Bill management company scraps some students’ energy packages and hikes up prices for others

Students have been left in the lurch, with their tenancies starting in a matter of days

A bill management company is scrapping some student energy packages, while hiking up the prices for others, just days before they are set to move in.

UniHomes combines household bills into neat packages for which students pay a flat monthly fee. The company’s director, Phil Greaves, says “we are not suppliers of energy, but we manage it for students to provide a more streamlined experience for the customer”.

Gas and electricity bills are skyrocketing for everyone, amid an ongoing energy crisis that is in part caused by the war in Ukraine. In light of this, UniHomes has put up the prices for some students, while terminating bill packages for others.

Phil Greaves says that while “some students will be caught in the crossfire” of energy provision, UniHomes aims to help and support those who do. The Tab spoke to two students who’ve been left in the lurch with term just around the corner.

Aleesha, Portsmouth

Aleesha Malik is an Engineering student at the University of Portsmouth. She was looking froward to going into her second year and thought her bills were all sorted.

She and her three flatmates had their bills managed by UniHomes, equating to about £110 between them per month.

On August 17th, UniHomes sent an email saying: “Unfortunately we’re not able to manage your energy”, adding that they “have removed it from your package with us.”

The property in question was fitted with prepayment energy meters, topped up with a card. Prior to the email, the arrangement was that UniHomes was to manage this service, but now, the company said this was no longer possible.

The email reads: “Unfortunately, the energy supplier is not able to exchange your meter for a non-prepayment meter unless you set up an account with them directly.

“We would typically transfer your supply to one of our energy supply partners, however they are not currently accepting new properties due to the ongoing energy crisis.”


An email sent from UniHomes to Aleesha

Aleesha and her flatmates were well and truly left high and dry. “It’s been incredibly stressful as I didn’t expect to have to sort bills out and hadn’t looked up what to do,” she said. “We decided to scrap UniHomes completely and handle the all the bills ourselves to save some money.”

She added: “It might seem like we’ve got it sorted but with the gas price increase in October and January we aren’t sure we are going to be able to afford to live.”

In response, Phil Greaves of UniHomes said: “In the small number of instances whereby UniHomes have not been able to facilitate utilities for this coming academic year, we have been trying to secure possible solutions for the customers affected and are proactively reaching out with further guidance and support.

“Under normal circumstances, we can facilitate the management of utilities for those houses under pre-payment meters. Unfortunately, in some cases, due to the current climate and the recent operating limitations of energy suppliers, it is better for students to liaise directly with their energy supplier as they can help them in overcoming issues that we as a service management provider cannot support.

“It is important to stress that where we haven’t been able to facilitate the management of the energy supplies, UniHomes customers do still have energy provided directly by their energy supplier, and we are reaching out to those affected to communicate this.”

Harry, Newcastle

For Harry, a student in Newcastle, one of the main draws to UniHomes was the hassle-free nature of having bills integrated in a combined package. “We were sold on the sort of ‘one price, no fuss, one package’ marketing and just imagined it was capped at the price we’d agreed,” Harry told The Tab.

But then on August 19th, around a week before Harry and his housemates were due to move in, they received an email saying “that due to the extend of the predicted energy increases from your energy supplier, it is expected we will need to increase the cost of your package from October.”

An email sent from UniHomes to Harry and other customers

But Harry’s issues don’t stop there. “The water’s already gone off once and we had to pay an additional price on top for a wifi package that still hasn’t arrived after two and a half weeks of email hassling.

“We were told we’d not be offered compensation for the missed wifi that we’ve paid for but might be given a ‘goodwill gesture payment’, whatever that means.”

Harry added: “It makes you fear how bad it’ll get when it comes to the winter when prices may go up again and we’ll be spending more time inside.”

In response, Phil Greaves said: “Due to the unparalleled increases in the energy price cap far surpassing industry expectations, we are informing our customers of expected increases from October.

“The unprecedented nature of the energy market and the rising prices dictated by suppliers has meant we have to begin communicating expected increases which are covered within the full terms and conditions of our service contract available via the link detailed within the order form which is signed by each individual tenant.

UniHomes says students need more assistance from the government

Phil Greaves told The Tab: “We strongly call on the Government to consider the complexities of the student rental market, to offer further support throughout this cost-of-living crisis and would welcome an open and honest conversation to help that process.

“We will continue to do as much as we can to ensure all of our customers have viable solutions and guidance through the crisis and challenges the energy market is creating.”

Labour MP: Maintenance packages must rise to lift students out of poverty


Nadia Whittome MP

Labour MP Nadia Whittome told The Tab: “Many students are already struggling to pay their bills and falling behind on rent. University energy providers hiking up prices or scrapping packages altogether will only make the situation more desperate.

“The government must urgently raise the student maintenance package above the rate of inflation and lift every student out of poverty.”

NUS: ‘Students’ living costs are spiralling out of control’

An NUS spokesperson said: “Students’ living costs are spiralling out of control and our research has found that students are already making really tough choices, with one of three left with just £50 a month to live on after paying rent and bills.

“Without intervention, we fear that no amount of budgeting and saving is going to stop students from falling into poverty this autumn. To tackle this crisis the Government needs to urgently and dramatically increase the level of maintenance support on offer to students, bring back non-repayable grants, and step into to take control of soaring rent, energy and transport costs.”

“We also need to see universities, who have sat idly by as private landlords reap enormous profits off their students, take an active role in securing and negotiating rent and bills that are actually affordable for them.”

So what is the government actually doing?

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We have increased support for living costs on an annual basis for students from the lowest-income households since the start of the pandemic, and they now have access to the largest ever amounts in cash terms. We also asked the Office for Students to protect the £256m available to support disadvantaged students and those in need for the current financial year – which is in addition to universities’ own hardship funds.”

Have you had similar experiences to those expressed in this article? If so, we want to hear from you (can be anonymous). Send an email to [email protected] to get things started.

Featured image: Unsplash (edited)

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