Wise up before they pile up

billsGAS, ELECTRICITY, water and internet; all are bills a normal student living in private accommodation will have to deal with on their own. For many, this can be a daunting prospect and is uncharted territory after leaving the comfort of home. And unless your parents teach you how to handle bills, you’ll be among the 99% of the student population who think bills make really good bonfire fuel. Going online to moneysavingexpert.com, and various help sites, can give students a run through of how to set up accounts with utilities companies. Yet most students, after moving into private accommodation, will still be unsure of the ‘real life’ risks bills can carry.

Later in life students are getting a raw deal for something that is out of their control. It’s quite easy to set up bills, but those annoying t&c’s that come with them are barely given any attention. As I’m sure you’re aware, bills are usually taken up by one brave person in the house that is either responsible or good with money. These bills will rarely be paid the day the bill comes through the door, meaning that the bill holder will have to either front the whole bill and collect later or wait for housemates to pay up before paying the full amount. If you’re name isn’t on the bill, then it’s a lot less stressful when you don’t have to do meter readings and check you’re not all in crippling debt every five minutes. You’re also less likely to be aware that if you’re late on your payment to the bill company – it’s the account holder that’s royally screwed.

Most companies will have a late payment charge ranging from a measly £10 to a more substantial £40 for a late payment that they have had to contact you for. Yes, you’re paying for a letter and probably five phone calls a day. No, they don’t care that it’s not your fault and that you’re waiting for that guy downstairs to fork up his share. But they will keep charging you. After no payment for a month a charge of around £80 can be expected, and if you still haven’t paid by then, the debt collectors will begin to hound you. Trust me, it’s a wonderful experience, but they do go away for a few weeks if you cry and feign the death of a relative. All of this will affect your credit rating. Credit ratings; definition: those boring things parents swear will ruin your life if you get on the bad side of one. In real life, your parents are mostly right.

Acquiring a bad credit rating is relatively easy, you simply hermit for a month and it will pile up. Having a bad credit rating for dodging mobile phone payments or racking up interest on credit cards is, arguably, entirely your own fault as budgeting should be a skill that everyone learns. Yet credit check companies do not know that you couldn’t pay because of someone else when it comes to student bills. My argument is that students should not be held accountable later in life if they have a late payment from a shared household, as it is a situation often out of the individual’s control. Of course many of the letter you will get state that you should let the billing company know as soon as possible, if you have problems paying the bill. There have been mixed experiences with this approach but it is worth a try. Some students found that the companies were understanding and allowed them extra time to pay the bills. However in my own experience of last year when one of your housemates repeatedly lets you down by paying late they are less likely to give you this extra time every month and their suggested ‘payment plans’ are as much use as plastic toilet paper. The reason I say this is because these payment plans often involve setting up a direct debit; in which case you’re going to have to front your housemate, cause if they can’t even pay when the bill comes through how will they pay if the money needs to be in before the direct debit goes through. Another ‘payment plan’ solution from my utilities company last year was to pay £10 a week until the debt was cleared; no, once again you do not want to pay for someone else’s laziness and how would you even do that with no money anyway. They just don’t think about these things.

I realize letting students off the bad credit they may accrue from shared bills is entirely unfeasible, you can’t just let every student walk away, as everyone would start ‘forgetting’ to pay their bills. However you should be able to argue this point later in life. If it genuinely is not your fault you should not have to pay for the laziness of others. Until we’re allowed to do this or the government helps out students we’re forced to adapt. The only thing to do if you’re worried about someone being late with their payments, or even if you’re not, is to add their name to the account. This is the easy bit. All you have to do is ring them up and ask them to add your housemates to the account. Hopefully, credit check companies will pick up on this and you can point it out to them if there’s any discrepancies against your name later on.

If you can’t beat them, protect yourself.

Lessons to be learned from this:

  • If you have never experienced this then you are probably that nightmare housemate that never pays on time.
  • Make sure every member of the house is named on the bill (if you’re going down they’re all coming with you). The government will let people screw you over; maybe it’s time we stood up for ourselves.
  • Don’t blame your housemates too much, if we could all get away with free bills we would.
  • Get a house with bills included even if it isn’t with your friends; bills will make you hate them anyway if you’re the one asking for money.