No, our landlord issues have not gone away.  Our previous landlord issues remain unresolved, and we fear we may have others looming ahead.  However, that’s not something we can control and we will only be affected indirectly.  If that should amount to anything, I’ll be sure to mention it.

But, getting back to our previous landlord.  He has been an obstacle to getting the bills resolved.  And now he has conveniently gone on holiday.  But while he thinks he can escape his problems, we feel we have finally made some progress and have confidently swung the ball back in his court.

After many weeks of phone calls to the estate agents, to no avail, we put in a dispute.  I had forewarned them of it, so before they were forced to do anything, the agents sent us a partial refund of our deposit.  They’re still holding an amount equivalent to two-and-a-half times what we believe we owe on the water bill.  Despite knowing how much we used, neither they nor the landlord can figure out what we owe.  They seem to think they need to get all the bills and decide our portion.  I will be searching around the internet and make complaints on some landlord/estate agent forums.  No one should ever be put through the misery of working with any of these people. 

And the electric company finally came up with a figure that we can agree on, but it’s questionable whether the landlord will accept.  The figure given to us is just a little over what we had offered and he had turned it down.  Now, we have both the electric company and the estate agent agreeing to it, so if he won’t agree, we may have to take legal action.  We could have had this resolved sooner had the electric company agreed to look back at previous usage by the landlord as we had requested.  They finally did so, and came up with the figures.  Our portion is rather generous (all but the landlord will agree); however, we are willing to be generous just to get this resolved.

We do not have the ready cash to hire a lawyer.  We are also not the litigious type.  We have sought advice from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau several times, but they cannot give legal advice.  However, they do offer Legal Aid, a free legal service to those who are impoverished.  You have to be below a certain income level to qualify, and we do not.

We had tried the third party negotiation through the estate agent and it had not been going well.  Our next step was to go to an ombudsman.  There are several around – The Property Ombudsman (for estate agents) and the government Housing Ombudsman (for landlords).  However, they all want a protracted formal dispute process going through other channels first; i.e., through the landlord’s and agents’ in-house complaints procedures.  The ombudsman could take up to a year.

We have RAC membership and my husband knew he could get legal advice on motoring issues through the RAC.  So, he asked them about other legal services.  We were told that for an additional 15GBP per year, we could get legal advice on all other issues.  He was reluctant to join because it sounded like many of those internet services where you make an offer for advice and the advice will vary depending on how much you were willing to pay.  After exhausting all other avenues, we finally signed up for the RAC legal aid.  It sounds even better than we thought.  The advice comes from real practicing lawyers and if they take your case, they will even represent you in court.  All this is included.  They’ve given us a two-week trial and if we don’t use it, we can cancel it.

We called the lawyers first thing and they told us to start with EDF, the electric company.  It was funny because I was writing a letter to EDF while my husband had them on the line.  He repeated what the lawyers had advised us, and they denied any responsibility.  At that point, my husband called OfGem, the electric utilities ombudsman, who made a note of the complaint.  Shortly after, EDF called back and gave us a figure for what they felt we owed.  It was as if the call to the lawyers had set a string of events in motion.

If things work out well, we may not need the legal service after all and can cancel it.  However, given their usefulness, we may decide to try it out for a year.  It’s like having a lawyer on retention for only 15GBP a year.