Students missing out by not knowing their rights

by Communications Team | Oct 04, 2016

  • Three in five students have experienced problems with a company since starting university
  • Not knowing how to complain is leaving the average student £150 worse off every year
  • More than six in 10 students feel powerless when raising a complaint
  • Ombudsman Services encourages students to contact us using #StudentMoans

New research from Ombudsman Services reveals students miss out on £262m(1) a year because they do not know their rights.

Three in five (59%) students have experienced problems with a company since leaving home for university, which they estimate has cost them more than £150(2) a year each as a result.

Certain sectors are more problematic than others, with mobile phones causing the most issues. Two thirds (66%) of students have experienced an issue with their mobile phone, with billing discrepancies (such as charges or back billing) accounting for almost a quarter (24%) of complaints, although slow connection speeds (22%) and poor customer service (19%) were also a source of discontent amongst students. Student accommodation was also amongst their top grumbles, as more than six in 10 (62%) students have experienced issues with their accommodation, with maintenance related issues (such as broken furniture or mould) the most common (30%), followed by poor customer service (23%). Although many students have energy bills included in student accommodation, three in 10 (29%) still have had troubles with their energy supplier and 17 per cent had qualms with a rail provider.

The problem is that many students are not sure how to resolve a problem, with nearly two thirds (65%) unaware of their options if they have an issue with their telecoms supplier, and a similar number for energy (63%) and accommodation (59%).

For many, leaving home is the first time students will have to deal with bills, and for that reason many do not know their rights or how to complain about products and services effectively, leaving more than three fifths (61%) feeling powerless. Even when they are aware of their rights, students have little confidence that their complaint will be successful. Two thirds (66%) of current students believe companies do not take them seriously on account of their age, while nearly three quarters (73%) think firms take advantage.

Ombudsman Services is encouraging students to make their voices heard by raising their complaints using #StudentMoans, which will help them realise they are not alone, allow them to vent their frustrations and share advice with their peers. Ombudsman Services will offer free and impartial advice to help where it can, and signpost students if they want to take their complaints further. Ombudsman Services has also published a new student advice leaflet which explains six simple steps to complaining. Further help and advice is available in our student guide.

Commenting on the findings, Chief Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith said: “Leaving home to go to university is a big moment for many young people. As well as starting their degree and building new relationships, students also have to learn how to live independently for the first time and this can bring challenges in itself. Our research shows that students don’t feel comfortable that they know their consumer rights and think companies don’t take them seriously, and it is important that this changes.”

To read (and download) your free guide, click here.

Ombudsman Services can handle complaints in the energy, communications and property sectors, when an issue with a supplier has been ongoing for more than eight weeks. Its services are free, simple and impartial, and allow consumers to get their problems resolved without the cost and hassle of a small claims court.


(1) Ombudsman Services estimate that students lost a mean of £151.86 last year. HESA state that there were 1,727,895 UK undergraduate students in 2014/15. Therefore (1,727,895 x £151.86 = £262,398,134)
(2) Of those who have experienced a problem since going to University, the mean amount they estimate to have lost over an average year is £151.86

Published October 2016

Further information: Please contact Matt McKenna at or ring 02036686905

Methodology: Research conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Ombudsman Services, which questioned 1,000 students not living at home. The survey ran from 01 September to 12 September 2016.