News Summary:
Managing tenant utilities is probably singularly the most unpopular pastime that any lettings business has to endure. Since the deregulation of the energy market, effective management of this area has become much more time consuming trying to keep track of which energy company supplies each property, even trivial tasks seem to take a huge amount of time to resolve. Over the years, it has become so much of a problem that many companies large or small have resorted to abstaining from managing this important area on check in and check out. – Instead these companies are putting the responsibility on the tenants to set up and close down accounts correctly. In the short term this solution may sound attractive, but needless to say this laissez-faire approach can and will generate a lot of utility problems at a later date. A combination of forgetful or disorganised tenant approach to setting these accounts up can mean big headaches for letting agents, tenants and landlords alike.

As time goes by as the energy market matures, more and more properties will be switching energy suppliers so if anything the problem will be increasingly more difficult and demanding on letting agents to get right.

It’s not just gas and electricity utilities that can create problems, it is effectively administering water and Council tax too where agents can come unstuck. The advent of the Flood an Water Management Act has further put responsibility back on to landlords and in turn their agents by regional water companies to administer check in’s and check outs correctly, otherwise landlords or in turn their agents will become liable.

What are the Problems?
Deregulation means that as a bill payer, tenants have the right to switch to whatever supplier they wish whilst they are in occupation. Thus keeping track of the suppliers becomes increasingly difficult. All sorts of processes can be put in place by agents to collate this information, but getting it from landlords and tenants is time consuming and not always reliable.

One of the biggest areas of concern for agents is deciphering which energy company supplies a new property or conversion. Often the plot number address can be a real problem marrying it up to the actual postal address and which meter supplies the plot number? – It can often be very difficult to understand and sometimes landlords cannot provide agents with the necessary information themselves either. If you cannot identify who the supplier is, no accounts can be set up ensuring billing problems for the future until it is finally unravelled.

There is no doubt that administering and managing utilities is a time consuming process, particularly energy. Letting agents who dutifully deal with billing queries or energy related issues are getting bogged down often spending 20 – 40 minutes on the phone dealing with them and the bigger the portfolio the greater the problem. – Some agents even employ staff on a full time or part time basis specifically to deal with utilities!!

Is there a Solution?
Overall, as Council Tax and water companies are not deregulated, administering this area is easier so long as the right information is passed to these organisations on check in sand check out. Where most of the problems lie is with energy. There are things that agents can do to alleviate these problems. Firstly, get landlords to supply reliable information when they take on the property and secondly obtain meter serial numbers to help identify the supplier. These are helpful to managing this area but will not exclusively provide the solution.

There is however help for letting agents in the form of utility management companies that can provide the solution that they are looking for. There are several companies that claim to provide a utility switching or administration service, the most reputable of which is Hallmark Corporate Services. Unlike other companies, Hallmark administer all four utilities for clients for every check in and check out and work exclusively with SSE (Scottish & Southern Energy Ltd) for energy transfers. First into the lettings market, their impressive all inclusive service is both market leading and very simple to integrate. – Save time and effort plus earn a commission for each energy transfer! They can be contacted on 01652 601400 for more information.

One thing is clear, energy deregulation is here to stay and more and more rental properties will transfer to other suppliers creating more effort required to accurately manage this area. Also, as the lettings market becomes ever more competitive, landlords are not only expecting agents to manage this process but they place value and convenience on those that agents that do so.