For many people, their first experience of being responsible for running a household happens while at university.
The freedom of living independently comes hand-in-hand with a number of responsibilities, such as budgeting for your utility bills and paying them on time.
Utility bills are the costs you need to pay to keep your house running, with the lights on, water in the taps, heating available and cooking facilities powered. This is broadly covered by your three main bills: gas, electricity and water.
If you’re preparing to move into your first student house in 2019, where you’ll be responsible for coughing up for these utilities, you might be wondering how much you should expect to set aside each month.
Being prepared is key to not becoming that person who’s always behind on your payments, leaving your friends to foot your portion of the bill until you can come up with the money. Unsurprisingly, that’s a one-way road to a tense, uncomfortable living environment.
Gas and electric
Meet what might be described as both your largest bill and your biggest money-saving opportunity. Gas and electricity bills are usually paid as one, referred to as a “dual fuel” bill. They are also infamously expensive with ever-increasing prices.
If you’re relatively plugged in to the news cycle, you may have heard the terms “dual fuel bill” or “energy bills” in the same sentence as “soar” on a pretty regular basis. Unfortunately, average tariffs charged by gas and electricity suppliers have indeed shot up of late, rising by 21% in the five months to October 2018.
The so-called Big Six energy companies have been the biggest culprits. Just this year, every single one has significantly hiked costs for their customers:
- British Gas: Following two increases this year alone, British Gas customers have found themselves paying £1,205/year, 9.4% higher than in 2017.
- EDF: In August, EDF brought up their prices to £1,228/year after a 6% increase added £70 to the average dual fuel bill.
- E.on: While E.on’s £55 rise in energy costs may appear tame in comparison, the company also scrapped £25 worth of annual discounts.
- Npower: Those who get their gas and electric from Npower found themselves paying £1,230/year after an increase in June.
- Scottish Power: Prices at Scottish Power shot up by a whopping £111 in 2018 following rises in June and October.
- SSE: Finally, SSE hiked costs by £87/year, while scrapping a £6 per fuel annual discount for customers.
While many customers are reluctant to venture outside of these companies out of fear of the unknown more than anything else, smaller suppliers tend to have lower prices and better customer service ratings. Octopus Energy, for example, only charges £1,060/year for the average dual-fuel bill and topped a February customer satisfaction survey.
In response to these prices, the government announced an energy price cap for 2019 in November.
Ofgem, the UK’s energy regulator, set the initial limit at £1,137/year for the average dual fuel bill, but noted that this is likely to increase in April to reflect wholesale costs.
Unlike gas and electricity, you can’t switch your water provider to save money. Instead, you will be supplied by one of the UK’s 12 local water suppliers who set their own prices, so your water bill will be determined by where you live. However, this doesn’t mean that students can’t make savings.
Water bills can either be calculated on a metered or an unmetered rate. Metered bills are measured by your water usage, while unmetered is a set rate estimated using the value of your property. While it may sound as though metered would be cheaper, that’s not always the case, as you may be using more water than your unmetered rate is charging you for.
The Consumer Council for Water has created a calculator to help consumers decide whether they should start using a meter. Unfortunately, if you’re already on a meter, you can’t then switch to unmetered.
As we’ve mentioned, water prices in the UK differ between regions and being a student won’t make it any cheaper for you. Water UK estimates that the average four-person household will pay £405/year for water in 2019 after a 2% increase.
If you and your flatmates particularly keen to keep costs down, switching to a meter and keeping your water usage to a bare minimum could help limit the monthly damage to your wallets. It’s not all about having quick showers and saving buckets of rainwater, though. The Energy Saving Trust reckons that replacing your old shower head for a new, water-efficient one could shave £120 off your annual water bill.
How to manage your bills
The Money Advice Service estimates that the cost of running a household is £194/month in total, around £90 of which is gas, electric and water. However, this figure also includes things like broadband, phone and TV License. In the modern age, broadband in particular may be considered a necessity, particularly for students. Price comparison websites can help you shop around for the best deals.
With all these bills to juggle, your housemates will need a fair way of dividing them to ensure that nobody is left covering someone else’s share, causing unnecessary and often long-running tension. As students, you’ve got better things to do than chase down your mate for three months worth of gas money.
acasa is a bill splitting and household management platform designed with house sharers, including university students, in mind. If you’re heading into a new household for university and want to make divvying up the utility bills as stress-free as possible, use the button below and get a free quote for your property today.