Is your tenancy agreement all bills inclusive? It’s time to check the small print

12/05/2022

‘All-inclusive’ tenancy agreements are becoming more and more common;  and with energy prices increasing drastically across the UK and set to increase further in the autumn, it’s worth having a look at your tenancy agreement to be certain you understand what’s included.

A large proportion of students found their accommodation for their next academic year back in November and December 2021 but since February 2022, gas and electric prices have increased exponentially and this is going to affect anyone who pays the bills; be that students or landlords.

Will the rise in energy costs affect you?

As a student in an ‘all-inclusive’ tenancy agreement, in most cases you are not legally obliged to pay more rent in light of the increased energy prices. The tenancy agreement you signed with the landlord is legally binding. Therefore, if a landlord has let a property on the basis that all utility bills are included, then that is what they must provide.

There are though several BUTs so it is important that you look at your individual contract

Unipol and your students’ union offer a contract checking service to help go through your tenancy agreement prior to signing as well as after you have signed it to help explain any terms.

  • Although unusual, the landlord may have reserved the right in the contract to charge a supplement if energy prices rise.  As long as the clause is fair (within the meaning of the Consumer Rights Act 2015) then landlords will be able to pass on the price rises to their tenants. 
  • Additionally, landlords may have reserved the right in the contract to put students onto a bills-excluded basis.  Again, if the clause is fair the landlord can use it.
  • Most all-inclusive contracts will have an energy usage cap or a fair usage policy. Put simply, this means that your agreement is only ‘all inclusive’ up to the point where you exceed the fair usage policy. The amount may be capped by units of energy used, or the proportion of rent allocated for bills, for example £15 per person per week. A landlord/agent can then legally charge you additional rent for your utilities. 

Fair Usage Policy (in practice)

The landlord would need to provide evidence of the utility bills to claim additional costs. Students are advised to check the bills are based on actual meter readings rather than estimated meter readings to ensure the bills are accurate. Students are also recommended to take meter readings at the beginning and end of the tenancy and taking a date stamped photo of the gas and electric meter would allow you to have a record. 

If you do exceed the fair usage policy, the landlord/agent may retain a proportion of your deposit if you have paid one. If you have not paid a deposit, the landlord/agent might ask you to pay from the point at which you have gone over the cap or at the end of your tenancy. In the worst case scenario, the landlord/agent could take you to court for any money owed.

To check the conditions of your all-inclusive tenancy agreement, check your contract and look out for a fair usage policy. If you don’t have a copy of your tenancy agreement, contact your landlord/agent and request a copy of the one you signed. They should provide you with a copy within 28 days of you requesting it. If you are having difficulty getting a copy, then contact your Students’ Union for advice. If you live in Unipol Code property and your landlord/agent won’t provide you with a copy of your tenancy agreement, you can contact us directly.

Still Unsure? Get your contract checked by Your Students' Union or Unipol

Getting your contract checked enables students to understand the difference between fair and unfair terms (unlikely to be enforceable).  For example, under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 the following types of clauses (among others) are not binding:

  1. A term which has the object or effect of permitting the trader to determine the characteristics of the subject matter of the contract after the consumer has become bound by it.
     
  2. A term which has the object or effect of enabling the trader to alter unilaterally without a valid reason any characteristics of the goods, digital content or services to be provided.
     
  3.  A term which has the object or effect of giving the trader the discretion to decide the price payable under the contract after the consumer has become bound by it, where no price or method of determining the price is agreed when the consumer becomes bound.

Asking students to contribute more

Unipol is aware that some landlords/ agents have contacted their future tenants to explain the rise in energy costs and have asked them to contribute towards the increase, setting out a number of options. These options have included making a single upfront payment, agreeing to an increase to the weekly rent and agreeing to a change to a bills-exclusive arrangement, where some landlords are then offering an introduction to a 3rd party energy provider.

The increase in energy prices affects the bill payer the most, and for ‘all-inclusive’ deals, that means the landlord/agent is taking the hit. So, if you are a student that has received this request and are happy to agree to one of the options because you think it’s the fair thing to do, you are welcome to do so BUT it’s important to understand you are not required to do so by law.

If you do decide to keep to your original contract, it is still important to think about your energy usage

Take control – top tips

All-inclusive rent can be a great way to manage your finances but do not forget your carbon footprint along the way. Why not use the Carbon Calculator to see if you are a Carbon Consumer or a Climate Hero.

If you have access to your meters, it’s a good idea to try and keep a monthly record (with photos) of your usage and make sure you take a final meter reading at the end of your tenancy.

If you do have a cap on utilities included in your rent or if you have to pay your bills yourself, then you might want to think about some steps to reduce those bills. Find some good info on the Energy Saving Trust or the Money Saving Expert websites.

There may be ways that you and your housemates can use less energy/heating to reduce costs for the remainder of your tenancy. This Save The Student article is good on energy savings tips.