A reader asked:
My son has just opened a letter from a debt collector in his name with my debt and information on it asking him to pay. It’s for a water bill which I owe but the bill is in my name! Surely they can’t do this?
I asked for some background on this – how old is her son, is he still living at home, if not when did he leave? And what date does the water bill relate to?
He is 24 and has never been on my water bills. He left home 5 years ago but why does that matter? This is my debt not his.
The bill is for this year – I pay one agency already for 1 water bill and have just sent off my expenses to a court for my other water bill. I am also in an IVA and have been for 4 years. I have been struggling to pay bills.
Although this may sound strange, you can still be legally liable to pay a water bill if your name isn’t on it.
Who is liable to pay a water bill?
The occupier of a property is liable to pay the water bill. When you move into the property this liability starts straight away. You don’t have to make an agreement with the water company – there is only one water company for each area and you are automatically liable.
When there are more than one occupier, then they all jointly and severally liable. That is a legal term meaning the water company can ask any adult living there to pay the bill, not just the person named on the bill.
Your water company will probably have a document online called the Household Charges Scheme. Here is what Thames Water’s says about who has to pay the bill:
4.1.3 Where two or more people are occupying a property, then each occupier will be jointly and severally liable for paying the charges – i.e., we can recover all the charges for the property from all or any one of the occupiers.
In practice the water company will ask the person named on the bill to pay it first. And if they don’t, they may then ask another occupier to pay it.
So how old her son is and whether he was living in the house does matter
If her son was under 18 for the period of the bill, he could simply point that out. This would apply whether he was living there or not.
But the bill in question was for last year when he would have been 23. So the next thing to check was whether he was living in the house for the period of the bill. And he wasn’t – he had moved out several years before.
In this case he was not “an occupier” and so has no liability to pay the bill. This is what he needs to tell the debt collector.
The name on the bill doesn’t matter
There is no point in complaining to the water company or the debt collector saying his name wasn’t on the bill because that doesn’t matter. If he was still living at home he would be liable to pay the bill. Luckily in this case he isn’t.
Your situation may be more complicated. For example, if you are just renting a room in a house. Or if your tenancy agreement says the water charges are included in your rent.
Talk to National Debtline on 0808 808 4000 if you get a water bill that you don’t think you should pay. Whether it is in your name or not!
Help if you can’t pay a water bill
If you have a bill that you can’t afford to pay, there is a lot of help available from your water company, see What to do if you can’t pay a water bill. So phone your water company and ask.
But if this is just part of a bigger debt problem, then it’s best to talk to a debt adviser about your full situation, as the arrears on the water bills are just part of this.
In the case of the reader asking, she needs to talk to her IVA firm. Her IVA payments should not be set at a level that leaves her unable to pay the household bills. A lot of people are having problems with IVAs because of inflation in 2022 and 2023, so special provisions have been introduced allowing IVA payments to be reduced. See Help with IVAs if you can’t pay because of the cost of living for details.