Ministers to set up central database of tenants for water companies

Ministers to set up central database of tenants for water companies

A new voluntary register, whereby landlords can choose to supply contact details for their tenants to a central database, has been announced by environment secretary Owen Paterson.

The aim of the database is to allow water companies to pursue tenants who have moved out of properties, leaving water bills unpaid.

Households currently pay an extra £15 on their water bills to cover the cost of those who do not pay.

Ministers believe that much of the problem rests with tenants who fail to settle their bills when they move to a new property.

The measure is designed to get rid of this charge by making sure tenants cannot escape paying their charges, and has been welcomed by the Residential Landlords Association.

The RLA says that the proposal is in contrast to that being suggested by the Welsh Government which wants to make landlords legally responsible for providing such information or face having to pay the debt left by their tenants.

A survey of RLA members in Wales found that all of those who responded opposed making such a measure a legal requirement for landlords. However, 63% said they already provided information on a voluntary basis whilst almost 80% said they would support a voluntary scheme.

Richard Jones, the RLA’s policy director, said: “Making landlords legally liable for the debt incurred on water bills where they did not pass on their tenants details to water companies would serve only to add to the creaking weight of regulations already affecting the sector and lead to increased rents to reflect the greater risks involved.

“Whilst it is vital that the technology to implement the scheme is properly tested and thought through first, the RLA welcomes the Government’s decision to opt for a lighter touch, voluntary solution that the majority of landlords already abide by.”

Initially, the voluntary database will be set up for water companies but could end up being used by other utility suppliers.

Despite Wesminster's voluntary approach, the proposal has raised some concerns.

Emma Carr, of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “There’s going to be an inevitable temptation for this data to be used more widely and for it to be compulsory.”