Countrywide agency switches utility provider – and the property owner objects

It was way back in 2015 that EYE first ran a story about the tie-up between Countrywide and Spark Energy and the controversy over the agent switching energy suppliers for rental properties that it handled.

Spark went spectacularly bust in 2018 leaving 290,000 people without an energy supplier. Ofgen appointed Ovo to take over the Spark customers and Ovo retained Spark as a separate entity under its banner.

In May Ovo announced the closure of its Selkirk office – which is where Spark operated from, shedding 400 jobs in the process. Spark is still trading.

In recent weeks, EYE has been contacted by a number of members of the public alleging concerns/complaints about Countrywide’s current tie up with Spark Energy and how the agent’s terms of business allows them to switch the existing energy supplier to Spark.

Until now the complaints have related to cases involved rental properties, but now we have learned of a situation that involves a holiday let.

The property is in Wales and the Countrywide agency is Abersoch Home from Home, which is part of Beresford Adams.

We have seen a copy of what we believe is their terms of business and there appears to be no mention of anything to do with utility suppliers, let alone a specific authority allowing the company to change the existing energy supplier.

The following is the text of a letter that the owner’s father has written to Absersoch Home from Home:

 

For many years, my daughters’ holiday letting home used Utility Warehouse as the provider. In March this year, the supply was switched to Spark Energy without consent, in the absence of any discretionary clause and without notice.

For a number of years, the electricity supply to the above property has been provided through Utility Warehouse. In June 2020, a bill for electricity consumed was received, surprisingly, from Spark Energy. This property is freehold and is not subject to a tenancy agreement. In investigative correspondence, I received the following comments from Spark Energy.

Beresford Adams operate under the Countrywide banner, and Countrywide are one of our largest letting agent partners. Under the partnership agreement we have with them, they use us as a “default” supplier. With there being in excess of 60 suppliers currently operating in the UK domestic energy market, letting agents often find it hard to know exactly who the current supplier is for a new property that they take on to let / re-let. So our partners pass us the details of new properties / lettings – if we already hold the supplies, we process a move-in / move-out; if we don’t hold the supplies, then we register to take over, in advance of a new tenancy starting.

Clearly, all this does rely on the consent of the landlord, which is generally tied up in the type of contract that they have with the letting agent (find tenant, fully managed etc). If the landlord does not consent though, the letting agent shouldn’t then pass us through details in relation to the property. We act in good faith on the information we receive, and we thus rely on the letting agents to mark their own systems appropriately, to ensure that we do not get details in relation to properties where there is no landlord consent.

I had responded to these comments as follows:

I cannot understand your use of the word “tenant” and “tenancy”, as the property is not nor ever has been tenanted. Will you please advise on what basis you understand this to be the case. There is no six month assured tenancy under the Housing Act 1998 but a contract for the provision of holiday letting services under The Law of Contract.

Further, I have a holiday letting agency contract to hand from your office in Abersoch. It does not contain any clause as to the property owner granting the rights to the letting agency to have the powers of approach and negotiation with any utility provider.

I shall be grateful if you will advise what empowerment you hold to negotiate such change in utility provision as it appears to be ultra vires your terms of engagement. Will you also advise whether you secured a “secret profit” through this device. Please note: The Supreme Court held that a bribe or secret commission accepted by an agent is held on trust for his principal; not only did the principal have a right to sue for the sum equal to the benefit the agent had received, but that the principal has a proprietory interest in that benefit.

 

EYE has made several attempts to contact the Countrywide press office but we had not received a response by the time of publication. We will bring you the outcome in due course.

We would be interested to hear from anyone who has a similar experience of Countrywide, Spark and energy switching.

 

Countrywide defends switching energy suppliers while rental properties are empty

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7 Comments

  1. PMT

    They are terrible!  I did a let only with them for 1 HMO room (1 of 6), and they switched my supplier for the whole house!  As soon as I found out, I had the whole thing reversed.  In my case, it was Barnard Marcus in Croydon.

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  2. whatdoiknow58

    I was told by a senior CWD director back in the day that their bean counters projected a potential  6m income stream from the kick back commission paid by the utility company when this switching scheme was first proposed internally back in 2014 but given say £50 per property referred over over time per let given the size of the CWD letting portfolio that mounts up to a heck of a lot of cash flow. Bound to be some resistance nothing is 100% but I would assume the majority will go along with it so why not? Seemed a good idea at the time.  
    ps. Whilst I am no fan of CWD I should point out that Barnard Marcus are not and never have been part of the CWD group.

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  3. Woodentop

    LSL group are also alleged to have been at it with Spark.

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  4. Wolfman

    Is this even a news story? “Company sends its energy partner a property by mistake” most clever agents use a void services supplier,  for one it’s a revenue maker and it also saves them time management during the void period. There are generally easier ways to solve an issue like this rather than getting a journalist involved.

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    1. PMT

      Yes, especially when ‘fraud’ is involved – making a pecuniary advantage through dishonesty – so people know to have their wits about them when dealing with CW.

      In asking Sparks Energy to take over, they would have said their had authority to do so: they clearly didn’t in this case, nor did they in mine.

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      1. Wolfman

        Nothing fraudulent about it, in most cases these things are automated and especially at a company of that size. If the clause isn’t in the agreement then the property would have been sent by mistake. I’m sure the amount of commissions they would make on this would not be worth the trouble of taking over properties they shouldn’t have taken over. Also the supplier can easily send the supply back to who was supplying originally so this sounds like making a mountain out of a mole hill. If this is the biggest issue going on in the industry right now then things must be good.

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  5. Captain Tony

    This is laughable!!! How dare a business use a service to make there lives easier, benefit landlords and streamline things for tenants. Someone in a branch has made a mistake on a CRM system, big deal. I think Mr Holiday Home in Abersoch has too much time on his hands. There are bigger things going on in the world right now.

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