Relationships break up every day and in the process, the former couple may not think about things like changing the name on utility bills. If one person remains in the residence the two once shared, but the utility bill is in the name of the other person, problems can arise.
Whether unintentionally or out of spite, a former partner may stop paying the utility bills, leaving the other person literally out in the cold. A utility provider, a debt collection agency, or bailiff will soon come calling to collect the money due.
To prevent this from happening, the person who remains in the home should contact the utility company immediately after a breakup to change the service to his or her name. The other person should contact the provider to have service cancelled so the person who stays can have it activated. If this is not done in a timely manner, bills may accumulate, leading to additional problems.
So Are You Liable?
If the charges were incurred while the couple was still living together, the person who remains in the residence may be liable for the back payments. The utility provider is entitled to expect payment from whoever was living in the home.
It may go after either party for the full balance owed unless one person presents a legal document relinquishing his or her responsibility.
The individual who remained in the residence may be better off repaying the full balance and then going after the ex for his or her share. A utility provider may agree to a repayment plan if the individual cannot repay the balance in full. This will enable service to continue while the past due amount is repaid in an affordable manner.
In the meantime, the individual remaining in the home can take legal action against the ex to recover the portion of the funds for which he or she is responsible. This process may take some time but if a large balance is owed to the utility, it should be worth the extra effort. Retaining legal counsel could speed the process along.
If the situation has reached the point that bailiffs are knocking at the door requesting to sequester property, immediate action is required. A bailiff may not force him or herself into the property so do not let the person in. If the utility bill is in the ex’s name alone, the bailiff cannot confiscate property unless it belongs to that person. If the bailiff engages in threatening or harassing behavior, contact the Office of Fair Trading, and if a physical threat is issued, contact the police.
Before living with a new partner, work out issues like whose name the utility bills will be put into and how these bills will be handled if a breakup occurs. Put everything in writing so responsibilities are clear. In the event of a breakup, put the plan into action to prevent debt from accruing. If you remain in a residence that was formerly shared, be sure to transfer all utilities into your name as soon as possible.