Tenants ‘don’t exist’ in the eyes of utilities billing company ARMS Ltd unless their landlords consent to registering them on their properties, an expat lobby group was told.
This meant that numerous tenants were still being forced to pay the higher domestic tariffs despite satisfying all the criteria for the lower rates, Up in Arms spokeswoman Patricia Graham said.
Last November, following a meeting with Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi and ARMS Ltd CEO James Davis, Ms Graham was informed that the old A identity card and the new e-residence card would be accepted as proof that foreigners were entitled to pay cheaper residential utility rates at their primary residence.
Previously, such documents were not accepted by ARMS, angering expats who felt they were been discriminated against and forced to jump through hoops to pay the lower rates.
Since November’s meeting, Up in Arms has grown increasingly concerned that many tenants were still finding it difficult to switch.
In another meeting on Monday with Mr Davis, Dr Mizzi and Aaron Mifsud Bonnici, a lawyer acting on behalf of the Water Services Corporation, Up in Arms was informed that tenants could not apply for the cheaper residential rates unless their landlord registered them on the property.
Up in Arms suspects some landlords are reluctant to do so because they do not declare their rental income.
Ms Graham said that during the meeting the minister argued that ARMS should accept a lease, among the already required documents, as proof that tenants should pay the lower rate.
But Dr Mifsud Bonnici countered that this would require a change in law and tenants could abuse the system by absconding without paying their bills. The issue remained unresolved.
“Up in Arms wholly supports this initiative by Minister Mizzi, which would then give tenants residing in Malta on long-term contracts the right to apply for the residential rate,” Ms Graham said.
“Isn’t the system already being abused by landlords who do not declare their rental income? Isn’t the system already being abused by estate agents who fail to inform prospective tenants of this two-tier abomination because seemingly it is not in their remit,” she asked.
Ms Graham questioned why it would have to take a change in the law for long-term tenants to have utility bills issued in their names.
“The law is already there. Maltese and EU law requires ARMS to give final customers [tenants] all billing data,” she said.
“Changing the two-tier system would require amending the law, which is not the quickest path.
“ The way forward is through the existing law by linking the consumer to the supplier. A property is not a consumer – a person is,” she added.
The lobby group has filed a class action against ARMS over its two-tier pricing system, which means tenants pay about 30 per cent more for utilities if they are not registered on the property.
Up in Arms has been warning people not to sign their lease contracts before they know whether they will be paying their utility bills at the residential or the domestic rate.
Ms Graham believes many letting agents are reluctant to advise clients about the two-tier tariffs because they do not want to alienate the landlords who use their services.
Questions sent to both Mr Davis and Dr Mizzi remain unanswered.
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