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Finding accommodation

About this information

This information is about finding accommodation. It deals mainly with finding rented accommodation, but does include certain schemes run by local authorities and housing associations to help you buy your own home.

If you want to find out more about buying your own home in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, see Buying a home.

If you want to find out more about buying your own home in Scotland, see Buying a home.

In this information we refer to help from local authorities in finding accommodation. In Northern Ireland, this help is provided by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

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Looking for accommodation

If you are looking for accommodation, you might find it useful to collect:-

  • lists of hostels, bed and breakfast hotels and emergency accommodation
  • lists of accommodation agencies
  • contact details for social housing landlords such as housing associations
  • advice on approaching the local authority as a homeless person
  • the addresses of refuges for women in violent relationships
  • information on local housing available for people with special needs.

The Homeless UK website has information about services for homeless people, including hostels, day centres and other advice and support services. Go to www.homelessuk.org.

If you're looking for private rented accommodation, you might want to check if any landlords in your area are part of an accreditation scheme. Accreditation schemes are voluntary schemes that landlords join to show that they provide good quality accommodation. For more information about accreditation schemes in England, go to www.anuk.org.uk. In Wales, go to www.welshlandlords.org.uk.

If you're looking for private rented accommodation, you may find it useful to refer to a government publication called 'How to rent – The checklist for renting in England'. It summarises things that assured shorthold tenants need to look out for and what you can expect from a tenancy. It is available from the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk.

If you are looking for accommodation, you may be able to get this sort of help from a local authority housing advice centre. You can find the address of your nearest centre in the local telephone directory or from a Citizen’s Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

Accessible Housing Registers

In some parts of England and Wales there are Accessible Housing Registers.

If you need specially adapted accommodation, for example because you are disabled or elderly or have a disabled child, you can apply to have your details entered on to one or more Accessible Housing Registers.

If you put your details on the Accessible Housing Register, this can help to match together people and suitable homes.

You don't have to live in the area you want to register in, so you can register in an area that you want to move to. You can also register in more than one area. You can apply to be on the Accessible Housing Register if you own your own home.

You can find more information about Accessible Housing Registers and the areas they cover, including the areas in England, on the Disability Wales website at www.disabilitywales.org.

If you are looking for accommodation, you may be able to get this sort of help from a local authority housing advice centre. You can find the address of your nearest centre in the local telephone directory or from a Citizen’s Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

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Help for homeless people

Local authorities have a legal duty to provide help to certain people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. The local authority will look at a number of things to decide if you qualify for help. These are whether:

  • you are eligible for assistance
  • you are homeless or threatened with homelessness
  • you have a priority need for housing (this test was abolished in Scotland on 31 December 2012)
  • you are not intentionally homeless
  • you have a local connection.

Generally, the more of these stages you get through, the more the local authority will have to do to help you.

Local social services authorities also have responsibility for some homeless people. They have a duty to provide accommodation for children and young people over 16 who are leaving care, or who are in need for other reasons.

Eligible for assistance

Certain people who arrive in this country, or who are returning from a period living abroad do not qualify for housing under homelessness laws. For example, many asylum-seekers (but not all) are excluded, as is someone who has spent significant time living away from the UK even if they are a UK citizen.

In England and Wales, you can find information on eligibility for local authority accommodation for people who have come from abroad and their families, on the Housing Rights website at www.housing-rights.info. In Scotland, you can find information at www.housing-rights.info/scotland. In Northern Ireland, you can find information at www.housingadviceni.org.uk.

The rules on eligibility are complex and if you are arriving in or returning to the UK, you should seek specialist advice at, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

Homeless or threatened with homelessness

You will be considered legally homeless if you have no accommodation which is available and reasonable for you and your household to live in. This includes accommodation in another country. You will also be homeless if you have accommodation but cannot get into it. For example, if you have somewhere to stay with friends or relatives but have been asked to leave, or you are at risk of violence in your home. You will be considered to be threatened with homelessness, if you are likely to be homeless within 28 days (in Scotland, two months).

Priority need

You will be counted as having a 'priority need' for housing if you are homeless and:

  • you are pregnant
  • you have dependent children under 16, or under 19 if they are in full-time education
  • you are homeless because of an emergency such as a flood or a fire
  • you are aged 16 or 17.

You may also be in priority need if you fall into one of the following groups. In some cases, you may have to show that your situation has made you vulnerable:-

  • you are elderly, or have a physical or mental illness or disability
  • you are over 18 but at risk of exploitation or have been in care
  • you are at risk of domestic violence, racial violence or other threats of violence
  • you are homeless after leaving hospital, prison or the armed forces.

For more information on housing if you are in the armed forces or a veteran, see Housing information for the armed forces, veterans and their families.

The groups of people who have a priority need are different depending on whether you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, or in Scotland before the test was abolished. If you think you fall into a priority need group you can check this with a specialist adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

Intentionally homeless

You may be considered 'intentionally homeless' if you have deliberately done something which has made you lose your home. However, the definition of intentionally homeless is complicated and a decision made by your local authority can often be successfully challenged. For example, if you have become homeless because of rent or mortgage arrears you should not automatically be considered to be intentionally homeless. The local authority must look at each case individually. If you lost your home because of genuine financial problems you will not be homeless through your own fault.

Local connection

The local authority may refuse to accept responsibility if it thinks that you have no connection with the area where you are looking for help with housing. You would usually be expected to live, work or have family links to have a local connection. In this situation, you may be referred to an area where you do have a connection.

What action must the local authority take

If the local authority needs time to carry out enquiries (and if it seems that you are homeless and, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, in priority need), it must make sure you have somewhere to live while it investigates your situation.

If you qualify as homeless, the local authority will have to help you. It does not have to provide accommodation from its own properties. It can house you in various ways, for example, by referring you to a housing association, or arranging accommodation with a private landlord.

If the local authority decides that you are not homeless, it does not have any duties to arrange long-term accommodation for you. However, it will have some duties to help you, and must provide advice and assistance in finding accommodation, or provide a temporary place to stay while you find a permanent home.

The local authority must give reasons for its decision if it decides you aren't homeless and tell you about the right to review a decision, or appeal it, if you live in Northern Ireland.

Discrimination

Local authorities must not discriminate against you. For example, if you don't understand English, the local authority should provide help and information in your own language. For more information about discrimination, see under heading Discrimination when letting property.

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Local authority accommodation

Getting onto the housing register or waiting list

Local authorities don't have to have a housing register, but in practice, most will keep a register or waiting list of people who have applied to rent accommodation. You usually have to fill in an application form to apply for local authority accommodation.

When you apply the local authority will check whether you qualify. Many people from abroad, for example, most asylum seekers and people who have spent significant time living away from the UK - even if they are UK citizens - do not qualify for housing.

In England, Wales and Scotland, you can find information on eligibility for local authority accommodation for people who have come from abroad and their families, on the Housing Rights website at www.housing-rights.info. In Northern Ireland, see the housingadviceNI website at www.housingadviceni.org.

The rules on who can qualify for local authority housing are complicated, especially if you have just arrived in, or returned to the UK from abroad. If you are in this situation, you should seek advice, for example, from a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

In England, local authorities may also have other qualifying criteria that you have to meet before you can join the waiting list. For example, some may say that you must have lived in the area for a certain number of years. Each local authority can decide what criteria they use, so the criteria are likely to vary from one local authority to another. If a local authority uses criteria on having a local connection with its area, these generally can't be applied to be members of the armed forces.

You have a right to request a review if the local authority decides you do not qualify to join its waiting list.

Deciding who should be offered accommodation

Local authorities have to publish information explaining how they make decisions about offering accommodation and the system they use to give priority to applicants on their waiting lists. How priorities are decided may vary from one local authority to another, but factors often taken into account will be:

  • poor health made worse by housing conditions
  • lack of, or shared use of some facility, for example a bathroom or toilet
  • an inadequate number of bedrooms for the size of your family
  • length of time you have lived in the area
  • age (where access to sheltered or supported accommodation is under consideration)
  • length of time on the waiting list
  • separation from your family (including a family which is overseas) because of inadequate accommodation
  • homelessness - see under heading help for homeless people.

In England, in certain circumstances, current and former members of the armed forces have to be given priority for accommodation.

A local authority is not allowed to treat you unfairly when applying for accommodation. For more information about discrimination, see under heading Discrimination when letting property.

Completing an application to go on the local authority waiting list may be difficult. You may want to get help from an experienced adviser, for example, from a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB including those who can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

If you are accepted on a local authority waiting list, you may have to wait a long time before you are offered accommodation. Your local authority should be able to give you a rough idea of how long you will have to wait. You should make sure that you keep the local authority informed of any changes likely to affect your application, for example, changes in the numbers and/or ages of your children. You may also have to renew your application regularly.

In England and Wales, if you need specially adapted accommodation, for example because you are disabled or elderly or have a disabled child, you can apply to have your details entered on to one or more Accessible Housing Registers. You can do this as well as putting your name on a local authority waiting list.

Choice based lettings

Some local authorities will advertise empty homes in their area so that people on their waiting list can then 'bid' for the property they are interested in. This is called 'Choice based lettings'. If your local authority uses this type of system for letting accommodation, they should give you information on how, when and where you can bid for accommodation.

When you are made an offer, it may be accommodation owned by the local authority, or by a housing association. In an area where the local authority's housing has all been transferred to a housing association, this may be the only option offered.

You will usually only be able to turn the offer down if it is unsuitable for your needs, for example, if you are disabled and there is no lift. It is always best to get advice before refusing an offer. There is usually a limit to the number of offers a local authority will make.

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Housing associations

Housing associations are 'not-for-profit' organisations that provide housing for rent. There are many housing associations providing a range of accommodation. Some provide housing for certain types of people, for example, single parents or disabled people. Others provide general housing in the same way as a local authority.

Only some housing associations accept direct applications. Most require you to be nominated by the local authority, which means that you will need to apply to go on the local authority waiting list and ask to be nominated – see under heading Local authority accommodation. Where a housing association does not insist on this, it may require that you are nominated by a local agency, for example, an advice agency or the social services department. If a housing association does accept direct applications, the criteria each has for selecting tenants will vary.

In some areas the housing associations and local authority have joint waiting lists. This means you can register with the local authority, and housing associations, on the same form.

If you are looking for accommodation from a housing association or other social landlord, you may want to get more information from an experienced adviser, for example, at a housing advice centre or a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

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Homeshare (England)

In England, Homeshare schemes pair householders in need of company and help around the home, with people who need accommodation and who are willing to give some help in exchange for somewhere to stay.

More information about the scheme is available from the SharedLivesPlus website, at www.sharedlivesplus.org.uk.

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The right to buy

If you have been a local authority tenant for at least two years (or at least five years if you first became a local authority tenant on or after 18 January 2005), you will usually have the right to buy your home at a discounted price.

Some tenants of housing associations in England and Wales have the right to buy their homes. In England and Wales, this is called the right to acquire.

In Scotland, if you are a Scottish secure tenant with your council or registered social landlord, you may have the right to buy your home at a discount. This is called the right to buy. Your right to buy will depend on when your tenancy started.

The Welsh Government has made it possible for local authorities in Wales to suspend the right to buy or to acquire in areas of housing pressure. This means that if you are a social housing tenant in Wales and want to buy your home at some time in the future, you may find you are no longer allowed to do so.

In Northern Ireland, most Housing Executive and housing association tenants have the right to buy their home at a discount after living in it for five years under the Right to Buy scheme. Under equity sharing you can buy 25% or more of your property and pay rent on the rest.

For more information about the right to buy or the right to acquire your home in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, see Buying a home, and in Scotland see Scottish Government guide to your right to buy your home.

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Shared ownership

Shared ownership schemes are intended to help people who cannot afford to buy a suitable home in any other way. You usually share ownership of the property with a local authority or housing association. You pay rent to the landlord for part of the property and a mortgage on the rest. You will usually be able to buy further shares in the property at a later date.

To qualify for the scheme you must usually be a first time buyer, and priority is given to local authority or housing association tenants. Other people in housing need may also be considered for the scheme. You must be able to get your own mortgage to meet the purchase costs on a percentage of the property.

In Scotland, shared ownership schemes are sometimes known as joint venture schemes. In Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Co-Ownership Housing Association runs a similar scheme, called the co-ownership scheme. More information is available on their website at www.co-ownership.org.

In England more information on shared ownership accommodation is available from the Help to Buy website at www.helptobuy.org.uk.

In Wales, more information is available form the Community Housing Cymru website at www.chcymru.org.uk.

In Scotland, you can get information about shared ownership from the Scottish Housing Regulator - see under heading Further help.

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Help to Buy: mortgage guarantee scheme

First-time buyers and existing homeowners who want to move can apply for a mortgage under the Help to Buy: mortgage guarantee scheme.

Using the scheme, you only need a minimum five per cent deposit. A lender that is taking part in the scheme then provides a repayment mortgage of between 80 to 95% of the property’s value.

The scheme applies to homes with a maximum value of £600,000. Mortgages aren't available to buy second homes, buy-to-let, shared equity or shared ownership properties.

Lenders will carry out tough checks to make sure you can afford the mortgage payments, and you are unlikely to get a mortgage if you have a history of difficulty making debt repayments.

More information about the scheme is available on the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk.

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Home buying schemes in England

There are several schemes in England aimed at helping people who otherwise would not be able to afford to buy a home. These schemes are called Social HomeBuy, Home Ownership for People with Long Term Disabilities (HOLD), Help to Buy: equity loan and NewBuy.

Social HomeBuy is a scheme to help local authority and housing association tenants buy a share in their home. To qualify for Social HomeBuy you must have been a local authority or housing association tenant for at least two years (or five years if you first became tenant of a social housing landlord on or after 18 January 2005). If you are accepted onto the scheme, you will buy at least a 25% share in your home and pay rent to your landlord for the rest. You will be able to increase your share up to 100%. You may also be able to reduce your share or go back to renting as a tenant.

If you are interested in Social HomeBuy, you should contact your landlord to find out if they are taking part in the scheme and whether or not you are eligible. It is up to each local authority and housing association to decide whether or not it will take part in the scheme.

Home Ownership for People with Long Term Disabilities (HOLD) can help you to buy any home that is for sale on a shared ownership basis if you have a long-term disability. You can get more information on HOLD by speaking to your local Help to Buy agent. A list of agents is available on the Help to Buy website at www.helptobuy.org.uk.

Help to Buy: equity loan is a shared equity scheme for first time buyers and existing homeowners who want to move.

The scheme applies to new build homes with a maximum value of £600,000.

You need a minimum 5% deposit to qualify and the government provides an equity loan of up to 20% of the value of the property. This means that you then need to secure up to a 75% mortgage.

The equity loan is interest free for the first five years. From year six a fee of 1.75 per cent is payable, which rises annually by inflation plus 1%. The loan can be repaid at any time or when the property is sold.

Further information about the scheme is available from the Help to Buy website at www.helptobuy.org.uk.

In England, there is also the NewBuy scheme, which could help you if you have a deposit of at least 5%, but are finding it difficult getting a mortgage. Under this scheme, you could buy a new build home from a builder and mortgage lender who are taking part in the scheme.

More information about NewBuy is available from the NewBuy website at www.newbuy.org.uk.

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Home buying schemes in Wales

Homeswithinreach (Wales)

Homeswithinreach is a home ownership scheme that provides help to eligible first-time buyers trying to get onto the housing ladder. It is intended to provide help to those people who otherwise would be unable to buy adequate housing to meet their needs on the open market.

There are two options for those looking to become homeowners:

  • HomeBuy Ownership
  • New Build Ownership.

HomeBuy Ownership

HomeBuy Ownership is available to local authority and housing association tenants, and to some other people in housing need. Help is limited to people who would not be able to buy a home without help from the scheme.

If you are accepted onto the scheme, you will usually need to get a mortgage for 70% of the purchase price of the property. Homeswithinreach will lend you the remaining 30% of the purchase price (in some rural areas, the percentages are 50% and 50%). You will need to repay the loan when the property is sold. The amount of money you will need to repay is 30% of the value of the property when it is sold. If the property has increased in value, this will mean that the amount that you repay will be larger than the amount that you initially borrowed.

For more information about HomeBuy, go to the Homeswithinreach website at www.homeswithinreach.co.uk.

New Build Ownership

This scheme provides help to eligible first time buyers on middle incomes who cannot afford to purchase a suitable home without help. You must be able to meet the long-term financial commitment of home ownership.

Consideration may be given, on a case by case basis, to first time buyers ‘in their own right’, for example, if you have sold your jointly owned property as a result of divorce.

The properties are for sale on a shared equity basis. You must show that you can afford to purchase approximately 50-70% of the purchase price through a mortgage, savings, or a combination of both. Homeswithinreach will lend you the remaining share of the property price. You will be able to buy further shares from Homeswithinreach if you want to. You don't have to pay rent on the share owned by Homeswithinreach. When the property is sold, Homeswithinreach will get a proportion of the sale price. This will depend on the size of the share they have in the property.

For more details of the scheme, visit the Homeswithinreach website at www.homeswithinreach.co.uk.

Rent First (Wales)

Rent First aims to help people who cannot afford to pay full market rents. It can also help people who may want to buy in the future. In Rent First schemes, the rent would be around 80% of market rents. Some schemes also aim to help people who are presently renting from a social housing landlord and who may wish to become owner occupiers in the future. The rent in a Rent First scheme will be higher than in an ordinary social housing tenancy.

In some schemes, if the property increases in value after the tenancy began, when the tenants purchase the property, they will be allowed to have half the increase in value to help them to fund a deposit for the purchase.

Help to Buy - Wales

Help to Buy - Wales is a shared equity scheme. From 2 January 2014 buyers of new build homes under £300,000 can apply for a loan to help with the purchase

Buyers will need to contribute a minimum 5% deposit. The Welsh Governmentl provides an equity loan of up to 20% of the value of the new build property. The government loan is interest free for the first five years.

More Information is available on the scheme's website at  www.helptobuywales.co.uk.

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Home buying schemes in Scotland

LIFT in Scotland

If you live in Scotland and are on a low income, you may be able to get help to buy your own home through Low-cost Initiative for First Time Buyers (LIFT).

LIFT offers a number of shared equity schemes operated by housing associations in Scotland. Help is limited to people who would not be able to buy a home without help from the scheme.

If you are accepted onto the scheme, you will usually have to get a mortgage for 60% to 90% of the purchase price. The housing association will fund the remaining 10% to 40%. If you want to sell the property, the housing association will get its share back. For example, if the housing association funded 20% of the purchase price, it will get 20% of the sale price.

You can find out more about LIFT from your local housing association, or from the Scottish Government at www.scotland.gov.uk.

Help to Buy (Scotland) shared equity scheme

The Help to Buy shared equity scheme is available to first-time buyers and existing home owners who want to buy a new build home.

A mortgage lender is likely to expect you to contribute a minimum five per cent deposit. The Scottish Government will provide an equity loan of up to twenty per cent of the value of a new build property. This means that you will have to secure up to a seventy five per cent mortgage. The mortgage must be a repayment mortgage.

The scheme applies to homes with a maximum value of £400,000. The loan can be repaid at any time or when the property is sold.

If you want to find out if you are eligible for assistance under the scheme, you must contact a participating home builder who will refer you to an independent financial adviser and an agent who administers the scheme.

There is more information about the scheme including a leaflet for buyers and a list of participating home builders on the Scottish Government website at www.scotland.gov.uk.

MI New Home scheme in Scotland

In Scotland, a number of building firms and lenders are taking part in a national mortgage indemnity scheme called MI New Home scheme. Under this scheme, a lender can give you a mortgage of up to 95% of the value of a new build home, which means that you need a lower deposit than normally required to get a mortgage.

You are assessed by the lender in the normal way and you have to meet the lender's affordability and credit criteria to qualify.

Properties under the scheme must be:

  • at a cost of no more than £250,000
  • new build residential properties
  • full ownership. The scheme is not available for shared ownership or shared equity properties
  • the buyer's main home. The scheme is not available to buy second homes, for investors, or for buy-to-let purchases
  • bought by UK citizens and those with a right to remain indefinitely in the country
  • bought with a deposit saved without help from a local authority or public authority.

Further information about the scheme is available from the Homes for Scotland website at www.homesforscotland.com

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Co-Ownership in Northern Ireland

Co-ownership is a scheme which helps people who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford it, buy their own home.

The scheme is run by the Northern Ireland Co-Ownership Housing Association Limited (NICHA). It allows you to buy a mortgage for as much as you can afford to pay, and pay the rest in rent to the NICHA.

You must buy at least 50% of the property to start with. If you can afford it, you can buy a maximum of 90%. The rent you pay is based on the value of the property and the size of the share you own. The larger your share, the lower the rent you pay.

You can increase your share of ownership at any time, either by buying 5% at a time, or all in one go. You don't have to increase your share of ownership if you don't want to.

For more information about the Co-Ownership scheme, contact the Northern Ireland Co-Ownership Housing Association Ltd at:

Murray House
Murray Street
Belfast
BT1 6DN

Tel: 0800 333644 (freephone)
Website: www.co-ownership.org

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Forces Help to Buy

Throughout the UK, the Forces Help to Buy scheme allows service men and women to borrow up to 50% of their salary, interest free, to buy their first home or move to another property on assignment. The maximum loan is £25,000 and it can be used towards a deposit and other costs such as solicitor’s and estate agent’s fees.

More information on the scheme is available from the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk.

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The Foyer scheme for young people

Foyers provide temporary hostel accommodation for young people, mostly aged 16-25, who are homeless or in housing need.

Foyer residents are also offered guidance, support, access to learning and help with finding work.

The average length of stay in a foyer is between nine and twelve months.

If you want to stay in a foyer, you can contact the nearest one to you and ask for an interview, or you can ask another agency such as your local housing authority, probation service or care home to refer you.

Some Foyers will only accept young people who have been referred by their local housing authority.

To find details of your nearest foyer, contact:

The Foyer Federation
3rd Floor
5-9 Hatton Wall
London
EC1N 8HX

Tel: 020 7430 2212
Website: www.foyer.net

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Accommodation and letting agencies

An accommodation or letting agency may be able to help you find accommodation owned by a private landlord. If you register with an agency you will be asked the type of property you are looking for and how much rent you are willing to pay. You will normally be asked to give details of your job and income, and may also be asked to provide references from your employer, bank, and present or previous landlord.

A number of organisations have signed up to a private rented sector code of practice. The code sets out the legal requirements of agents. It may be useful to refer to the code if the agent you use is a member of one of the organisations that have agreed to follow it. To find out which organisations support the code and to look at the code itself, go to www.rics.org.

Unfair trading regulations

Accommodation and letting agencies have to follow the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

Generally, this means that an agency must tell you what they know about a property and what they should reasonably be expected to know. They should also tell you what they become aware of when marketing a property, which could affect your decision to rent a property.

For more information on these regulations, see Unfair trading.

What an agency can charge for

In England and Wales, when you register with an accommodation or letting agency, it is only legally allowed to charge a fee when it finds you somewhere to live. Once you have signed a contract to accept the tenancy of a property, the fee the agency can charge is unlimited. As part of their fees, some agencies are allowed to include an administrative charge for preparing a tenancy agreement, making an inventory, and other costs of setting up a tenancy agreement.

In Scotland, if you have been offered a tenancy and are asked to pay a premium or administration fee, you should tell the landlord or agency that you know that demanding a premium or fee is illegal.

You should also report what's happened to the department that deals with landlord registration at your local authority. However, if you do this, it could mean that the landlord will refuse to rent you the property.

In Northern Ireland, an agency may ask for an initial administration fee for checking references and finding the property. You may wish to compare the charges with other agencies before signing a tenancy agreement. If the fee is not included in the tenancy agreement, you should seek advice as it may not be legal. If a tenancy agreement states that you have to pay any fees for the agent acting for the landlord this is likely to be illegal. While a deposit is legal, if you have been asked specifically for 'key money' this is also likely to be illegal.

What an agency cannot charge for

It is against the law for an accommodation or letting agency to ask for payment for:-

  • putting your name on its list or taking your details
  • providing a list of properties available for renting
  • in Scotland any costs relating to finding accommodation, setting up or renewing a tenancy.

Being clear about charges

Adverts for rental properties on websites and in other media must include information about non-optional charges, such as administration fees, charges for inventories and reference checks.

If a charge can't be worked out in advance, because, for example, it changes according to individual circumstances, the advert must give you enough information to work out how charges will be calculated. Otherwise, the charges must be included with the asking rent. For example, 'rent £1,000 per calendar month and £100 administration fee per tenant'.

You can read more about this on the Advertising Standards Authority's website at www.asa.org.uk, and if you think that an advert hasn't met their guidelines, you can report this to them also through their website at www.asa.org.uk.

An agency offers accommodation

If you are offered accommodation by an accommodation or letting agency, you should inspect the property before accepting it and ensure you have full details about:-

  • the terms of the tenancy agreement
  • the amount of rent you will have to pay, and whether it includes any services, fuel and water charges
  • how much rent you will have to pay in advance
  • whether you will have to pay a premium and/or a security deposit and, if so, how much - see under heading Deposits and premiums
  • whether the property has a mortgage. You can lose your accommodation if the property is repossessed due to the landlord's failure to keep up mortgage payments
  • the name and address of the landlord
  • in Scotland, whether the landlord is registered. All private landlords in Scotland should be registered with the local authority.

For more information about types of tenancy, see Renting from a private landlord.

Where possible, you should use an accommodation or letting agency which has signed up to the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS). Agencies belonging to this scheme have agreed to follow a set of standards which include a complaints procedure.

Organisations which belong to this scheme include the National Association of Estate Agents, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), and the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA). These organisations will insist that member agencies keep deposits paid by tenants in a separate 'client account'. For contact details of these organisations, see under heading Further help.

For more information about renting from an agency, see Renting from a letting agency in Housing fact sheets.

Discrimination by an accommodation or letting agency

An accommodation or letting agency can refuse to register you. It may do this, for example, because:-

  • you are unemployed
  • you are on benefits
  • you are looking for accommodation for a family.

It is unlawful for an agency to discriminate against you because of your disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation, even where, for example, a landlord has said that they do not want a tenant of a particular race or sex, or with a disability.

For more information about discrimination when you are renting property, see under heading Discrimination when letting property.

If you think you have been discriminated against by an agency for any reason, you should talk to an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

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Deposits and premiums

A landlord or an accommodation agency acting on your behalf might ask you to pay a deposit or premium for your accommodation.

Holding deposits in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a landlord or accommodation agency can ask you to pay a holding deposit when you agree to rent a property but have not yet taken up the tenancy. This deposit will probably be deducted from the security deposit you pay when you move into the property (see under Security deposits).

Before making any payment, you should be sure you want to take up the tenancy as a holding deposit cannot be returned unless you are unable to move in for reasons beyond your control. Examples of this are if the landlord asks for more rent than was originally agreed, or the accommodation is not ready on the date the tenancy is due to begin.

If your agreement says that the holding deposit is non-refundable, you may be able to challenge the fairness of this term in certain circumstances. It may be unfair if it doesn't allow for the holding deposit to be refunded when:

  • the landlord isn't out of pocket because of your cancellation and the property is still on the market to be rented, or
  • the landlord cancels the agreement without a reason or for a reason which isn't your fault.

If you cannot get a holding deposit back although you have a good reason not to take up a tenancy you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizen’s Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Holding deposits in Scotland

In Scotland, a landlord can ask you for a holding deposit but this must be refunded at the start of your tenancy or if you decide not to take the tenancy, otherwise it becomes an illegal premium. – see below under Premiums.

Security deposits

A security deposit is money paid to a landlord (or an accommodation agency acting on their behalf) as security against, for example, rent arrears, damage to property or removal of furniture.

If you are asked to pay a security deposit you should check the condition of the property and its contents carefully. This is because, when the tenancy ends, you may be held responsible for anything which is missing or damaged, and may lose all or some of your deposit.

When a tenancy ends, the security deposit should be returned to you. It is reasonable for deductions to be made to cover, for example, damage to the property or furniture, missing items listed on the inventory, or outstanding rent you owe.

In England and Wales, if you have an assured shorthold tenancy that started, or was renewed, on or after 6 April 2007, and paid a deposit to a private landlord or accommodation agency, they must place it in a tenancy deposit protection scheme. This means you can be sure that you will get your deposit back at the end of the tenancy, as long as you are entitled to it. The scheme also provides a service to sort out any disagreements about the deposit between you and your landlord, without going to court.

For more information about tenancy deposits in England and Wales, see Tenancy deposits in Housing fact sheets.

Premiums

In England and Wales, a landlord can charge you a premium, or ‘key money’ for granting a tenancy. There is no limit on what can be asked by a landlord. If the amount appears unreasonable, you have no choice other than not to take the accommodation.

If you want to challenge a premium that your landlord is charging you should talk to an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

Rent deposit guarantee schemes

Some local authorities, housing associations and charities offer loans to pay a deposit of a month’s rent on a private flat. Usually, the money is lent in advance and is then repaid by the tenant, possibly through Housing Benefit. Other schemes guarantee that any outstanding rent will be paid to the landlord if required, but no money is exchanged. Most schemes guarantee to pay for any damage to the accommodation at the end of the tenancy.

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Paying for accommodation

If you need help to pay your rent on any accommodation that you find, you may be able to apply for housing benefit. You may also be entitled to other benefits if you are unemployed or on a low income.

For more information on housing benefit, see Help with your rent - Housing Benefit.

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Energy Performance Certificates

A landlord has to provide an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for all new lets of self-contained accommodation. Self-contained accommodation does not cover a:

  • room in someone's home
  • shared house let with more than one tenancy agreement
  • hall of residence
  • hostel
  • residential care home.

The purpose of the EPC is to show prospective tenants the energy performance of the property they are considering renting. The landlord must provide the EPC free of charge, at the earliest opportunity. This could be when they first give written information about the property, or when a viewing is arranged, but it should be provided before the tenant enters into the rental agreement. In England, Wales and Scotland, from 9 January 2013, and in Northern Ireland, from 18 February 2013, an advert to let a property must show the EPC rating.

An EPC must be produced by an accredited assessor and it is valid for ten years. It can be reused as many times as is necessary within that ten-year period but if a new EPC is produced, this must be used instead of the older version.

An EPC gives details of the energy efficiency of the property. It is accompanied by a recommendation report that shows how energy efficiency can be improved. However, the landlord does not have to carry out any of the improvements recommended in the report.

Where there is a Green Deal plan on a property for which payments are still to be made, information about this must be included on the EPC in England and Wales, and on the EPC or its recommendations report in Scotland. The new tenant must acknowledge the Green Deal and the repayments in writing.

For more information about the Green Deal, see Green Deal

If a landlord does not provide an EPC, Trading Standards can issue a notice with a penalty charge of £200 per dwelling.

For more information about reporting a problem to Trading Standards, see Reporting a problem to Trading Standards.

For more information about EPCs in England and Wales, go to the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk.

In Scotland, go to the Scottish Government’s website at www.scotland.gov.uk

In Northern Ireland, go to the website of the Department of Finance and Personnel (NI) at www.dfpni.gov.uk.

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Discrimination when letting property

If you are renting property, you may find that you face discrimination. People who are letting property must not discriminate against you because of your disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. They are probably acting unlawfully if, because of one of these reasons, they:

  • refuse to let a property to you or offer you a property for rent on worse terms than other people
  • treat you differently on a housing waiting list
  • treat you differently from other tenants in the way you are allowed to use benefits or facilities such as a laundry or a garden
  • evict or harass you.

There are some exceptions to the rules about discrimination in housing, for example, if your landlord lives in the same property as you. However, even if the landlord lives in the same property, they mustn't discriminate against someone because of their race.

If you think you are being discriminated against when you are renting property, you should get advice from an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

For more information about discrimination, see our pages on Discrimination in housing.

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Further help

Shelter

The Shelter website provides information about a range of housing options, including help for homeless people, private renting and home ownership. The website address is www.shelter.org.uk.

Housing advice centres

Housing advice centres can offer advice and information about all aspects of housing. Some are run by local authorities while others are run by voluntary organisations.

Details of independent housing advice centres are available from:-

England

Shelter
88 Old Street
London
EC1V 9HU

Helpline: 0808 800 4444
Email: info@shelter.org.uk
Website: www.shelter.org.uk

Wales

Shelter Cymru
25 Walter Road
Swansea
SA1 5NN

Tel: 01792 469400
Fax: 01792 460050
E-mail: mail@sheltercymru.org.uk
Website: www.sheltercymru.org.uk

Scotland

Shelter
4th Floor
Scotia Bank House
6 South Charlotte Street
Edinburgh
EH2 4AW

Tel: 0844 515 2000
Website: http://scotland.shelter.org.uk

Shelter also operates a free housing advice helpline for anyone with a housing problem. The service is available via minicom and textphone, and a special translation service can be provided where necessary. Tel: 0808 800 4444.

Northern Ireland

Housing Rights Service
Middleton Buildings
Fourth Floor
10-12 High Street
Belfast
BT1 2BA

Tel: 028 9024 5640
Fax: 028 9031 2200
E-mail: hrs@housingrights.org.uk
Website: www.housing-rights.org.uk

The Scottish Housing Regulator

The Scottish Housing Regulator
Highlander House
58 Waterloo Street
GLASGOW
G2 7DA

Tel: 0141 271 3810
Fax: 0141 221 5030
E-mail: shr@scottishhousingregulator.gsi.gov.uk
Website: www.scottishhousingregulator.gov.uk

Housing rights information for people coming from abroad

There is a useful website about housing for people who come from abroad, for example, refugees, people who hold work permits, people in the UK with indefinite leave to remain and EEA nationals. The website address for England and Wales is www.housing-rights.info. Information for Scotland can be found on the same website at www.housing-rights.info. In Northern Ireland, you can find information at www.housingadviceni.org.uk.

Help with home buying schemes

England

The Homes and Communities Agency
Maple House
149 Tottenham Court Road
London
W1T 7BN

Tel: 0300 1234 500
E-mail: mail@homesandcommunities.co.uk
Website: www.homesandcommunities.co.uk

Wales

Community Housing Cymru
Fulmar House
Beignon Close
Ocean Park
Cardiff
CF24 5HF

Tel: 029 2055 7400
Fax: 029 2055 7415
Email: enquiries@chcymru.org.uk
Website: www.chcymru.org.uk

The National Approved Letting Scheme and affiliated organisations

The National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS)

Tavistock House
5 Rodney Road
Cheltenham
GL50 1HX

Tel: 01242 581712
Fax: 01242 232518
E-mail: info@nalscheme.co.uk
Website: www.nalscheme.co.uk

Association of Residential Letting Agents

Arbon House
6 Tournament Court
Edgehill Drive
Warwick
CV34 6LG

Tel: 01926 496800
Fax: 01926 417788
E-mail: info@arla.co.uk
Website: www.arla.co.uk

Members of the ARLA must follow the ARLA guide to best agency practice. The ARLA also runs a bonding scheme to protect your money if a member agency goes out of business.

National Association of Estate Agents

31b Arbon House
21 Jury Street
Warwick
CV34 4EH

Tel: 01926 496800
Fax: 01926 400953
E-mail: info@naea.co.uk
Website: www.naea.co.uk

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors

England

RICS HQ
Parliament Square
London
SW1P 3AD

Tel: 024 7686 8555
Email: contactrics@rics.org
Website: www.rics.org

Wales

RICS Wales
Second Floor
3/4 Park Place
Cardiff
CF10 3DP

Tel: 029 2022 4414
Email: contactrics@rics.org
Website: www.rics.org

Scotland

9 Manor Place
Edinburgh
EH3 7DN

Tel: 0131 225 7078
E-mail: contactrics@rics.org

Northern Ireland

Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
9-11 Corporation Square
BELFAST
BT1 3AJ

Tel: 028 9032 2877
Fax: 028 9023 3465
Email: ricsni@rics.org
Website: www.rics.org

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Citizens Advice

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