QUESTION:
Can a landlord be held responsible for outstanding gas bills which his former tenant did not pay? No trace or whereabouts of the former tenant is found. A tenant signed the gas supply contract with the utility provider and then did not pay the gas bills and left the property. He cannot be traced. In this situation, will the landlord be liable to pay the outstanding gas bills for the property.

ANSWER:
Assuming this is a residential let and that there was a clause in the tenancy agreement making it clear that the tenant was responsible for utility bills, then the Landlord could inform the utility gas provider that that the tenancy has ended and also provide a meter reading for the end of the previous tenancy. If the supply contract was between the tenant and the utility gas provider, it appears that the tenant will be liable under the terms of the contract they entered into.

The landlord may need to provide a copy of the tenancy agreement to the utility gas provider as proof that the tenant was liable to pay for any utilities directly to the utility gas provider. Additionally, the landlord may have contact information for the tenant once the tenant has vacated the premises such as a forwarding address or contact details.
Generally, it is prudent that tenancy agreements contain a clause reserving the right for the landlord or its agents to provide such information that they possess about the tenant to the utility gas provider in the event that the tenant vacates the premises with unpaid bills.

In light of the General Data Protection Regulation that came into force on 25 May 2018, if the tenancy agreement permits the landlord to pass on data to assist the utility company, then by default, the landlord could be deemed to be lawfully processing the data as may be a slightly more risky approach as the landlord would be deemed to be lawfully processing data. However, even if the agreement did not permit the landlord to pass on details, it may be that the landlord would be able to pass it on relying on the "legitimate interest" ground for the processing:

“Necessary for the purposes of legitimate interests pursued by the controller or a third party, except where such interests are overridden by the interests, rights or freedoms of the data subject.”

This ground requires that the landlord’s interests must be balanced against the interests of the tenant in this case. If the disclosure of the tenant’s personal data to the utility gas provider is unwarranted because of its prejudicial effect on the interests, rights and freedoms of the data subject, i.e. the tenant, then the disclosure should not be made and to do so would represent a breach of the GDPR. However, as the ICO has pointed out, the landlord’s legitimate interests do not have to be ‘in harmony with’ those of the tenant. It is only where there is a ‘serious mismatch between competing interests’ that the tenant’s interests would come first in this particular situation. In this example, it is easy to see that there are very different interests between those of landlord and tenant i.e. the tenant may well be very interested in not paying their debt.

However, the disclosure of the tenant’s personal data in this situation would not be unwarranted as it would clearly be a legitimate interest of the landlord to seek the payment of the debt.

Of course, the processing described above must still meet all of the Data Protection Principles under GDPR, in that the landlord must ensure that the personal data passed to the utility gas provider is:

• accurate (in terms of the details which are known about the tenant)
• up-to-date (in terms of the amount outstanding and the tenant’s last address, which the landlord will clearly know)
• not excessive – the utility company should only be given as much personal data as is relevant and necessary

(c) Martin Wong. Thank you for reading. Hope you like this post. 🤪😊😆😁😄😊☺️

Sharing a post here from Martin Wong - as Martin says, and I'll emphasise, this isn't professional advice and each person's situation / contract / responsibility must be checked on a case by case basis