Student bills

Paying bills is an area of student finance that is impossible to avoid. Our guide talks you through everything from gas and electricity to Council Tax and TV licences.

Student Bills: Who pays for what?

Avoid bills in halls - Thankfully you’ll almost certainly avoid paying bills in your first year - almost all university halls of residence include bills in the rent, vastly reducing the amount of thinking you have to do, which is always nice. It’s likely that the only bill you will have to pay in halls is your TV Licence - read more about this below.

Read the small print - Chances are in second year you’ll move into a private house or flat with your friends, unfortunately this means you now have to start paying utility bills. The first thing you should do before you move into a new house is to check your tenancy agreement. This will clearly state what student bills you are responsible for, and what (if anything) will be covered by the landlord.

Get connected ASAP - When you move into your new place don’t be tempted to think ‘We’ve already got electricity and we haven’t registered with the supplier yet, why bother?’. You’ll be found out soon enough, and duly disconnected. Reconnecting takes time and more importantly, money, so it’s best to get things sorted and above board as soon as possible.

Student Bills: Gas and Electricity

Register everyone’s names - Gas and electricity will probably be the largest of your student bills. As soon as you move in to your new house contact your suppliers to put you and your housemates’ names on the bills. It is important that they have the name of every tenant - if there is a problem down the line they will hold the person(s) on the bill responsible, so having everyone’s names on the bill makes things fairer.

Take a meter reading - When you contact them, give them an up-to-date meter reading. Your gas and electricity meters will usually be under the stairs or in a cupboard - if in doubt contact your landlord. Giving them a meter reading as soon as you move in will ensure that you only pay from that date onwards.

Useful numbers - If you’re unsure who your suppliers are you can call the following numbers:

Gas supplier - contact National Grid UK Meter Helpline on 0870 608 1524.Electricity supplier - contact the MPAS Consumer Helpline on 0845 601 3268.

Set up a joint account for bills - A good way of ensuring you and your housemates pay equal amounts for student bills is to set up a joint bank account between you and to arrange for the bills to be paid by direct debit from this account.

Look at switching your supplier - Switching your energy supplier can be a great way of saving a significant amount of cash. Standard tariffs can costs homes around £1,150 per year - however if you switch to an online tariff you will save, for the same usage, an average of over £200. It may sound like a lot of effort, but for that kind of saving it really is worth doing your research.

Take a meter reading when you move out - When you move our of your house it’s important that you contact your suppliers to tell them you wish to close the account and give them an up to date meter readings to avoid being over-charged.

Student Bills: Water

Register your names on the bills - Again, it should be clearly laid out in your tenancy agreement whether you are responsible for paying the water bills or not. Just like your gas and electricity bills it’s important to phone your water supplier directly and register your names on the bill.

Two types of water billing - Unlike gas and electricity your water supplier is fixed, meaning (thankfully) you don’t have any decisions to make. There are two ways in which you can be billed for your water - the old ‘water bill’ system, or using a water meter - make sure you ask your landlord and/or supplier which one applies to you.

Fixed water rate - Around 70% of homes still use the more traditional system of paying a fixed rate for water, under this system you will always pay the same and the amount of water you use is irrelevant. This rate is calculated using the rateable value of the property, which roughly means the more you pay for rent, the more you will pay for water.

Water meter - You will only pay for water that you use. As a result this method of payment is particularly good for saving money because you can watch how much you use.

In 2011/2012 the average fixed water rate bill will be £379 in England and Wales, as opposed to £325 for metered bills.

Tips for cutting down water usage

Check all taps and pipes for leaks

Don’t throw waste that could go in the bin down the toilet

Put a brick into your toilet tank to reduce the amount of water used per flush

Don’t leave the tap running when brushing your teeth or shaving

Don’t leave the water running when doing the washing up

Take shorter showers, and only rarely run a bath

Student Bills: Internet, Phone & TV

Though not usually considered a utility, internet access is as vital to the modern student as running water - if not more so.

Shop around and compare prices - There are a number of price comparison sites online that should point you in the direction of the cheapest internet providers - broadbandforstudents.co.uk for example looks specifically at deals that would be good for students.

Bundle up - If you’re also interested in setting up a phone line or getting some extra TV channels, it might be best to buy it all together in a bundle. Both Sky and Virgin do bundles that include broadband, phone and on-demand TV.

Buy online and save - Once you’ve found the deal for you, either call the company or apply online - a lot of companies offer exclusive online deals that are significantly cheaper.

Keep an eye on the contract length - One thing to consider is how long you will be living at the property for - be sure not to enter into a contract that is longer than your tenancy as you will only have to buy out the end of the contract.

Student Bills: TV Licence

If you watch TV, you need a licence - Remember that if you plan on watching TV, no matter what package you have and who else you might pay, you need to purchase a TV licence. When in halls of residence, each student must purchase their own TV licence, however if/when you move into a private house/flat you will only need one licence between the tenants. Purchase a TV licence by visiting the official website. If you watch live television without a TV licence you could be prosecuted and fined up to £1000.

Pay for a year up front to pay less - Unlike other student bills, with the TV licence you have the option to pay for it outright rather than monthly, saving you money. A colour TV licence is currently £145.50 per year and can be transferred to another address should you move house.

Be careful about watching TV online - If you are ‘catching-up’ on programmes using BBC’s iPlayer on you laptop or any other device you do not need to purchase a TV licence. However, if you use the iPlayer to watch programmes live the law states: ‘Anyone in the UK watching or recording television as it’s being broadcast or simulcast on any device - including mobiles, laptops and PCs - must, by law, be covered by a valid TV licence.'

Get £37 back at the end of the year - If you're moving out of your halls or uni house and the TV you've shelled out a licence for isn't going to be used for at least three months, then you can claim the money back for that quarter. Just go here and fill in an online refund form.

Student Bills: Council Tax

You don’t have to pay it! - As students you are exempt from paying Council Tax - though try to avoid living with non-students or part-time students as they are not exempt, and it’s very unlikely that they would be willing to pay the entire council tax bill on their own, if they could even afford to. If you think you should be exempt but are still getting a bill visit the Directgov site to find out how to apply to you local council for an exemption.

Unsure if you’re classed as a student? - You are considered a student for Council Tax purposes if:

you are enrolled to attend a course of education lasting for at least one academic or calendar year - and which you are normally required to attend for at least 24 weeks out of the year and study for at least 21 hours per week during term time.

OR,

you’re under 20 and your course leads to a qualification up to (but not above) A level standard or equivalent - as long as it lasts for more than three months and involves more than 12 hours of study per week.

Check with the council - If you’re still not sure whether you should be exempt from Council Tax contact your local council. For details of how to do this click here.


 

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