My agent switched energy firms and cut my flats gas supply
Article Posted - 17th January 2020
When Christine needed new tenants for her vacant property, she spoke to two agents. The first didn't succeed in placing a tenant but the second did.
Then three days before the new residents moved in, she stopped at her property to check it was ready for the new tenants. She found the gas supply was cut off.
“I phoned my supplier and they sent out an engineer who said the smart prepay meter was empty,” she explains. “I logged onto the website to top up but I couldn't get it to take any payment.”
Shockingly, Christine was told that the gas supply had been switched and the energy firm couldn't tell her who the new supplier was. This last-minute change put the new tenants' moving-in date at real risk.
“In the end, I discovered that the property I own, where I am responsible for the utility bills, had had its gas and electricity switched away from my current provider to a new company,” she says.
“I sat dumbfounded, trying to work out who and why anyone would switch it over. The prospective new tenant maybe? But surely not till they actually moved in?” Then she looked at the new supplier's website, which invites agents to earn commission by switching properties to its supply.
Surprisingly, the first agent – who hadn't placed tenants – had switched energy firms. The new supplier could not communicate with the property's first generation smart prepayment meter, meaning the gas supply had effectively been cut off.
She says: “I couldn't believe it. I hadn't signed anything, I hadn't agreed to anything, they hadn't even put a tenant in the property and yet they had done this to try and earn some extra money.
“How dare they? I had so much stress putting it right in time.” Fortunately, with the help of her former supplier, Christine managed to get the supply reinstated before the new tenants arrived.
Did the agent do anything wrong?
Christine had been given a contract by the first agent but hadn't signed it as they had not actually placed any tenants for her. That contract did specify that the agent could switch suppliers on behalf of the landlord.
It's not an uncommon clause. In fact, had Christine signed then she admits she'd have very little to complain about. But she hadn't signed it, hadn't read the relevant section and certainly hadn't expected an agent she was not using would feel able to take such an action.
Agents must give prospective landlords their terms and conditions to read and sign. The Property Ombudsman's code of practice states: “You [the agent] must sign and date your Terms of Business before they are given to the landlord.
“The landlord must be given sufficient time to read your Terms of Business before agreeing to instruct you. The landlord should be required to sign a copy which you should hold on file and the landlord must be given a copy to retain.”
That didn't happen for Christine and so she is currently complaining about her treatment.
Is my agent making money this way?
Some agents do make money by switching empty properties to energy firms who then pay them a commission.
While some landlords may find that irritating or even feel it's wrong, if they have signed a contract that allows their agent to do so then there's not much they can do – apart from change agents.
Ultimately, the best way to remain in control of the process and to understand what might happen with a property is to ask. Before signing any contract, read it and discuss any concerns you may have.
Is this actually a bad thing?
You might feel a bit annoyed if your agent has switched suppliers without consulting you. Ideally, they would certainly let you know.
However, it's not an entirely bad thing. If your agent is switching suppliers then they are at least definitely taking meter readings when your tenant checks out, guaranteeing accurate bills for the former and future residents.
What if I am really unhappy?
If you're not satisfied with how your agent has acted then the first thing to do is raise a complaint with them. Unless you can show that you have reasons to no longer trust them to do the job then you need to give them a chance to respond to your complaint.
If you're still not happy the you can step up your complaint, via The Property Ombudsman or The Property Redress Scheme, whichever the agent is registered with.
You could complain to the agent's professional body, assuming they are a member of a scheme such as ARLA, UKALA or Safeagent.
However, if you've signed a contract that says the agent can switch suppliers if they want, then you may find it hard to prove you've been mistreated. At least now you know what to look for next time.
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