Private-rented housing

Top tips

  • Private landlords look for tenants who can pay the rent and who will be decent tenants
  • Private rented accommodation often offers more choice and can be obtained more quickly than much social rented housing
  • Private landlords can let their properties through agents or directly
  • Many good landlords register with accreditation schemes, and voluntarily agree to provide accommodation to a good standard and to treat tenants well
  • You may need to pay a holding deposit which means no-one else can take up the tenancy while your references are being checked and the tenancy agreement is being drawn up
  • Most landlords ask for a month’s rent in advance, and a deposit, and some ask for an administration fee as well
  • Deposits must be paid into a deposit protection scheme
  • Help can be given to pay the deposit through a rent deposit or bond guarantee scheme
  • Single people under 35 may be unable to afford a flat or house on their own if they have to claim Housing Benefit to pay the rent

Introduction

Private landlords rent their housing on the basis of who can pay for it, not who is in housing need. It may be more expensive than social housing (council or housing association housing) and often offers less security because tenancies are usually offered for a fixed term. However, it is usually more easily available as people do not have to wait in a long queue for private rented housing. It can be cheaper than rents in hostels and usually offers accommodation that is more self-contained, though it is possible that you will need to share with others.

There is a huge variety of types of landlords in the UK. Landlords range from the person who owns only one property to those who have thousands. Many have estate agents managing their properties, but others manage it all themselves. You’ll find they can have very different attitudes to their tenants, including a variety of attitudes towards people with an offending background.

The quality and conditions of private rented properties can also be very different. There are some basic rules, though. People who move into a private rented property should not have to put up with bad conditions, and the local council can take action to get repairs done. There is more information about what to do about getting repairs done, and other rights, for private tenants, on GOV.UK and Shelter.

Where to find out what is available

The most common ways to find out what is available to let in the private rented sector are:

Websites

Sites such as:

Estate agents

These can be found in every town or city. As with landlords, there is a big variation, with some small and friendly agencies, and some huge ones with lots of landlords on their books. Some estate agents own property as well as managing it for other owners. Many have their own websites as well as shops on the main streets. They are likely to find tenants for properties advertised with them, check references, collect rent and tenancy deposits, manage properties for landlords, arrange repairs and provide tenancy agreements and inventories.

Lettings or Accommodation Agencies or Bureaux

These are agencies which let accommodation for landlords and estate agencies. They may do exactly what estate agents do, but some do nothing other than find tenants for places advertised with the agency.

Newspapers

Local newspapers carry adverts for houses and flats for rent. These are usually in the back of the paper, and in a daily paper, are likely to be in the paper only once or twice a week.

Local shops

Corner shops often have cards in the window for flats and houses for rent

Housing offices

Council and housing association housing offices may advertise private houses or flats for rent

Rent deposit or bond guarantee schemes

Some of these schemes advertise accommodation to let as well as offering bonds and deposits (see below).

A few Probation services have links with private landlords to help people coming out of prison or other offenders who need somewhere to live.

Finding a good landlord

It is worth knowing about accreditation schemes, which are run by local councils, landlord associations, or by colleges. Landlords who join accreditation schemes voluntarily agree to provide accommodation to a good standard, and to treat tenants in a good manner. There is likely to be a code of practice which landlords sign up to, and some schemes provide training for landlords and agents.

Typically, if a tenant complains and the complaint is proved, the landlord risks having their accreditation taken away. An accredited landlord or agent will show the symbol for the accreditation scheme they belong to on their website and on their shop-front if they have one. The main accreditation schemes are:

More information on accreditation schemes can be found on residentiallandlord.co.uk.

How to apply for private-rented housing

To find housing through an agency, you will need to register with them. They will ask how much you are prepared to pay, where you want to live, and what sort of property you want. They may also ask for references (for example from an employer and current or previous landlord), and for information about your job and how much you earn. There is no limit to the number of agencies that you can be registered with. They are not allowed to charge for registration (in England and Wales).

To find housing directly from a landlord, you will need to give references (typically from an employer and current or previous landlord).

When a flat or house comes up, the next step is a visit to the property. There are important questions to ask at the visit, such as:

  • What sort of tenancy agreement is being offered
  • How long the tenancy is for
  • Whether the flat is being let furnished or unfurnished
  • What charges will have to be paid before moving in
  • If there are any charges later on if the tenancy is renewed
  • How much the rent is and when/how often it has to be paid
  • Whether other people live in the same property and if so, whether they have a separate tenancy or a joint tenancy between everyone in the house, and how electric and gas bills are paid
  • How any repairs are reported and dealt with

If the tenancy is accepted, you will almost always need to pay a deposit and the first month’s rent in advance before moving in. There may also be a charge from the agent. This can be an administrative charge for preparing the tenancy agreement, making an inventory (a list of furniture and furnishings in the property), and for phone calls, postage, and other costs of setting up a tenancy agreement (note that it is not legal to charge this in Scotland).

The landlord or agency may ask for a “holding deposit”, while your references are checked and the tenancy agreement is drawn up, and the property should not be offered to anyone else while these things are being done. Once the tenancy agreement is signed, the holding deposit must be deducted from the deposit that is charged to cover the full period of the tenancy. Holding deposits cannot usually be repaid if you decide not to move in, but should be repaid if the landlord or agent decides not to offer the tenancy for some reason.

What information will landlords or agents need

The landlord or agent may use an application form to collect all the information needed. A good example of a form that might be used can be found on landlordzone.co.uk.

This is the type of information that landlords may ask for:

  • Your name, and of anyone else applying to be housed with you
  • Dates of birth, and National Insurance numbers, for everyone who wants to live together (and proof of the NI number on a NI card, payslip, or P45/P60)
  • Proof of identity – a driving licence, passport, or other form of proof with a photograph of the main applicant
  • Current address for each person wanting to live together
  • Previous addresses for the main applicant (usually for the last 5 or 6 years)
  • Any history of evictions, and whether the person is disabled
  • Name of one or two people who can give a character reference
  • Proof that you are living at your current address – a gas or electricity bill, bank statement, phone bill with that address on
  • Employment details
  • Bank details

Criminal convictions

Landlords may ask you to tell them if you have a criminal record. Applying for housing is covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, so you are only obliged to disclose anything that is unspent at the point of application.

It is unusual for landlords to require any proof of convictions, and landlord or agent cannot check this out other than through credit checking agencies (who don’t have information about convictions specifically, but will involve details regarding financial crime). A landlord could technically require you to provide a copy of a basic disclosure, which discloses unsent convictions, but this is not common practice amongst landlords.

Some landlords use the council’s systems for vetting applicants for their housing. If there is a form to fill in, it may say that you give consent, by signing the form, to the landlord or agency to get information from others (and to do a credit check).

It is usually a good idea to be open with landlords or agents, and many landlords and agents do house people with criminal records. If it is discovered that you gave false information when you applied for a tenancy, this can give the landlord grounds to go to court and ask for you to be evicted. Another problem is that if you do have unspent criminal convictions, the landlord’s insurance may not be valid if this is not disclosed. In the event of a refused claim, the landlord may seek to recover the money from you if they can prove that you lied to them.

Deposits, rent in advance, and lettings agency charges

Most landlords and agencies ask for a deposit. This provides a bit of insurance for the landlord in case the tenant does not pay rent or causes any damage in the property. Deposits are repaid at the end of the tenancy, as long as there is no damage or missing items, and no rent unpaid.

Tenancy deposits must be put into a special account by the landlord. This is called the tenancy deposit protection scheme, set up by the Government for all new tenancies after April 2007. There are slightly different rules for tenancies that existed before April 2012, but for all tenancies set up after April 2012, the landlord must pay the money into a Government-backed deposit scheme within 30 days of receiving it, and must give the tenant information about:

  • who the landlord is and their address
  • where the money is placed (in which tenancy deposit scheme) and how much was paid in
  • a copy of the deposit protection certificate signed by the landlord
  • the address of the tenancy
  • information about the tenancy deposit scheme and how to get the money back at the end of the tenancy
  • what to do if there is dispute about the deposit

There are 3 Government-backed deposit schemes:

Shelter’s website tells you more about the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, including how to check if your deposit has been protected through one of these schemes, and what to do if there are problems such as the landlord refusing to repay it at the end of the tenancy:

There is also help around to pay deposits in most parts of England. The local council or a local advice agency may have a scheme to do this (a Rent Deposit Scheme, or Bond Guarantee Scheme). They work in one of 2 ways:

  • • A rent deposit scheme offers the person a loan. This is usually sent to the landlord or agent directly. The loan may not cover the whole of the deposit (some schemes offer a sum of £50 or so). It needs to be repaid during the period of the tenancy or at the end of the tenancy. Some schemes help tenants to save up to repay the deposit by signing them up to Credit Unions.
  • • A rent or bond guarantee scheme offers the landlord a guarantee, which means that money is paid out only if the tenant does not pay the rent or causes damage. There will usually be a limit on the amount that the landlord or agent can claim, and a time limit, for example 6 months or a year after the tenancy starts.

Some deposit schemes are designed to help particular groups, such as families helped by the Council because they were homeless or about to become homeless. Other schemes, such as some run by the probation service, or by Crisis or Shelter, were particularly set up to help people with convictions, drug or alcohol users, single homeless people, or young people. Often, these schemes also provide advice on benefits and on tenants’ rights, help to get furniture, and other practical advice or help. They may also provide support for people who need help to manage their tenancy to start off. They may also provide training for tenants or landlords, and offer advice for landlords if things start to go wrong, all aimed at helping tenants to keep their homes.

The Crisis Rent Deposit Scheme website has a list of many of the rent deposit or guarantee schemes. There are also a few rent deposit schemes or bond guarantee schemes run by Probation services, Youth Offending Teams, or Drug Intervention Programme teams.

Rent in advance is not usually paid through deposit schemes. If it is paid, the tenant would usually be expected to repay it out of the first months’ housing benefit. Before April 2013, it was sometimes possible to get a crisis loan through the Social Fund, but this is no longer available and has been replaced by schemes arranged by each local authority.

Affording the rent

There are many changes to benefit rules going through at the moment, so it is important to check that anyone who needs to claim Housing Benefit to be able to pay the rent is aware of the key changes affecting them.

Shared accommodation rate

Single private tenants aged under 35: most single people aged under 35 who have to claim Housing Benefit (also called Local Housing Allowance) to pay their rent can now only claim enough to pay the rent in a shared privately-rented flat or house. This is called the Shared Accommodation Rate. The rule does not apply to everyone. The rule does not apply to anyone living in supported housing provided by a charity or voluntary organisation.

Exemptions from the Shared Accommodation Rate: Importantly, anyone who fits into the categories below should be able to get enough Housing Benefit for a 1 bedroom flat or house because of the following exemptions until they reach the age of 35:

  • People aged under 25 who have been in care: they are exempt from SAR until they are 22 years old.
  • People aged 25-34 who have spent at least 3 months in a homeless hostel: they are exempt, as long they were offered and accepted support. The 3 months do not have to have been spent in the same hostel or to have been one lot of 3 months, so there could have been a month or so in one place and a couple of months in another place, with a period spent somewhere else (such as in prison) in between. The hostel must provide accommodation that is not self-contained, and must provide food or shared kitchen where residents do their cooking. It can be a hostel for homeless people, a women’s refuge, or a hostel intended for drug or alcohol rehabilitation, as long as it offers support at the hostel. It is important to note that time spent staying in Approved Premises (known as bail or Probation hostels) for people who pose a risk of serious harm to the public and need high levels of Probation or other supervision) will not count towards this exemption. Each local council has a list of the hostels whose residents would be seen as exempt from this rule. The hostel staff must confirm that the person who is claiming the exemption did stay there and when.
  • People aged 25-34 who are subject to Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA): they are exempt as long as the MAPPA arrangement is being applied. This exemption applies only to people under MAPPA levels 2 or 3. More information available here.
  • Anyone with a severe disability premium: they are exempt if they are entitled to the middle or higher rate element of the Disability Living Allowance

The process for claiming the exemption is different for different groups of people:

  • To claim the exemption because of a stay in a hostel: the claimant must apply for this and must be able to show the Council’s benefit officer that they did stay in one or more hostels for a total of 3 months. In most areas, hostel staff have forms that will help people staying there (or who have stayed there in the past) to make a claim.
  • To claim the exemption for a MAPPA client: Probation staff will automatically tell the housing benefit office (on a form designed for this purpose) that their client is at MAPPA level 2 or 3.

There is further guidance available about what shared accommodation means, what is meant by the term “hostel” and “support”, and many other parts of this rule, via Homeless Link, NHAS and Shelter.

Under-occupation rule (“Bedroom Tax”)

From April 2013, people living in self-contained accommodation get Housing Benefit to cover only the cost of the bedrooms they need. This is known as the ‘bedroom tax’ but the proper term is the ‘under-occupation rule’. This rule applies to all tenants, not just private tenants, including council and housing association tenants

If there is a couple or a single person, they will have enough benefit to pay the rent only for a 1 bedroomed place (or a room in a shared house if they are under 35). If they have children, the children are expected to share a bedroom until they are 16 if they are the same sex, or until they are 10 if they are not the same sex. The main exemption is for someone who needs a spare bedroom for a carer to stay overnight.

Moving in

Once the offer of a property is accepted, the tenancy is likely to start very soon. It is very important to make a housing benefit claim straightaway as the rent will be due from the start.

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