Payments and Paperwork

Rent

A survey by Unipol and the NUS looked at the cost of university accommodation around the UK.

  • The average cost for weekly rent in the UK in purpose-built student accommodation from 2015 to 2016 is £146.73.
  • Private sector accommodation averaged at £168.94 a week.
  • In London the average is £225.83 per week.
  • Small variations in weekly rent will add up to a significant amount over the course of a year. Many students opt to study where it is cheaper, for example Northern Ireland, and save over £2,000 a year.
  • However, this is not quite the whole story, particularly if you intend to take a term-time job as average wages in London will often be higher than in Northern Ireland or other parts of the country.

The average length of contract in private sector accommodation is likely to be higher (46 weeks and often 52 weeks) than for university-owned property, and deposits nearer £250 (higher in London) can be expected.

  • The longer let is becoming popular and can be a distinct advantage for some students.
  • You will not have to make way for conference delegates, can keep your belongings with you, and stay to obtain holiday work in the university or nearby.
  • You might even get a rent discount, especially if you are staying in the property for a further year.

Wherever you decide to live, you may well be expected to pay a term's rent in advance.

Deposits

In addition to an advanced rental payment, you could also be asked to part with a deposit or bond (typically the equivalent of one month's rent) to cover breakages and damage.

This could be about £200 (much higher in London) in university-owned accommodation and as much as £300 in the private sector.
This is returned, less any deductions, at the end of the contract and, at that stage, there is potential for dispute as to what constitutes fair wear and tear!

Disputes over the return of deposits is a real and recurring issue, particularly in the private sector, so much so that the government introduced mandatory deposit protection schemes to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords who withhold deposits for no good reason.

It is important to note that these schemes only apply if you have signed a type of contract called an Assured Shorthold Tenancy, so check the details of the contract before signing it.
  • Under these schemes your deposit will be covered by an insurance scheme or lodged with an independent body, not the landlord.
  • These schemes ensure deposits are fairly returned with any disputes resolved quickly and cheaply.
  • So within 30 days of receiving your deposit, the landlord or agent is required by law to tell you how your deposit is protected. If you don't receive that information in writing, make sure you ask for it.

Tenancy agreements

Once you have settled on the shared house, flat or bedsit you like, the next thing is to sort out the paperwork.

  • You will almost certainly be asked to sign an agreement such as an Assured Shorthold Tenancy or a licence.
  • This is a binding legal document so read it through carefully before signing. If you do not understand some of the clauses, do not sign but seek clarification, if needs be, from the University Accommodation Office or the Students' Union – they may well have model Tenancy Agreements – or from a local Citizens Advice Bureau or Law Advice Centre.
  • The housing charity, Shelter, provides information on tenancy agreements and renting in general for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • It is much easier to agree terms at this early stage but almost impossible after you have signed and moved in.
  • This is one of those occasions in your life when it pays (literally!) to read the small print.

Where you are sharing with other students, be aware that a joint tenancy implies joint liability so you might end up being responsible for the deeds and, more importantly, misdeeds of others.

Some landlords will ask that students provide a guarantor – somebody who will sign the tenancy agreement and pay the rent or other charges if you don’t – and the same applies here and your guarantor may well be liable for the actions of unpaid rent of others.

Bills

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What else should you expect?

  • An Inventory and Schedule of Condition listing everything in the accommodation when you take it over and its condition. If you are given one, check it for accuracy and annotate any changes. If you are not, make one of your own, have it witnessed, send it to the landlord, and keep a copy yourself. Take photographs if necessary to record any initial damage.
  • A Rent Book in the unlikely event that rent is payable on a weekly basis.
  • A recent Gas Safety Certificate issued by a recognised Gas Safe engineer.
  • A record of current gas/electricity meter readings. If not, take your own readings as soon as you move in.

It is becoming more common for landlords to include the cost of energy and other items such as water, the internet or contents insurance in the agreement.

  • Make sure you fully understand how the charges will be calculated and if there are any limits on usage.
  • Never part with money without getting a receipt and keep a copy of all documents.
  • Remember that by law the landlord cannot increase the rent more than once a year unless your agreement contains a rent review clause.

You will not have to pay Council Tax if all the residents are full-time students.

However, you may need to obtain an Exemption Certificate from the university to offer as proof.  If, on the other hand, one of the residents is not a full-time student then a reduced Council Tax will be levied and if two or more then the full Council Tax.