Many people forget to factor in bills to their budget calculations even at the house hunting stage and this can come as a nasty shock when they come to move in. Many people have not budgeted for a enough.
Take some time to look at the basics on what provision you have in your property and how you can assess your usage as this will help when looking for the optimum suppliers and tariffs.
Hopefully you noticed before you committed to the tenancy whether there are any restrictions on changing supplier/tariff before you proceed. To cover yourself, it is advisable to get permission in writing from your landlord or agent before you change anything.
You may also have opted to use a company that manages the bills for you – a Third Party Utility Management company. Some can charge quite high management charges and you may well not get back any overpaid amounts. It is best to check the terms and conditions of these arrangements before you commit.
You should have seen your Energy Performance Certificate Rating (EPC) at the advertising stage, see below image. The full certificate can indicate what the typical energy costs will be and what can be done to make the property more energy efficient and you can request that if you view/intend to rent the property.
Shared housing and Tenant Disputes
If you are living in a shared house this can also be difficult to control and manage as individuals may have different budgets and ideas about usage. These are particularly an issue in Joint Tenancies where you are all named on the one tenancy agreement and are joint and individually liable for the bills.
People often fall out about bills for lots of reasons. It helps to agree how these should be managed from the start of the tenancy. Student households take various approaches from each tenant taking responsibility for a bill each, handing it over to a third-party bill management company, to pooling money and having everyone named on every account. You need to find what works best for you all. Even in a dispute try to remain calm and respectful and come to a mutually agreeable resolution.
Difficulties can also arise because one tenant has moved out and doesn’t think they need to contribute to the bill because they are not using or benefiting form the supply/service. However in respect of utilities bills it is not that straight forward. The property needs to be still heated and had that person not signed the agreement the remaining tenants could have opted for smaller property and smaller bills. The liability and responsibility does not disappear because you left. You need to agree and negotiate how to manage this. The Student Advice Centre can discuss this with you.
Shared Housing with Sole Tenancies – usually the bills are in the landlord’s name because tenants move in on different dates and have tenancies for different durations so it is simpler for it to be in the landlords name.
'Bills Inclusive' - often your tenancy agreement is ‘inclusive of bills’ but be careful as these often have a ‘fair usage’ clause which means if you exceed a certain level you will have to pay an additional amount. Many of these clauses are not highlighted to the tenant when they sign the agreement and the clause often fails to specify the ‘fair usage’ level so tenants can unwittingly exceed it. The tenancy agreement is not inclusive of bills the landlord can ask for payment and should provide evidence of the amount owed and how this is apportioned. There are rules on what a landlord can recharge for gas and electric.
What your bill includes:
- The name of the current tariff
- If the readings are estimated, customer reads or actual reads by an engineer .
- The cost of energy in the last 12 months.
- An estimate of the next 12 months’ cost based on what you’ve used in the last year and assumes you’ll use the same amount.
- Conditions of contract, including exit fees and end dates.
- Discount information – a supplier must include details of discounts relating to your tariff compared to standard tariffs paid by a debit card.
- Switching info - a reminder that customers can switch but will likely only tell you about their own cheaper tariffs.
Why your bills might be different to what you expected
- They might be based on the supplier estimates rather than actual readings. Supply them with actual readings. However, this might increase the bill further if you have used more than they estimate as well as decrease it if you have used less than they estimated.
- The direct debit amount might have changed to reflect any estimated or actual usage. Although under the ’Direct Debit Guarantee’ they should notify you of this change at least 10 days before it happens.
- You might have been on a fixed term tariff that has since ended.
- Online tariffs can sometimes be cheaper – are you on a tariff that you expected to be on?
- If you live in a shared house, other occupants could be using utilities more or less than you.
- The supplier might have had a review of their tariffs although changes of this nature you should be notified.
What bills don’t explain
- ‘kWh’ means refers to a kilowatt hour and this measures how much energy you use. 1 Kilowatt hour is equal to 1000 watt hours.
- ‘Credit’ means when you have paid extra on your energy bill. ‘Debit’ means you owe the supplier extra.
How to save money on energy bills
- Every time you receive a bill, do a meter reading. If they’re wrong you’ll have to pay more at the end of the year, if they’re over they’ve unfairly charged you.
- Switching to the company's internet tariff can save you up to 10%
- Don’t use more hot water than you need! Have a shower instead of a bath.
- Consider putting on extra layers before turning on the heating.
- If you feel the property could be more energy efficient, speak to your landlord or agent.
- Be careful with appliances, switch them off and don’t leave them on standby.
- Always do a full comparison.
Some landlords include water bills in rent so make sure this is clear when agreeing to the contract.
Unless your property has a fitted water meter, your water is billed at a fixed annual price. Your regional water company will calculate your annual water and sewerage services and your bill is made up by of a fixed charge and a charge based on the rateable value of your property. Newcastle students can find out the current charges on Northumbrian Water website and London students on Thames Water.
If you have a fitted water meter it will be based on your usage. The meter could be internal or external. If you are unsure and your tenancy agreement is unclear, ask your Landlord or Agent how your water is charged.
Telephone and TV
If the property has a landline, the tenant is usually responsible for paying the bill. If there is no telephone line, and you require one, you will have to pay an installation or connection fee to set one up.
If the property has a TV, or you want to watch live TV (or BBC Iplayer) on any device you will have to get a TV licence. The property only needs one TV licence if you live in a joint tenancy. If you have a sole tenancy and a TV in your room, then you will need a separate licence.
When signing up for phone, internet and TV packages, be careful about discounted prices as it might be an offer that ends after a certain period of time. When that time ends, costs might escalate.
Faster advertised speed does not mean faster broadband. This can sometimes be the maximum potential speed. Many factors affect your actual speed, including;
- How close your home is to the phone exchange.
- The condition of lines and wiring
- How many people are using the same broadband in the local area and in your home.
- The number of applications using the internet by your household.
Check your data limit, aim for unlimited or you might get a penalty charge!
Fibre Optic is not essential; a common 16Mb connection can be ample unless you’re a heavy streamer or downloader.
Getting a broadband and line rental bundle can be more cost effective. Many cheap broadband deals fail to advertise line rental as well
If you’re under contract you can haggle the existing price down if the exit penalties are not too high. If you call and threaten to leave, an operator will try and retain you by offering discounts.
If using an ‘all bills included’ service during a tenancy double check you have enough provision. Always confirm the provider with the landlord and agree what coverage you need.
If one of the tenants doesn’t pay, then unfortunately if your name is on the contract you will be liable to pay the shortfall. If you use a bill management service, this doesn’t override the tenancy for the property, which usually says the responsibility to pay bills is ‘joint and several’. This overrides any agreement you later make with the bill management company.
If you are having problems with your bills and need help, please book an appointment with the Student Advice Centre so one of our advisers can help.
Last updated: 16 November 2020