Crucial Considerations for Landowners Contacted by Utility Companies

Many landowners have utility apparatus of some sort crossing their land, and a very recent court case has underlined how vital it is that the landowner/occupier knows their rights when it comes to utility companies taking access for repairs, maintenance, renewals, or new schemes.

The case in question involved a claim for damages made by a tenant farmer against Electricity North West Ltd (ENWL) for alleged trespass and negligence of their contractors. While not denying liability, ENWL disputed the evidence presented, but despite the lack of full documentation the Court awarded £54,652 in damages to the farm tenant, demonstrating that well-presented, credible evidence can prevail, even when documentation is incomplete.

Electricity power lines, water, sewer and gas pipelines all constitute utility apparatus benefitting from a range of statutory powers to enter private land. Legal statutes such as the Electricity Act 1989, Water Industry Act 1991 and the Gas Act 1986 are in place to convey key details.

Where statutory powers allow a third party to require the right in or over land, the owner/occupier has the legal entitlement to make a claim for compensation. The cost of being professionally represented is also part of the claimant’s claim. What this means is that when your agent is working on your behalf and representing you during the entire claim process, it should not cost the claimant anything.

There are many legal procedures that must be correctly followed to allow any statutory undertaker to enter private land. In the first instance, it is crucial to review the proposed scheme and ascertain the statutory stipulations that are being relied upon to take access to the private land.

Where the works are to be carried out, a record of condition should then be taken. This can be used as evidence during the claim negotiation stage. This record should be correctly documented and signed by both the landowner/occupier and the agent from the utility company, as acceptance to the pre-entry condition. The preparation of an accurate record of condition can help prevent disputes between the parties further down the line.

When considering compensation, there are a number of important issues to consider.

Presenting a compensation claim is based on putting the owner/occupier in a position that they would have been in if the works had never happened, often referred to as the ‘no scheme world’. This claim should also include time and resources spent on the matter by the claimant. All of the claimant’s time should be carefully recorded, for instance in a diary format, which can then be used as evidence and claimed for as management time lost.

We have recently been involved in a number of Utility Company Claims. The most recent have been the replacement of a water main across both horse grazing land and arable land. Given that both of these sites benefitted from development potential, this had to be taken into consideration. So, when making these submissions for compensation on behalf of our client, the claim included:

  • Crop loss on the arable land, including a percentage reduction in yields for three future years (100% in the first year, 50% in the second year and 25% in the third year), plus the value of the straw.
  • BPS loss and the time related to amend forms.
  • Reinstatement work, including repairing damage to field drains, gateways and fencing.
  • Additional payment due to the depreciation of land value resulting from the installation of the new water main. In this case, an easement recognition payment was agreed. Given that the land was considered amber in the SHLAA (Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment), this was calculated at 50% of the potential development value and represented a quite significant payment to the claimant.

This was a detailed claim which, while working together with the utility company, has resulted in a fair and reasonable outcome which was favourable for our client after the works had been completed.

Whether you are a farmer, a commercial property owner or a residential property owner, when utility companies are accessing your property under statutory power it really is key that you protect your own interests. As soon as you become aware of any potential scheme impacting your land you should seek professional advice. Utility companies expect to compensate for losses, and a good agent will ensure that all your potential losses are identified and claimed for successfully.

For further information, please contact one of our offices: