Private landlords are individuals or companies who offer private rented accommodation on the open market, by advertising or using agents. The majority of private landlords in the UK rent out only one home, and most have only been landlords for ten years or less. Few get training or join organisations that offer advice and many use agents to manage their property.
Most new migrants to the UK (more than three-quarters of them) live in privately rented housing, as do nine million people across the country. In this section you can read about how to get a private tenancy and what you should expect if you find one. There is a more detailed section on your legal rights as a private tenant.
Why do most new migrants rent privately?
- It can be easier to rent privately than to get other forms of housing: there are usually few forms to fill in or tests to pass.
- It can be more flexible, so suitable for those who may want to move on soon, or bring family to join them later.
- Buying a home is a complicated business and needs far more capital than private renting.
- Few new migrants qualify for ‘social’ housing (rented from a council or housing association) when they arrive: this website explains who does in other sections.
- Private rented housing is open to whoever can pay for it, not just those who qualify because of need or waiting.
- New arrivals are more likely to be able to get private rented housing through the family or community contacts they may have.
Even if a new arrival is able to get help from the council because they are homeless and eligible for help, many councils now just offer temporary accommodation and then move homeless people into private rented housing.
Before looking for a private rented home, it is important to know what is available in the area and at what price. Rents in the UK are generally high, but there is huge variation between areas. Average rents for a one-bedroom flat, for example, may be £1,500 per month in London and £380 per month in Sunderland in the north east. These reflect the demand for housing in each area: where there is a shortage of housing generally prices are much higher.
In areas of low demand you should have a lot of choice. Landlords and agents may be willing to negotiate the rent, wait while you look at other homes and make a decision, or improve the furniture and facilities on offer. But in areas of high demand there may be a lot of people chasing the same home, so if you find a home you want at a price you can afford you need to move quickly to take it. If you want to move to a high demand area, be prepared: you may not find a home quickly and will need somewhere else to stay meanwhile. In these areas, it is also common for landlords and agents to refuse to rent to people unless they can prove that they have a job.
How do you find a home?
Friends and family may help, but they may only know about a limited area or type of property. Your employer may have accommodation to offer, but living in your employer’s accommodation may affect your rights (see the legal page for advice on this).
Homes are usually advertised in the local paper, on property websites, through accommodation agencies and estate agents (both via local offices and on the internet), and through cards in local shop windows. This should give an impression of rent levels and availability in the area you want. Help with rent may be available from the local housing allowance (also known as housing benefit) which we explain below. You can also use the official website to find out how much the local housing allowance is for the area and size of home that you need, but remember that the local housing allowance is less than the average rent for the area and that single people under 35 years old get a lower ‘shared room’ rate. There are websites that tell you about rent levels in different parts of the country: most, like home.co.uk, collect information from estate agents.
Some websites allow individuals to advertise homes for rent and there are very few controls on how this is done. The home may not be as advertised, or not even exist. The person advertising it may not be the owner, or allowed to rent it to you. Do not send or offer money until you have seen the home.
Using an agent
Accommodation agencies, normally called letting agents, and estate agents work for landlords and are paid by them. They are not allowed to charge for registering possible new tenants or for finding a home, but can charge for checking identity, obtaining references and doing credit checks.
All estate accommodation agents that manage properties in England for landlords must be registered with an officially approved independent ‘redress scheme’ that resolves complaints against the agent. The three official schemes are:
Any agent operating legally should tell you which scheme they are in and may display the logo. Do not use an agent that is not in a scheme: they are operating illegally and you risk losing any money you pay them.
Getting help with finding a home
The local council for the area where you want to live may offer help with finding a private rented home. You can find the council you need from this site. Councils may offer:
- advice to help you find a home
- lists of local landlords who have been checked and ‘accredited’ as reaching a certain standard
- help with claiming benefits if you are eligible
- access to the register of local homes in multiple occupation
- access to a rent bond or guarantee so you don’t have to find a deposit or rent in advance.
Charitable organisations also run schemes in many areas to help people find private rented homes. There is a list of all these schemes on this website provided by Crisis, a charity working with homeless people.
Race discrimination in housing is illegal in the UK. Landlords and agents cannot refuse prospective tenants because of their race, nationality, religion or colour. There are also laws against discrimination on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, age and disability. There are few exceptions to these laws, which also cover ‘indirect discrimination’, where although the conditions the landlord or agent specifies do not refer to race, they have the effect of excluding significantly more people from one or some ethnic groups than others. This could include, for example, not accepting identity cards from European countries as proof of identity or refusing to take anyone who has not been resident in the UK for more than five years. You can find more information about discrimination and how you can tackle it here.
If you think you have been the victim of discrimination, get advice. The Equality Advisory and Support Service has a free helpline on 0808 800 0082 which can provide advice. They may be able to help resolve the problem, and, if not, they can suggest where you might find help to take court proceedings.
Most landlords and agents want proof of a new tenant’s identity and their employment and earnings and many will do a credit check, for which they need previous addresses and employers as well, or may need more information for insurance purposes. It is a good idea to have the necessary documents ready:
- Proof of identity (passport, identity card, immigration status document, driving licence will all do).
- Proof of employment: your contract or a recent letter from an employer.
- Proof of earnings: your wage slips from the last three months or details in the contract.
- Proof of any benefits you are currently receiving if you are not working.
Be careful with documents: do not hand them over to anyone except for simple photocopying (where you can see it taking place). If you can, it helps to have photocopies of the documents that you can offer the landlord or agent once they have seen the originals.
From February 2016, landlords in England (but not Wales or Scotland) need to check documentation about new tenants’ immigration status, and there is more information on this below.
It is usual in the UK to pay a deposit when starting a tenancy: this is to cover any breakages or damage or unpaid rent. All deposits must be protected. It is also usual to pay some rent in advance. There are no restrictions on how much a landlord may charge for a deposit or rent in advance. In some areas it may be one month’s rent for each, in other areas it may be more or less. Your landlord must protect your deposit by using one of the approved protection schemes: more information about these is here.
Because it is difficult for some new tenants to find the money to pay rent in advance or a deposit, there are some schemes to help you with this. Most do not offer the tenant money, instead they persuade the landlord to accept a guarantee or bond instead of the rent in advance or deposit. You can find a list of schemes in your area on the Crisis website; your local council may also run schemes.
Be careful with money:
- never hand over money without getting a receipt that states clearly what it is for (if you pay your rent weekly your landlord must provide you with a rent book)
- do not pay agencies for showing you a flat: it is illegal for them to charge for this (they can charge for identity checks and some administration)
- do not pay a deposit without checking how it will be protected.
This will depend on the arrangement you have made with the landlord or agent. If the rent includes furniture and other household equipment, you will need to make sure that you and the landlord agree on a list of what is included at the start of the tenancy: this is called an inventory. You may want to take photographs of these items and keep them, in case there is any dispute at the end of the tenancy about the condition they were in when you started.
Some tenancies include charges for services, some do not, and so you will have to pay them yourself. So you will need to check about:
- gas and electricity bills
- telephone and internet service bills
- charges for cleaning or other services.
If you are responsible for paying some bills you need to know
- Where the meter is for gas and electricity.
- What the meter says when you start the tenancy (and confirm with the landlord or agent that they agree with this reading).
- If the home has pre-paid meters, whether the landlord can confirm that the meter has not been recalibrated to cover arrears incurred by previous occupiers.
- Who provides these services. You may be able to change providers if they are too expensive but will need to check with the landlord or agent that your tenancy agreement allows this.
- What the arrangements are for paying and how you get your name on the account as the person responsible.
Many people share a home with other tenants as a way of keeping down costs (especially if they are under 35 and so get a reduced rate of local housing allowance), or because it is a good way to meet new people, get to know an area, etc. The law on who is responsible for what in these arrangements can be complex. There are also specific rules for landlords where they rent out a property to several people not in the same family (these are called Houses in Multiple Occupation and there is more on them here).
If you are sharing, with friends or with people you don’t yet know, it is important to get agreement about some of the basic arrangements at the beginning:
- Who is responsible for paying which bills?
- How are the bills to be shared out (equal shares? Based on the share of the rent or the space?)
- How will you decide who does what when you need to?
- How will you resolve any problems?
The law provides some protection for private rented tenants covering
- housing conditions and disrepair
- rights against eviction and harassment
- rights to information and proper notice.
These are explained here.
There are no effective legal controls on what a landlord may charge a new tenant for rent. Once the tenant has signed an agreement the tenant must pay the rent as specified. Most agreements say when and how the landlord can raise the rent, and it is important to check this. If it is not in the agreement then ask the landlord or agent and get the arrangement in writing.
If your rent includes a variable service charge (one that varies according to your landlord’s costs) then the charge must reflect only the costs your landlord has reasonably incurred and the services provided must be carried out to a reasonable standard. If you are dissatisfied with the charge or the standard of service you can to appeal to a residential property tribunal (pdf) – but you must pay a fee for this.
If the tenancy is for a fixed period then if you want to leave before it ends, you will need to negotiate this with the landlord, because he can insist on the rent being paid to the end as agreed. If you (or the agent) can find another acceptable tenant to take over the tenancy, then the landlord has to agree to that.
If you pay your rent weekly then your landlord must provide you with a rent card or rent book.
You can get help to pay your rent from housing benefit provided you meet the qualifying conditions as a migrant and your income and savings are low enough. But housing benefit may not pay all your rent. If your rent is high, if your home is bigger than you need, if you are earning some money, if you have other adults living with you, or if the benefits you receive in total are above a certain limit, housing benefit may not cover the full rent you pay and you will have to find some extra money to pay it.
You claim housing benefit from your local council. If you think their decision is wrong then you can appeal – but you must normally do this within one month of being notified of the decision.
You may be able to get housing benefit even if you are working provided your income is low enough. The amount you get depends on:
- your income and savings
- your family (partner and dependent children) and any other members of your wider household – such as an adult child of yours or your parent if they live with you
- how much rent you pay (calculated as a weekly figure)
- whether your rent includes a charge for meals (‘board’).
If you receive one of the following out-of-work ‘passport’ benefits:
- income-based jobseeker’s allowance
- income-related employment and support allowance
- income support
- state pension credit guarantee credit
your income is deemed to be low enough to qualify for the maximum award.
In this case the amount of housing benefit you get is the weekly rent you pay or your ‘local housing allowance’ figure whichever is the lower. But this is reduced if there are other adults who live with you as part of your household (such as your parent or an adult child). If you pay board, the local housing allowance limit is replaced by a figure set by a rent officer (an independent expert) after making a standard deduction for meals.
If you do not receive a passport benefit your housing benefit is calculated in the same way as above but a deduction is made to reflect the fact that your income is higher. The deduction is a fixed percentage (65%) of any income you have that exceeds the passport benefit you would receive if you were entitled to it. So for example, if your income is £10 above what your passport benefit would be, then your housing benefit is reduced by £6.50 (65% of £10) from the amount you would get if you were on a passport benefit.
The amount of housing benefit you get may be further reduced if:
- you received more housing benefit than you were entitled to in the past (you were ‘overpaid’), in which case this can be deducted from any arrears you are currently owed or from your on-going weekly award; or
- the total of all of your benefits (passport benefit, tax credits, housing benefit and child benefit) exceeds £500 per week if you are a couple or lone parent; or £350 per week if you are single. Any excess is deducted from your entitlement and can reduce your housing benefit to the minimum award (£0.50 per week).
As described above (unless your rent includes meals, gas or electricity) your housing benefit is calculated using your actual rent or the local housing allowance (LHA) figure, whichever is the lower. The LHA reflects the cost of accommodation in your locality. It is set at the highest rent paid for the size of property you need from the 30 per cent cheapest rents in your locality. But if this figure is higher than the national maximum rate (the ‘cap’) for that property size then the cap figure is used as the LHA rate instead. Five different LHA rates are set for each locality for each of the following property sizes:
- one-bedroom shared accommodation
- one-bedroom self-contained accommodation
- two-bedroom dwellings
- three-bedroom dwellings
- four-bedroom dwellings
The appropriate rate that applies to you depends on your age and the size of your household. You can find out which is the correct rate for your household here. You can find out the LHA rates for all five property sizes in your locality here.
From February 1st 2016, all landlords in England have had to check the documentation of tenants that shows their residency or immigration status and have to pay a fine if they have not done so. This affects all new lettings including tenancies, licences, lodging arrangements and sub-lets, but not holiday accommodation of less than three months. But some lettings are exempt and in these cases document checks are not required:
- housing provided by local authorities through homelessness or allocations procedures
- care homes
- hospitals, hospices and other healthcare provision
- hostels and refuges
- local authority provision for the homeless
- Home Office accommodation for migrants
- mobile homes
- accommodation provided by an employer to an employee or trainee - sometimes called 'tied' accommodation
- student accommodation where this is in a hall of residence, a home provided via a nomination by an educational institution or in a building used mainly for student accommodation and managed by an educational institution or similar or a charity.
Whose documents are checked?
Documents for all adults expecting to live in the home, including
- those who pay rent or other charges
- anyone else authorised to live in the accommodation by the agreement
- anyone else living in the accommodation even if not named in the agreement if the agreement allows it.
So how does it work?
Before allowing anyone to move in, the landlord must check on tenants and ask for proof (which must be copied and kept for at least 12 months after the tenancy ends) that they are in one of these groups:
- A ‘relevant national’: a citizen of the UK, the European Economic Area or Switzerland: they are not covered by the legislation at all, but landlords will need proof that the occupant is in this group.
- A person with an indefinite ‘right to rent’: someone with indefinite leave to remain or right of abode in the UK.
- A person with a ‘time-limited right to rent’: someone who has limited leave to remain in the UK or a right to live in the UK under EU law (not a European citizen because they are ‘relevant nationals’ but, for example, the non- European husband, or the non-British parent of a British child who has no other leave).
- A person with a discretionary right to rent: this can be granted by the Home Office to people who apply for it because they have no other right to rent.
Anyone else should not be offered the accommodation. If you have a time limited right to rent, your landlord must make new checks after a year, or (if it is longer) just before your current period of leave or right to live in the UK expires. If the landlord then finds out that you have no current leave or right to live in the UK he must report it immediately to the Home Office. This does not affect your tenancy or other rights to live in the home.
Landlords can appoint an agent to do the checks for them.
If landlords are found to have rented to someone with no right to rent then they can be fined up to £1,000 for each person (and up to £3,000 if they are caught again). From December 2016 they can also be subject to criminal proceedings and (if found guilty) sentenced to prison.
Landlords and agents cannot discriminate in applying these new rules, and there is a new Code of Practice to help ensure they do not. This means that they must check everyone’s documents, not just those of people who might look like new migrants. If you believe that you have been discriminated against, you can find guidance about challenging it here. If your documents are not a simple passport, you might want to find them in the online guide so you can point them out to a landlord and they can be checked more quickly.