Cheaper gas and electricity advice for students

First things first, we’re not going to make any cheap jokes about students staying in bed until noon, doing their essays the night before they’re due to be handed in and existing on a diet of Red Bull (other energy drinks are available) and Pot Noodles (other dehydrated snack type foods are available). That’s mainly because we’ve got lots of other cheap jokes to make, and also we haven’t really got the room. We’re here to talk about student gas and electric.

What is student gas and electric?

It’s like normal gas and electric except it’s still learning how to power appliances properly. That’s one of those cheap jokes we were talking about. Student gas and electric is simply gas and electricity that you’re paying for when you go to university. For most students this will be their first time away from home and the first time they’ve had to think about things like setting up an electricity and gas supplier. It’s easy to make jokes about millennials and ‘snowflakes’, but the truth of the matter is that there’s no good reason why you should be born with the knowledge of how the UK energy market works. With more than 62 providers to choose from in the UK, each with a range of tariffs, you don’t have to be born after the year 2000 to find the choice a bit overwhelming. And if someone over the age or 45 does make sarcastic comments about being confused by energy supplies, just change the password on their Netflix account and see them begging for mercy (and help).

How much should you be spending?

When you go away to university there’s no end to the things you have to worry about spending money on. From the course itself to the accommodation and enough food and drink to keep you going, once you’ve added everything together you could be forgiven for simply forgetting about something as basic as gas and electricity.

According to the 2018 National Student Money Survey the average student bills per month for gas and electricity total up as follows:

  • Gas – £11.70
  • Electricity – £12.90

That may not sound like a lot of money on its own, especially when compared with average UK gas and electricity bills (£1,138 a year in May 2018 according to Ofgem) but when you’re having to get by on the meagre resources of student finance, and when the average student rent comes to £406 per month, every penny you can save will be much appreciated. When you first move into a rented student house, you’ll automatically be using the suppliers set up by the previous tenants. Even if they went to the trouble of setting up a cheaper tariff, however, you’ll automatically be placed, as new account holders, on the default tariff of the supplier, which also happens to be the most expensive tariff.

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First things first

Find out who’s supplying your gas and electricity. This will be pretty simple if the previous tenants left a bill behind, or the landlord can let you know, but life is often anything but simple, so you may have to find out for yourself. The good news is that this is a relatively simple process:

  • To find out who your electricity supplier is – Visit the website of the Energy Networks Association and use their postcode tool to track down the right name.
  • To find out who your gas supplier is – Visit the Find My Supplier website, once again armed with your postcode, or call the Meter Point Administration on 0870 608 1524 (calls cost 7p per minute, plus any access charge your phone company adds).

Once you know who your supplier is you can do two things:

  1. Contact them to let them know you’ve taken over the account, and to give them a meter reading from the day you move in, to make sure you’re not being billed for more than you should be.
  2. Ask them which tariff you’ve been placed on. If they say you’re on their standard variable tariff then it’s time to start thinking about switching to another cheaper tariff.

Bill Splitting

Leaving tariffs to one side, one of the trickiest aspects of student living, particularly if you’re sharing a house with a group of people, can be splitting the bills. In every house there will be one tenant who tends to be more slipshod than anyone else when it comes to chipping in for what they use, which can cause friction and, even worse, lead to bills not being paid (if you’re thinking ‘There’s nobody in our house like that’ then we’ve got news…it’s you).

The options for splitting the bill range from giving everyone responsibility for a specific utility and leaving it to them to gather the payments to setting up a joint bank account and having everyone pay into it each month by standing order, before the bills go out. The problem with the latter is that everyone who has their name on the bank account will find their credit rating being affected if payments are missed or the account goes into arrears.

There’s an app for that

Another option is to download a bill splitting app like splitwise or splitoo. These apps let you set up a plan, send reminders and collect payments, but at the end of the day the best possible advice is to choose your housemates very carefully and do everything you can to keep your energy bills as low as possible.

Your energy rights when renting

Put simply, if you’re the account holder and you pay the energy bills, then you have every right to switch to the best gas tariff or electric tariff. Your landlord may argue about this, but according to industry watchdog Ofgem, they can’t be unreasonable about letting you switch, no matter what it says in the tenancy agreement. If they pay the energy bills out of the rent you give them, on the other hand, they get to choose the supplier.

In the middle of all this information there’s one fact that’s extremely simple – come to Look After My Bills and we’ll switch you on to the best possible tariff.