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Is a housing association a supplier of water?
In the interesting case of Jones v London Borough of Southwark EWHC 457 Southwark had, for many years, an arrangement with Thames Water where they would collect water charges from tenants on top of rent. This case is about a successful challenge to that arrangement.
One key aspect of the case was whether Southwark were merely agents of Thames Water by collecting the water charges and passing them on to Thames or whether they were a supplier themselves and therefore subject to The Water Resale Order 2006. The 2006 Order meant that if they were a supplier themselves, they could only charge what they were charged by Thames Water plus a very small administrative fee –much less than the 18% Southward were charging their tenants for administration.
The court found that Southward were not agents but suppliers. They made a number of findings based on the agreement entered into between Southwark and Thames – the language of which was more akin to a supplier/provider arrangement than that of agent/principle.
The case reveals that it was not just Southwark who entered into similar arrangements with Thames Water but some 69 additional councils and housing associations.
Indications are that Southwark will appeal but this case could mean that housing associations and councils who have been collecting water charges from tenants on behalf of the water supplier could have to refund their tenants some of the charge going back 6 years and suffer a massive administrative burden calculating the refund.