It’s the bane of every sharer’s life: that one flatmate who can’t (or even refuses) to cough up for their percentage of the utility bills. The first time it happens, maybe you let it slide, expecting them to pay you back at a later date. But when the same discussion occurs the following month, often with a side helping of excuses, you realise you’ve got yourself a problem.
Most people encounter money problems at some point in their lives, and we recommend a sensitive approach wherever possible. However, it’s not up to you to be responsible for your roommate’s finances. Bills and rent are the number one things that need paying for, before any other expenses, and if they’re failing to meet them it’s unfortunate, but unfair to expect housemates to be the one bearing that burden.
Why this happens
The vast majority of cases where one sharer is shouldering the cost of utilities for another are caused by the way utility bills are split in most households. Often, each person takes responsibility for a bill and the other housemates pay them their share every month.
But this creates technical and legal roadblocks when one person isn’t ponying up for what they owe, as the bill is legally in one account holder’s name, making them solely responsible for it.
The utility company doesn’t care who the money is coming from, they just want you to settle the bill in its entirety, and it’s pretty much impossible to force someone’s hand who can’t or won’t pay up.
So what can you do?
The first port of call is typically to go to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau for help. Unfortunately, they’re probably going to tell you that the bill will need to be paid whether you persuade your cohabitant or not. Even if the account has been set up using the names of all the tenants and you’ve paid your share, the company can legally chase any of you for outstanding funds.
Citizen’s Advice may be able to give you legal advice based on your tenancy agreement whether you are able to ask the non-paying housemate to leave or if you should pursue a case in the small claims court to reclaim your money after the bill has been paid.
Sometimes, telling your housemate that you’re considering taking legal action can suddenly prompt them to discover funds they previously claimed they didn’t have to pay you back. After all, if they should lose the case, they will have a CCJ against them which will affect their credit rating going forward.
Taking legal action may seem like an extreme step, but it’s sometimes the only option if you’re reclaiming a substantial amount of money. Citizen’s Advice will be able to tell you whether your case is worth the fees you will incur by taking your case to small claims court.
Bill sharing apps
Switching to a third-party bill sharing platform won’t get your money back, but it will help make sure that the problem doesn’t happen again. Many bill sharing apps bill each housemate directly for their share of the bill and make it transparent who has an overdue balance, helping resolve money conflicts sooner rather than later.
If you’re starting to notice someone falling behind on their payments, you might want to discuss using a mobile app to manage your household costs before the problem escalates.
acasa is a bill sharing app and household management platform designed for students and house sharers. With acasa, you can avoid unnecessary conflict around splitting utility bills with our direct billing and balance tracking systems. Get a free quote for your property today and enjoy a more stress-free approach to managing your shared house.