money to help them with soaring bills.

“Renters must be able to take control of their energy payments if they want to, so they can get all the support they need. The government should also bring forward clear guidance for landlords to make sure tenants don’t miss out on the upcoming £400 energy grant.”

Your energy bill rights

If you pay your energy bills directly, you have the right to choose your supplier and can decide to have a smart meter installed, though you should let your landlord or letting agent know.

If your energy bills are included in your rent, this should be clearly stated in your tenancy agreement, along with details on when the rent can be reviewed by your landlord. Some tenancies can include ‘fair usage’ clauses about how much energy you can use.

If your landlord pays for your energy and then ‘resells’ it to you, they can only charge you for the units of energy you’ve used; your share of the standing charge (a flat fee charged on every energy contract) and the VAT owed (5% for energy).

For those on a sub-meter, your landlord can charge you a fee for any sub-meters installed in the property. In the unlikely case that your home doesn’t have an energy meter, your landlord must estimate as accurately as possible how much you should pay, Citizens Advice said.