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  • Writer's pictureGavin Rothwell

Bills: Paying the Piper

Paying Your Dues

The Pied Piper of Hamlyn – for whom this article is named - was known for dealing with an annoying rat infestation for the town of Hamlyn. And then when the residents refused to pay up … he abducted their children. Personally, I would have advocated internet transfer or direct debit as being a much less costly payment method, but that’s just me! As a landlord myself one of the commonest questions I am asked by prospective tenants is “How much are the bills?” Currently on average my estimate would be around £13 per person per week or £52 per month based on 2019 prices but the reality is that it depends on how you use the services in the property. The following guide should help explain some of the pitfalls and tricks to get the most for your money.

What bills will I have to pay?

The main bills you might have to pay are: electricity and gas, water, broadband and phone. Some or all of these may be included in your contract. But be careful, in some cases whilst the landlord may be happy to take care of it for you may not be getting the best deal so shopping around on comparison sites might be a good idea. This is also a great opportunity to do your bit for the environment by channelling your inner eco-warrior and choosing one of the energy providers who invest in renewable energy sources that have little or no contribution to climate change. If you do decide to change your energy provider you must tell your landlord, there is often a clause written into your contract about this so that they know what details to pass onto the next tenant and can ensure your account is properly closed.

If you are a student renter, you will not have to pay council tax but be prepared to prove you are a student by providing details of full-time education (e.g. a letter of enrollment for your educational institution) If you are no longer a student, have finished your course or are an aspiring young professional then expect to pay. This will be around £100 per month in Southampton for a 4-bed house. If the other occupants are all students, you could have to foot the entire bill. Be warned that if you are eligible to pay council tax many councils are also quite assertive in their collection techniques and fines, fees and threats of legal action are quite common. Even if you do receive one of these letters write back and supply evidence of your tenancy if you were not due council tax during the period when you were still a student. A little persistence will usually slay the beauracratic beast!

How much are they?

This is a difficult question to answer as it depends on how you use the heating system, how good the insulation, is and whether you pay attention to saving energy. If you have a shared house, approximate current monthly values for gas and electricity are around £25 per month. Broadband is then £8 - £9 on top of that. Water bills are easily forgotten but usually come in around £14 - £15 per month. If you are using a TV you will need a license, this is less common in student houses as more people are choosing to stream media to their devices and avoiding the need for a TV license. However, be ware that if you use BBC iplayer a TV license is required, and the TV licensing scheme have historically been quite aggressive about following up and prosecuting those who use a TV without a licence. The chunky £5,000 fine is a little eye-watering for transgressors.

Fuel Poverty

If you are struggling to pay your bills, do talk to someone. Your landlord and, if you are a student renter your parents. You may also be able to get help from your universities’ student advice centre or even the energy provider themselves. Professional renters could also get advice from the Citizens advice Bureau. If you are cold you may not be able to study properly and ultimately this could affect your relationships with others in the house and your mental and physical wellbeing. As a landlord, I care about my tenants health so I really don’t want them to have to suffer the mould that also will inevitably come with cold and poorly ventilated property. This can affect asthma sufferers. It also damaged decoration which could affect your deposit and cost you much more in the long run. So please talk to us, we do understand and will be able to give help or advice.

How do you pay bills?

There are several different options here. You can pay directly to the provider if you have a contract with no bills included or you can use a variety of 3rd party Apps that you can download onto your phone. This has the advantage that it will keep all the bills in one place. Acasa is an example of this, that has worked very well for many people.

If you choose to pay the provider directly you will probably have a variety of options to choose from. Monthly, Quarterly or Annual direct debit payments for example. These payments would usually be collected by direct debit from your bank account. If you struggle to find time for regular monitoring of your energy supply then the best option is probably monthly direct debit to avoid any nasty surprises later on in your tenancy.

If you have the time to invest however, it can be well worth it and careful monitoring of bills and energy consumption can avoid significant over payments to providers. In this case your best option might be paying by internet transfer through your bank.

Smart Meters

Smart meters are currently being rolled out across the UK by energy companies as part of a government strategy to help people understand their energy consumption and hence cut costs. In theory this is a great idea helping you to cut your carbon footprint and save the planet as well as stay toasty in the winter months. The only issue is that some smart meters my become dumb meters if you change provider. We were sure someone would have thought of that … guess not! The loss of functionality, on changing provider, may render the smart meter mostly useless depending on the provider.

Prepayment Meters

Prepayment meters were very common in rented properties some years ago and are a way of landlords not having to worry about tenants leaving without paying their bills. Credit is put onto a prepayment card that is inserted into the top of the meter. The can be useful for budgeting but are generally more expensive (sometimes a lot more expensive) and its very annoying when the lights go out and you have forgotten to top up the pay as you go card at the local shops! We took the decision to remove these from any rented properties we purchase as we think it is cheaper for tenants and the extra costs for tenants outweighs their benefits.

Estimated Bills & Nasty surprises!

Estimated Bills can be a significant problem if you do not have an energy meter. Energy companies rely on manually reading meters in many areas, so most bills are estimated and can be wildly inaccurate. They are based on average usage and not on what is happening in your house. It is always in your interest to send regular updates of meter readings to your provider. This will make your money go further and avoid you being hit with massive bills at the end of your tenancy if the provider has underestimated your energy usage.

Starting and ending your tenancy

When you start your tenancy go around the house and read the gas, electricity and water meters with your landlord. A good landlord should do this for you as it avoids disputes and problems later-on. You must also make sure you do this at the end of the tenancy and pay all your final bills. When tenants forget this step the energy provider will quickly start sending letters demanding money and adding fines or court expenses for non-payment. The landlord is bound to give them forwarding addresses etc. So, the bill will always find you in the end but possibly not before it has damaged your credit rating. This will store up issues for you in the future and is best avoided.

If you are going to be living in a shared household discuss the bills with your housemates, agree who will pay what and who will be responsible for paying the bills ahead of time. This will avoid any friction with your housemates and improve relationships. It may be a good idea to set up a joint bank account in order to collect money from housemates and keep everything transparent.

Thank you for reading this weeks article, I hope that you found it useful. If you did please take a moment to like us on FB or share the article with others. I have included some links below that may be of help to you.

The Small print

The inclusion of links below and names of providers above is not an endorsement by me or Unicorn Property Services Ltd and there is no financial gain from their inclusion. Unicorn Property Services Ltd does not bear any responsibility for the content or safety of the sites on these links and the user goes there at their own risk.

Useful Links

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