My Lords, I have great sympathy with this amendment but I would have more were it possible to ensure that utility providers themselves acted reasonably. While I will not name any names, one particular well-known supplier of electricity, with what is generally regarded as an extremely cheap and competitive tariff, has gained for itself an extremely poor reputation because of what happens when one wants to change to another supplier. Indeed, so tortuous are its processes—of which I have had direct experience—that many landlords specify in their agreements that the tenant may not change to that supplier, and with good reason.
I had a situation myself concerning the commercial supply of electricity to an agricultural building. My wife and I were faced with a demand from this company for over £30,000 for a period of some 15 months, when the only thing that happens in this shed is that for a period of about three weeks a series of low-wattage lights are used to assist with lambing, and for a period of about 10 days in another part of the year they are used for a sheep-shearing operation. By no stretch of the imagination could the fee have totalled that amount. When, finally, the company rang up my wife and said, “We’re going to take you to court”, her answer was, “Make my day”. It was not until the matter was referred to its lawyers that it became apparent that there had been a complete muck-up. It had simply not got an initial reading and was trying to steamroller that payment through in the hope that we would crack and pay it. I know that other landlords in the private rented sector are sometimes faced with the same situation.
These people run up the most appalling costs. While I have great sympathy that this should not be laid solely at the door of tenants, it is none the less an occupational hazard that afflicts both parties to this arrangement. That is the only reason why I have a reservation about the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy—because there is another dimension to this, where certain suppliers are acting utterly unreasonably and unconscionably.