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Consumer - What students need to know to avoid being ripped off

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Today we will be talking to Wes Wilson a medical student who moved here for college from Canada. He had a bad experience last year when he had to arrange his accommodation online and ended up living in an apartment without as much as running water.

Following Wes' story, Tina will be giving students advice on making sure they don't get ripped off when they are choosing their accommodation.


She will be giving students more information they need to know in order to avoid being ripped off. This will include info in relation to getting bank accounts, phones and working part time.

September: Back to College


September is the month for students going back to college or going to college for the first time.

In the last year rents fell by 17% so students can expect to save some money compared to last year.

According to daft.ie students should save about €1,000 over the academic year on a double room in Dublin or the same amount for two students renting a 2-bed in Galway or Limerick.

According to daft.ie average costs for a double room per month are now: €543 in Dublin; €340 in Cork and €279 in Limerick.


Our Guests:

Tina Leonard, our consumer expert


Wes Wilson - Student
Wes Wilson is a medical student in RCSI. He came to Ireland in September of last year for his first year in medical college. He is now back and attending his second year.

Wes's Story
Wes is from Canada and came to Ireland last year to study medicine in The Royal College of Surgeons. He was working in Canada up until the day before term so he had no time to look for accommodation on arrival in Ireland. He had to look for an apartment online and he found one he thought was perfect.

It was a new development of apartments in the city centre and he would have internet access which was important for his studies. He phoned the company and gave them his credit card details so they would keep the apartment for him.

He agreed that he would pay for the rent each month by credit card. He never signed a lease and agreed verbally only to stay for the first semester.

Wes arrived in Ireland jet lagged and went straight to bed in his new apartment. He started college the next morning. On returning home from college he realised that he had no running water in the kitchen. He also found out that none of the kitchen appliances were working and that they had no internet access as promised.

He was sharing the apartment with another guy called Josh who had signed a lease for a year. They rang the landlord about all the problems. The landlord said that everything would be fixed by the end of the week. The landlord never visited the apartment and nobody came to fix anything. They rang him and emailed on numerous occassions.

Wes never saw anyone visit the apartment but after a few weeks both the water in the kitchen and the appliances were fixed. However the internet was not. On the phone the landlord constantly said that that it would be fixed next week.

Then a pipe burst under their floorboards in the kitchen and living room. Again they called the landlord and he said someone would be out to fix it. There was water seeping up from the floorboards for a week before the problem was fixed.

Wes stayed in this apartment until December as he was so busy in college that he didn't have time to look for another apartment. In the four months he was there the internet was never installed even though he was paying for this as it was included in the rent.

Luckily for Wes he could get out then as he hadn't signed a lease but his friend Josh had to stay for a year as he had signed a one year lease and had paid a deposit.

Both Wes and Josh are now living in Blanchardstown and are happy in their new accommodation.


Tina's Advice

Accomodation

Given the current situation with falling rent prices and the high availability of apartments you may as well ask a potential landlord for a deal i.e. lower rent or to include some utilities etc.

In order to make sure you are not ripped-off with your accommodation you need to know the following:

1. Make sure you get a written lease and know what is included in the rent, i.e. the inventory of contents, information about payments of utilities and the duration of the contract. For example if the lease is for 12 months and you only need it for 9, you won't get your deposit back if you leave without finding other tenants to take over the lease.

2. Once the tenancy has gone beyond 6 months the landlord can only end the lease on specific grounds, i.e. not paying rent or the apartment is being sold. If this is the case you have to get written notice and the law specifies the timeframe you should be given.

3. Landlords can only raise the rent to the open market rate. Of course, it is difficult to prove what that might be. The landlord may also only raise the rent once in a 12 month period unless there has been a substantial change in the nature of the accommodation.

4. The landlord must promptly return the deposit paid by you. It can only be retained if there are 1) rent arrears or 2) costs incurred to repair damage above normal wear and tear. Advertising or re-letting costs are not valid reasons for withholding a deposit. It is illegal for a landlord to hold tenants' goods in lieu of money owed.

5. It is your home so you are entitled to your privacy, i.e. the landlord cannot come and go; the landlord is obliged to carry out repairs; the accommodation must comply with minimum standards (e.g. free from damp, in good structural repair, hot and cold water, adequate means of heating and ventilation, appliances in good working order, electrical wiring, gas, pipes in good repair). If not report to the Private Residential Tenancies Board (www.prtb.ie).


Summary
. Get a written lease
. Know what is included in the lease
. Landlord may only raise the rent once in 12 months
. Deposit must be returned
. You are entitled to your privacy


Banks

Right now all the banks are trying desperately to get your custom as they reckon once you are with them, you will be with them for life.

One bank went a bit far this year by offering new students customers a free ticket to their strip show as part of their promotion! They have since withdrawn that and are offering €100 cash now instead. Another bank are offering €50 cash and a free student travelcard while another is offering free flights to one of nine European destinations.

1. Firstly, remember that whatever bank you join, you can leave them whenever you want. There is no penalty.

2. In terms of a current account, when it comes to choosing, the only different accross the banks will be the service they offer and bank charges, although students generally are not charged for banking. The big difference will come if you want to open a savings or deposit account as then different interest rates will be offered.

3. Do not get a credit card, even if you are offered one, as some banks have special student credit cards. Unless you are in full time emplyment you really shouldn't have one, as you run the risk of borrowing a lot on the card and being unable ot pay it back. Plus they have high interets rates. Plus borrowing is a bad habit to get in to.


Summary
. You can leave anytime without penalty
. Do not pay bank charges
. Do not get a credit card
. Avoid borrowing where possible


Phones

Apart from studying (!), students will probably spend more time talking and texting on their mobile phones than anything else.

1. So, make sure you are not paying above the odds. Analyse your usage and then check-out www.callcosts.ie to see what phone package they recommend, either for pre-pay or bill pay.

2. For example, for a pre-pay customer using 100 minutes and 150 texts a month, making the calls anytime, the best suggestions from Callcost.ie are Tesco (€3.85 plus free €30 top-up when you buy a €30 top-up) and Meteor for €27.65.

3. However, if with the same usage you opt for bill-pay, then you could pay €20 a month with Meteor or €25 a month with 3. This goes to show that pre-pay isn't always the cheapest way to go, so if you don't mind being locked into a twelve month contract you could save €91.80 a year using this example.


Summary

100 minutes and 150 texts per month

Tesco Pre-Pay €33.85 + €30 free
Meteor Pre-Pay €27.65
3 Bill Pay €25
Meteor Bill Pay €20

Potential Savings €91.80 per year


Working part-time

1. If you can get a part-time job then you need to know what your entitlements are:

2. 15 minutes break after 4.5 hours have been worked

3. 30 minutes break when more then 6 hours have been worked

4. 11 hours daily rest in a 24 hour period

5. If you work a night time shift in a shop i.e. 11.30am to 2.30pm, after 6 hours you are entitled to a break of 1 hour.

6. There is no legislation covering overtime and the 'time-and-a-half rate for Saturday and double time for Sunday' is not automatically correct. So if you work on a Sunday it is the terms and conditions of your contract that will outline what you get paid. Plus, remember a Sunday is not necessarily overtime, if it is your normal day of work.

7. The minimum wage is currently €8.65/hour but this may be reduced before the end of the year.


Summary
. 15 minutes break after 4.5 hours
. 30 minutes break after 6 hours
. 11 hours between shifts
. Check conditions of the contract
. Minimum wage is €8.65 per hour

Tina Leonard
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