About 1.4 million students in the UK lose about £240 each every year because of unfair charges by energy, telecom and other utility companies, says watchdog Ombudsman Services.
Students do not know their rights or are afraid to complain which causes these severe losses, the research reveals. A new guide seeks to remedy the issue by raising awareness on the best practices students need to follow when dealing with landlords and utility companies.
Students in Scotland in particular are the most ripped off in the country outside of London. Students in London are losing about £311 annually while those in Scotland lose £264. To support students in addressing such issues with utility companies, the Ombudsman Service has published the Know Your Rights Guide.
About eight in every 10 students have lost money because of an issue they had with their energy supplier, telecom company, landlord or estate agent, the findings show. Apart from losing money they are otherwise eligible for, students are being ripped off by overcharges in gas and electricity. One in seven students has paid bills left by previous tenants and one in six have had to pay for damages they haven't caused.
The research reveals that 10% of the students forgot to reclaim their tenancy deposit and one in 16 said they have paid twice for the same service. Of those paying twice, only 25% asked for a refund. Twenty-eight percent didn't in fear of intimidation, 26% because they were embarrassed to do so and 21% because they didn't care for a refund.
Mediator Lewis Shand Smith said students should challenge companies for their unfair charges:
"We want to ensure that all students are able to stand up for their rights and speak out when things go wrong – whether that is being asked to pay for a bill from a previous tenant or paying for damage they did not. Students should not be losing money simply because they don't know their rights or are not making a fuss," he added.
The average amount of money lost by students is £311 in London, £264 in Scotland, £259 in the East, £257 in the North West and £224 in the Midlands.
The Rights guide offers tips such as how to find the best utility deals, how to query high bills and how to read energy meters. Tips on how to tackle slow broadband issues and address tenancy issues, tenancy deposit refunds and when to pay for damages are also discussed.
The guide advises students to take inventory and photographs of their houses before they move in to avoid losing their deposits for damage. For cases when students want to dispute deductions, they're advised to to gather receipts and evidence of deposit payments, bank statements showing rent payments and receipts of all items replaced by the student in the house.