Over 1.3 million students living away from home in Britain have been left out of pocket – to the tune of £335M – because they do not understand their consumer rights.
Research by Ombudsman Services, the largest multi-sector redress provider in the UK, found that over half of students (55%) do not know what their rights are. Almost eight in 10 (78%) students have encountered a problem and lost money as a result. Problems are most likely to come from rented accommodation (57%), a telecoms supplier (28%), an energy supplier (22%) or with a retailer (23%).
Among all students living away from home, almost one in five (19%) have been overcharged for their gas or electricity bills, 14 per cent have paid bills from previous tenants and 17 per cent have paid for damage they or their housemates did not do.
This coupled with one in 10 (11%) students forgetting to get their tenancy deposit returned and six per cent paying twice for the same service (e.g. TV licence), means that the average student estimates that they waste £240 per year by paying up and not making a fuss.
The problem is that only one in four (25%) students have actually complained. Many say they feel too embarrassed to exercise their rights when confronted with poor products or services (26%), instead preferring to remain silent for fear of intimidation (28%) and a fifth (21%) simply can not be bothered.
Many students find paying energy bills a problem with a third unsure who their energy supplier even is and 50 per cent are unaware they should have been given an energy performance certificate detailing the costs of heating and powering their rented home.
The majority (52%) do not know about their options to dispute issues with their energy or telecoms supplier and over a fifth (38%) feel a retailer has ripped them off. When it comes to landlords or property management companies, 58 per cent of students feel they are taken advantage of, they are rarely on the side of students (54%) and 38 per cent say they even struggle to get hold of them.
Chief Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith commented:
“Going to university can be extremely daunting. For many young people this is the first time they are away from home and surviving on their own. We want to ensure that all students are able to stand up for their rights and speak out when things go wrong – whether that’s being asked to pay for a bill from a previous tenant or paying for damage they did not do.”
“Students should not be losing money, simply because they don’t know their rights or are not making a fuss. This is why we have released a ‘Know Your Rights Guide’ which includes advice to help students with their transition into a new independent life.”
To ensure students know how to access help and address any problems, Ombudsman Services – which runs a free online service for consumer complaints http://www.consumer-ombudsman.org - is today releasing its Know Your Rights Guide containing tips and advice as well as a comprehensive directory of who to contact for help.
To read (and download) your free guide visit http://www.ombudsman-services.org/student-guide.html.