Students Warned To Beware Of Surprise Energy Bill Charges | TOTUM
Holly BarrowSeptember 20th
2022

With gas and electricity bills soaring, students and their parents are being warned to beware of surprise charges that may be coming their way.

Despite new Prime Minister Liz Truss announcing a price cap freeze, many students could still be subject to extortionate fees if they go over their limits.

Privately rented student accommodation that offers 'bills included' deals typically include a 'fair use policy' in the small print, and it is this that could create problems further down the line.

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This comes in the form of a cap or allowance typically based on sums of money spent rather than amount of units of energy used.

What this means is that students will usually be allocated a set amount on gas and electricity each year - £400, for example - with anything extra used being added to the student's account and paid at the end of the year.

Prior to the current energy crisis, this allocated amount of spend per student on gas and electric would typically be considered generous, but they're now rapidly being consumed thanks to the soaring costs.

Truss may have announced a £2,500 bill freeze, but crucially this is based on a 'typical' household on a dual-fuel deal with 'median consumption'. For student house shares with numerous occupants, it goes without saying that consumption will likely be much higher.

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Attempting to shed light on student letting agents' fair usage policies, the Guardian found that an agent covering Birmingham, Nottingham and Bristol that had a fair use policy of just shy of £1,800 for three tenants, while a household of nine tenants in Manchester had a maximum amount of £3,600.

In the current climate, it wouldn't take much to go over this usage allowance.

For this reason, students are being warned to take note of their fair usage policy to prevent facing a blow later on, with Sophie Lang, a regional executive for Propertymark, saying that agents 'should be alerting tenants to the small print of their contracts and what it could mean for [them]', adding: "These tenancies were agreed months ago."

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Victoria Tolmie-Loverseed, of the student housing charity Unipol, states there is no legal obligation for agents or landlords to update their fair usage policies to reflect changing prices, again emphasising that this could mean surprise charges further down the line.

A spokesperson from Unite, one of the UK’s biggest student accommodation providers, told the Guardian: “We have forward-purchased utilities on competitive terms, meaning we can offer students significant savings on their bills as part of a simple, fixed, all-inclusive rental payment. “Given increases in energy prices, we estimate that students living in shared houses will pay about £840 a year for their bills including utilities, wifi and contents insurance. These same services will cost Unite students less than £600 for each student for the 2022-23 academic year. We pass these savings on to students through a single rent price, fixed at the time of booking.”

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