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The student's guide to gas and electricity bills

How to organise student energy bills to save time and money

This guide is intended to provide general guidance only. It is not intended to give you advice on your personal financial circumstances. You should seek independent professional advice if you’re unsure about anything mentioned in this guide or what choices to make.

Let’s be honest: paying your own energy bills is hardly the most glamorous thing about starting uni. So in this guide, we’re going to keep things simple.

We’ll give you five simple but effective tips to make sure you don’t waste time and money when organising your gas and electricity bills.

1) Budget a sensible amount each month

A good estimation for utility bills is about £50 a month – although things will vary a bit depending on the accommodation you end up in.  In most cases a budget of £50 a month should be enough to cover gas, electricity and water.  If you’re frugal, you might be able to squeeze your broadband into this too. 

For those of you who are visual learners, here is a quick snapshot of what a typical university student in the UK spends each academic year.  According to the National Union of Students, in 2013/14 the average cost of being a student was £22,576.
 

average student bills

2) Choose the right tariff

Perhaps the simplest way to ensure you don’t pay too much for your energy is to choose the right type of tariff.  Over half of the homes in the UK are on what’s called a standard variable tariff from one of the Big Six energy companies:  British Gas; E.ON; SSE; EDF; npower; and Scottish Gas.  But these tariffs can be expensive.

If you’re happy to shop around for a fixed tariff, like OVO’s Better Energy Plan, then you could generally save around £140-£320 a year, depending on how much energy you use (see below).
 

savings when switching supply

In addition to choosing a good fixed tariff option, where possible, you’ll also want to get a dual fuel tariff (gas and electricity together) and make sure you’re paying online or by direct debit.  This will ensure you’re on a good deal.

3) Split the bills responsibly

The last thing you want to be doing with your housemates is squabbling over unpaid bills and owed money.  That’s why it’s important to clearly define who will be paying what, when and how. Here are a couple of methods for making this work:
 

1) Share responsibility for different bills

This is probably the simplest and most common way of dealing with bills.  One person takes gas and electricity, another broadband and TV, and a third person covers the water bill.  Then, at the end of each month, you work out who has paid more and give them some cash to even things up.

2) Create a monthly kitty and pay the bills from it

Someone takes charge of collecting an amount each month (start with £50) and uses this to pay all the bills.  In this system it’s important that everyone’s names are on the accounts so that responsibility is shared, and make sure you have someone willing and responsible to handle the payments.

3) Use a bill splitting app

Given that students seem to spend half their lives on their phones these days, it’s little wonder that there are loads of apps aimed at the bill splitting problem.  Free apps like Splittable and Splitwise are designed to do all the calculations for you, while some websites like Split The Bills, Glide and Billhub organise everything into one single payment per tenant each month.
 

4) Avoid estimated bills

Energy providers are only legally required to read your meter every two years, so the energy bill that they send you will often be based on an estimate.  This can sometimes be inaccurate meaning the bill you get is too high or too little.  Although this is sorted out over time, you can avoid all this simply by jumping online and giving your energy company a meter reading.
At OVO we have an App for that. 
 

5) Control your heating

As a tenant, there are lots of things you can’t control that affect how you use energy: the level of insulation; the type of windows; the kind of heating system; the efficiency of appliances. And while it makes sense to use efficient light bulbs and turn things off wherever possible, the one area where you can make big savings is by controlling your heating.
 

According to government statistics, heating alone accounts for over half the cost of gas and electricity bills. Controlling when and how your heating system is working is the best way to stop your energy bills from getting out of control.

If you have a super insulated house, heat losses are so low that you can afford to keep the house at a stable temperature constantly.  But most UK buildings aren’t that well insulated, so the more they’re heated, the more they leak heat – and it’s those losses you pay to replace with your heating system.To minimize your heating bill but keep the house warm when you need it most, the best thing to do is program your heating – so it’s on when you are likely to be at home, and not when you’re out or asleep.  The graph below gives you a rough example.
 

 

setting correct thermostat settings

If you’re really trying to keep bills low, then not only should you keep the thermostat at a moderate setting, but use things like the library, jumpers and hot water bottles to keep you warm where possible.
For inspiration on the massive savings you can make check out the excellent experiments by David King, in his book Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air.

Wrapping up

Going to university may be the first time that you pay your own energy bills, so you want to start off on the right foot.  Here’s a quick summary of our top five tips:

1. Budget a sensible amount each month: about £50/month is a good start

2. Choose the right tariff to make sure you don’t overpay

3. Split the bills in a fair and practical way to avoid hassle

4. Avoid estimated bills by giving regular meter readings

5. Control your heating: it's the biggest source of heating bills


*Source and notes for graphs and table

Average student expenditure £22,576/year

Data: NUS, average of London and outside London students in 2013/14 academic year (39 weeks) http://www.nus.org.uk/en/news/press-releases/nus-figures-show-new-students-face-cost-of-living-crisis/

Savings when switching to OVO Better Energy Tariff

Source: Tariff prices sourced from uSwitch Insight Portal, accessed on 11/9/15 and averaged across all regions. OVO Better Energy includes online discount and is for direct debit customers. AverageBig Six SVT prices is for direct debit customers but excludes paperless or online discounts. Estimated consumption of each house type based on Ofgem typical domestic consumption values 2015, low, medium and highusers. (Profile Class 1 for electricity).

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