Utility account check

WHEN people decide to sell their property, they anticipate a good deal that maximises returns.

Properties are sold for various personal, economic and social reasons. Once a deal is made, the satisfied owners relinquish all ties to the property as arrangements are done to transfer all relevant documents and accounts to the new owners.

Those who fail to actively ensure that all utility accounts and paperwork are processed accordingly may find themselves in an unwanted situation like bills to a property they no longer own.

This was the case of a complaint received by the Consumer Council of Fiji in January this year by a complainant who was shocked and frustrated to receive a Fiji Electricity Authority (FEA) bill for a meter located on a property she had sold three years ago.

The complainant did not want income earned through her own hard work be used to pay for bills she did not utilise.

After being told by FEA that records showed the meter was still under her name, she decided to seek the council’s assistance.

Redress was sought on behalf of the complainant and the new property owner was informed of the situation.

It was revealed that the meter was not transferred to the new property owner and this resulted in an electricity bill that accumulated since 2015 being transferred to the complainant. Through the council’s assistant the issue was resolved.

In light of this, the council is urging that consumers must ensure the FEA meter is transferred to new owners or tenants.

Section 24 of the Electricity Act 2017 Schedule 3 (5) states “if a tariff customer vacates any premises at which electricity has been supplied to the tariff customer by a public electricity supplier without paying all charges due from the tariff customer in respect of the supply, or the provision of any electricity meter, electric line or electrical plant for the purposes of the supply, the public electricity supplier-

(a) may refuse to furnish the tariff customer with a supply of electricity at any other premises until the tariff customer pays the amount due; but

(b) is not entitled to require payment of that amount from the next occupier of the premises.

(6) If a tariff customer has not, within the requisite period, paid all charges due from the tariff customer to a public electricity supplier in respect of the supply of electricity to any premises, or the provision of any electricity meter, electric line or electrical plant for the purposes of that supply, the public electricity supplier, after the expiration of not less than 2 working days’ notice of the public electricity supplier’s intention, may-

(a) cut off the supply to the premises, or to any other premises occupied by the tariff customer, by such means as the public electricity supplier thinks fit; and

(b) recover any expenses incurred in so doing from the tariff customer.”

Basically, this means that FEA can recover money from the meter holder for the electricity supplied, despite the electricity being consumed by someone else.

Fortunately for the complainant, the new owner agreed to have the outstanding bill transferred to their existing account to settle the arrears.

The council notes that this is not the first time such an incident has occurred.

Consumers are urged to be proactive when selling their properties and ensure that FEA meter(s) are disconnected and transferred to the new owners account.

This is to avoid unnecessary billings that would bring about undue stress and take up the time, energy and resources of the consumer as they try to rectify the issue.

Overcharging, or worse, being charged for someone else’s service usage is a burden consumers do not have to carry.

When it comes to unpaid power bills, FEA will hold the meter owner responsible for the unpaid bills and NOT the property owner. However, the situation is different with unpaid water bill where the property owner is held responsible even though the water meter owner is someone else.

Consumers are advised to conduct due diligence and perform detailed examinations of all documents, such as title documents, property valuation certificate, zoning standards by the municipal council when buying a property.

Property buyers must check with FEA and other utility providers such as the Water Authority of Fiji (WAF) for any overdue rates by the sellers of the property and confirm that accounts of any sort relating to the property be transferred into their name.

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