As scores of students begin university this month a new report reveals that 1.7 million students (74%) have experienced problems with their accommodation or utility suppliers.
Ombudsman Services, one of the three mandatory ombudsman schemes regulating lettings agents, says many students admit not knowing where to turn to for help should they have a complaint or become involved in a dispute with a landlord or utilities provider.
Of the 1.7million students experiencing problems, accommodation related issues top the list with 60% of students encountering a housing-related complaint.
Damp, faulty fridges, broken boilers, leakages and vermin top the list of gripes – yet half of affected students were forced to complain several times to their landlord before any action was taken. More worryingly, 5% of students reported that their landlord had become threatening or abusive in response to a complaint and a third struggle to make contact with their landlord.
Meanwhile, taking out utility contracts can also be confusing to the uninitiated with almost a third (31%) of students experiencing problems with their telecoms supplier. Half of students experiencing telecoms issues battle with poor coverage, while a further quarter (26%) are affected by slow broadband connection speeds, despite internet access being crucial to their studies.
And things don’t get much better when it comes to the basics like heating and hot water as a quarter of students report experiencing problems with their energy supplier. Billing discrepancies are the cause of most disputes – and almost one in 10 (8%) students have had to pay bills owed by a previous tenant. While an alternative option of having bills included in the rent is available for many student digs, that doesn’t appear to be problem-free either as almost one in 20 students have never seen a breakdown of the bills.
As a result, more than a quarter (27%) of students, who often have little experience of entering long-term contracts, are left feeling powerless against their landlord. Living independently for the first time, and being unaware of their rights, can potentially leave students vulnerable to living in undesirable conditions – and in some cases paying more than necessary.
Chief Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith said: “Starting university is an exciting milestone in every student’s life and for many it also means living away from home for the first time. While flying the nest has many attractions it can also be a daunting time and sadly this can result in some students having to deal with situations they may be unaccustomed to.
“As a student, the last thing you want is to become involved in a dispute over the very basics, such as having somewhere to live and access to broadband and heating. Far from being powerless, being a student doesn’t mean having to put up with poor quality accommodation, slow broadband connection speeds or shoddy customer service.
“With many students unaware of their rights or where to seek help and advice, we’re releasing a guide containing everything students need to know to prepare for a smooth transition into life away from home.”
To make life easier for students heading off to university, Ombudsman Services has released its Know Your Rights Guide containing tips and advice as well as a directory of who to contact for help.