50+ Tips For Renters
Rental rights, energy tips, letting fees & more
A fifth of households in the UK are privately rented, and the costs can be staggering – the average rent's now £965/month, and an eye-watering £1,611/month in London. Below we've 50+ tips to help you rent a home cheaply and safely – including how to check your deposit's protected, ways to furnish your flat for free and more.
We've made every effort to ensure this guide's accuracy, yet it doesn't constitute legal advice tailored to your individual circumstances. If you act on it, you do so at your own risk. Huge thanks to Crosse + Crosse Solicitors, Clarke Mairs LLP and all forumites who suggested tips. The below is written with English and Welsh law in mind, though much of it will apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland. See the Scottish Government and NIdirect sites for more.
Ensure you've contents cover from as soon as you move in
If you rent, your landlord is responsible for buildings insurance, so you should only be getting contents cover (essentially, it's for stuff that'd fall if you turned your home upside down).
As buildings insurance generally covers the building itself (unsurprisingly), this is usually the property owner's responsibility. Generally, this means you're unlikely to need building insurance if you're renting. There may be exceptions, eg, if the contract says you need buildings insurance – check with your landlord if unsure.
How to get the cheapest contents cover will vary depending on whether you're house-sharing or not. In a nutshell...
If only you or your family live in the house:
To find the cheapest cover, combine comparison sites MoneySupermarket*, Confused.com*, Compare The Market* and Gocompare* to bag the max quotes in the minimum time. Then check Aviva* and Direct Line*, which they miss.
Better still, try the full Cheap Home Insurance guide – you could even get PAID for cover.
If you're in a house-share:
Getting cover from mainstream insurers can be tricky. The comparison sites above say they provide flat-share quotes, but some can be very flaky on this – while they should all ask you the right questions about who you live with (meaning the result should cover you), before you get a policy make sure you check the T&Cs for any specific stipulations, eg, it'd only cover you if you've got a lock on the door to your room.
Always let your insurers know you live with others and not on your own (even if your housemates won't be covered by the policy) otherwise you could risk invalidating your insurance.
While it's worth using the comparison sites to get a benchmark price, it might be better to check out a specialist such as Home Protect* or Endsleigh. You may also find it easier going down the route of finding a local broker via BIBA as these will specialise in tailoring a quote for you.
See the Renters' Insurance guide for full info.
Check your deposit's protected
Almost a quarter of private renters in England and Wales don't know about the tenancy deposit protection (TDP) scheme and a further one in 10 don't know if their deposit is protected, according to housing charity Shelter. If this is you, check NOW.
Under the law in England and Wales, if you've what's called an 'assured shorthold tenancy' (the most common type) that started on or after 6 April 2007, your landlord MUST put your deposit into one of these schemes within 30 days of getting it. (If you're not a lodger or renting from a council, you've probably got an assured shorthold tenancy, but you can double-check with Shelter's tenancy checker.)
If a landlord fails to protect your deposit you can go to the small claims court to get the deposit itself sent to you or a TDP scheme, plus a penalty of up to three times its value of your deposit. Shelter has a short guide on making such claims, and though it's far from guaranteed, it does happen, as MSE Jenny found:
My landlord didn't protect my deposit and didn't give it back so I went to court and got back £4,850 (including court fees) from a £1,020 deposit. It was easy.
If your deposit is in one of these schemes, it means:
- You'll get the full deposit back at the end of the tenancy provided you've met the terms of the tenancy agreement.
- If you agree with your landlord how much of the deposit you're due, it'll be returned to you within 10 days of the tenancy ending.
- If you DON'T agree with your landlord, a free dispute resolution service will investigate and decide how much of the deposit you should get back.
How to check it's protected
To ensure your deposit's protected from the outset, ask the landlord or letting agent which scheme it's with before you sign the contract. If you've already moved in and the scheme isn't named on your contract, ask the landlord and get it in writing.
In England and Wales, the authorised schemes are the Deposit Protection Service, My Deposits and Tenancy Deposit Scheme. If you haven't been told which your deposit's protected under within 30 days of paying it, contact them directly to check – Shelter has a useful tool to help. For Scotland and Northern Ireland, see the Scottish Government and NIdirect websites.
In England and Wales, you'll have an assured shorthold tenancy if the following things apply – you've a private landlord, the tenancy started on or after 15 Jan 1989, the property is your main accommodation and the landlord isn't living there.
Other types of tenancy do exist but they're far less common. Your tenancy agreement should state what type it is or you can use Shelter's tenancy checker to find out.
There are different names for tenancies in Scotland and Northern Ireland. To find out what yours is called, Shelter also has a tenancy checker tool for Scotland, and you can try Housing Advice NI for Northern Ireland.
If you find your deposit was eligible for the scheme so should have been protected, but your landlord hasn't put it in a deposit protection scheme, you can go to a county court and ask it to intervene.
It can order your deposit to be repaid, or paid into an official tenancy deposit protection scheme. Plus it may also order the landlord to pay you up to three times the deposit's value. See Gov.uk, NIdirect or the Scottish Government.
In England and Wales you can go to the small claims court for up to six years after the end of the tenancy in question.
If the tenancy is still ongoing, you can claim regardless of when it started – so long as you paid the deposit after the legislation came into force on 6 April 2007.
If you don't agree with your landlord's decision on your deposit, the tenancy deposit protection scheme has a free dispute resolution service to help. It'll investigate your case and rule on how much of the deposit should be returned to you and how much should be given to the landlord. See Gov.uk (England and Wales), Scottish Government or NIdirect for help on how to start the process.
Whether your landlord is obliged to protect your deposit depends on whether you've had a "periodic" (ie, rolling) assured shorthold tenancy since before 6 April 2007. If you have, your landlord isn't obliged to protect it with the scheme (though they won't be able to serve a notice to regain possession unless the deposit is protected).
If your tenancy started before 6 April 2007 but became periodic (ie, the initial fixed term ended) after this date, the landlord is subject to the rules above and had until 23 June 2015 to put it in a deposit protection scheme. Make sure you check – if they didn't do this, you could get compensation.
If you feel your deposit's being unfairly withheld at the end of your tenancy, it's well worth fighting for. Here's one forumite's story to inspire you – see the Deposit Help forum discussion for more and see below for extra tips on getting your deposit back.
Fought tooth and nail to get deposit back... AND WON!!! Our tenancy ended three months ago. I have been fighting to get our deposit back. Today I received an email telling me they will release the full amount.
So, there is hope for all of you who are in a similar situation. Just be persistent, be reasonable, and remain professional.
– Forumite DJ MPH
- You'll get the full deposit back at the end of the tenancy provided you've met the terms of the tenancy agreement.
Tricks to help ensure you get your deposit back
When it comes to checking your property at the end of your stay, landlords can develop better microscopic vision than Superman, but there are ways you can improve the chances of getting your deposit back.
To help stop them zapping your deposit, here are a few tips:
Check your contract. Dig it out and give it another read. Does it say the carpets need to be deep-cleaned, or that all picture hooks need to be removed and filled in? If so, make sure these are sorted.
Patch up any damage. Fix it properly – covering up a hole in the wall with a picture may seem like a good idea at the time, but leaving it like this when you move out is practically asking for your deposit to be docked.
Ensure nothing's missing or broken. Check the inventory thoroughly to make sure everything's as it should be, and replace or fix as needed.
Take photos as proof you've left it in good order. These could be useful evidence later if a dispute arises over your deposit.
Have a proper deep-clean. Get a scrupulous friend or family member to check the place over to check there's nothing you've missed, and remove all rubbish. See the Save zillions on cleaning products forum thread for tips to help.
If your tenancy agreement states you must get the property professionally cleaned, you may have to provide receipts to prove you've done it, though whether this may be an unfair contract term is a grey area.
But if it states you need to have it cleaned to a professional standard, you could do this carefully yourself and take photos as proof. Here are a few handy tips from our forumites to help:
Bicarb of soda, soda crystals, vinegar, newspaper and Oven Pride are pretty much all anyone needs to clean a house. I've always got the deposit back and have never spent more than £5 and 1/2 a day.
– Forumite Mrsbmartin
Sugar soap removes emulsioned wall scuffs that no other cleaning product shifts without taking paint too. Wipe gently, don't rub.
– Forumite Fire Fox
Lie on your back in the middle of each room, you would not believe the snagging found just looking from a different angle. It works!
– Forumite Whalster
Paying your rent on time can now boost your credit score
Do you pay your rent on time? If so, you could use this to boost your credit score.
Private renters and social housing tenants can opt in to the Rental Exchange Initiative, a free scheme that records your rental payments and sends the results to credit reference agency Experian. If you pay on time, it could boost your score – and therefore your ability to get a mortgage, credit card etc. If you don't pay rent on time it'll hurt your score, so think carefully about joining if you're worried you may be late.
The scheme's actually been running in the background for more than two years with 1.2 million people's payments recorded but payments were only made visible in people's files in October 2018, so it now has a real impact on how firms score you. For full info, see the Rental payment info to appear on credit report MSE News story.
How can you join the Rental Exchange scheme?
You can easily join the scheme if your social housing provider, letting agent or private landlord is already signed up:
How to join if you're in social housing
- Ask your social housing provider if they're one of the 150 already part of the scheme.
- If they are, your rental payment information should be automatically recorded – if you don't want to be part of the scheme, Experian told us you will need to opt out.
- If they're not, you can ask them to join and request your information be added, or see below on how to self-report.
How to join as a private tenant
- Ask your landlord or letting agent if they are part of the scheme. Unfortunately, despite asking, Experian won't tell us which landlords and agents are part of it.
- If they are, request for your payment information to be added.
- If they're not, you can self-report as below.
Social housing provider, letting agent or landlord not part of Rental Exchange?
Don't panic, you can still join the initiative if you want to, but the way your payments are reported is slightly different.
You'll need to sign up to one of Experian's partners Credit Ladder or Canopy and connect them to the bank account from which you pay rent (granting read-only access) and it uses Open Banking to verify and monitor rent payments. Of course, you'll need to be comfortable sharing your details.
The easiest way to check if you've already joined (in case you've forgotten), is to speak to your landlord or view your Experian credit report. You can do this via our free Credit Club.
Save £100s switching energy even if you rent
If you rent, you could save £100s every year by switching. You don't need to own the property to do it, so don't just stick with the previous tenant's gas or electricity firm.
Even if your tenancy agreement says you can't switch, the energy regulator Ofgem says you shouldn't be unreasonably prevented. The exception is if you pay via your landlord for any bills (ie, as part of the rent).
You can still compare even if you don't have previous bills from your new digs. Just tell our Cheap Energy Club some info about the new rental, and if you're a high, medium or low user. It'll show the cheapest tariff for you and give up to £25 cashback.
If you're worried because your landlord says you can't switch, we've designed a factsheet to give to landlords to help explain the situation to them. Please tell us if it helps you switch.
Preventing a tenant from changing energy suppliers may be viewed as an unfair term in a tenancy agreement. Talk to Citizens Advice to see if it can help and see our Cheap Gas & Electricity guide for more info.
Rent in London? Check if your landlord needs a licence – you could be owed £1,000s
Tenants in London can now use a new tool to check whether their landlords need to license their homes – and some could be owed £1,000s in rent refunds if their landlord doesn't have the right documentation.
Some privately rented homes need a property licence before they can be rented out to tenants, to show that the property is suitable to be lived in and managed to an acceptable standard. But confusingly, different London boroughs have different property licensing rules, which can make it difficult for tenants to know whether their landlord has the right licence.
To help, the Mayor of London's launched a property licensing checker that lets you see if your rented home needs a licence – though you may still need to do some legwork to find out if your landlord actually has that licence. For full details, see our MSE News story New tool lets you check if your landlord needs a licence – and you could be owed £1,000s.
You can still switch energy supplier even if you have a prepaid meter
This works in the same way as described above. Even if you rent and have a prepaid meter, you can still switch your supplier providing you pay the energy company directly (check your tenancy agreement too – though if it says you can't switch, challenge it).
If you want to change the physical meter to a billed one, you'll need to get written permission from your landlord first.
This is because it could be seen as changing the property from its original condition, unless you arrange to change the meter back at the end of the tenancy. The supplier may charge to do this, so check first. See the Cheap Prepaid Gas & Electricity guide for more info.
Grab FREE sofas, beds, TVs, fridges and more
If you've gone for an unfurnished or part-furnished rental, this is a handy trick to help furnish your pad for nowt. Hundreds of top-quality goodies are available daily for free.
What's the catch? Well, there isn't one. Instead of dumping goods or eBaying them, people harness the internet's power to offer them to their local communities. So as well as kitting up for nowt, the environment benefits as unwanted items aren't flung into landfills.
Of course, there is some moth-bitten tat out there. But there's also top-quality stuff people just don't use anymore. Bagging the best is all about the etiquette – you need to give stuff yourself and keep your eyes peeled.
Today I got a brand-new espresso machine from Freecycle, it goes well with the juicer and bread maker I got on other days!
We are a single parent family, and have had lots of goodies from Freecycle, including a chest freezer, a sofa bed, various plants, two chooks and a Warhammer. And we've donated a table, telly, bits of bikes, football boots and a couple other random things. It's great at teaching that whole ethos of stuff being 'worth' something to someone.
Grab free apps to check rentals on-the-go
There are a couple of free property apps, popular with MoneySavers:
- Rightmove's free iOS and Android apps use GPS technology to pinpoint pads for rent near where you're standing.
- Zoopla also has its own free apps for iOS and Android. Just download the app to find a list of gaffs up for grabs near you.
Both are clear and simple to use – Rightmove's arguably has the edge for ease and slickness, though Zoopla's heat map also lets you see property values of the area you're in so you can assess likely rental prices at speed.
Forumites find these strangely addictive:
I check it when on a street I like. I get excited when they send me an email. I probably check it every 24 minutes. (Rightmove)
I've not even considered moving and all of a sudden I keep looking! Can someone talk me out of this odd behaviour please? (Zoopla)
- Rightmove's free iOS and Android apps use GPS technology to pinpoint pads for rent near where you're standing.
Live with and help vulnerable people to help cut rent costs
Share and Care is a home-sharing scheme company which brings together homeowners – generally older and/or disabled people – with 'sharers' happy to live with them and give a little help around the house in exchange for low-cost rent.
Sharers agree to give 10 hours of help a week, and must spend the majority of evenings in the home.
Sharers and homeowners are both asked to sign a Home Licence Agreement – these generally last for a year, with a 30-day notice period on both sides. Share and Care says it keeps in regular contact with both parties to ensure the arrangement's working.
There's a page of current listings to apply for on the website. The locations advertised at the time of writing include Glasgow, Cornwall, Cambridge, Newcastle Upon Tyne and a number across London (some of the listings are for women only).
Accommodation varies from single to double rooms, both furnished and unfurnished, and some include a separate bathroom and living room for the sharer.
The monthly rent you pay depends on where the property is. The set fees below are paid to Share and Care (not the homeowner, who also has to pay fees to the company) – you may have to contribute to council tax on top:
- In London: £180/mth (incl VAT)
- Rest of the UK: £150/mth (incl VAT)
Arrangements are flexible, but sharers are typically asked to help out with shopping, cooking meals and taking out bins, or accompanying the person they're sharing with to appointments or social events.
The companionship side involves things like sharing some meals, playing a game, watching TV together or just enjoying a chat over a cuppa.
You WON'T be expected to provide nursing or personal care – in fact, it's prohibited under the rules of the scheme.
Shares must agree to provide 10 hours of practical work a week, plus the "natural friendly company that comes from sharing a home".
You must be in the property at least four evenings a week to give help and provide company, and you must sleep there at least six nights a week. Of course there are allowances for holidays and the occasional weekend away.
You'll also have to keep the homeowner notified of what you're up to – eg, if you're having a night out.
You must have a high level of spoken English, but beyond that, there's no fixed criteria. The scheme's website says sharers are normally aged 24+ and are either working or studying – some in the health, social services or education sectors. But it takes applicants from all walks of life, including mature students and graduates, artists, musicians or experienced carer-companions.
Use a free app to track and split bills
Keeping track of bills and who's not keeping up with their share of the costs in a house of four or five can be a complete nightmare. Fortunately, the free app Splitwise makes a less stressful job of it.
To get started, download the iOS or Android app, or create an account on its website, and add the property you want to manage the bills for. You can invite others to the account from your phone's contacts.
All those with access can then add bills or expenses that they've either paid or are coming up (including due dates) – these might be utilities, council tax or just home supplies. You can record one-off and regular payments, and add attachments and comments for any particular expense.
Using this information the app will work out who owes whom how much. You can then request payments within the app, and keep a record of those made.
Yes – you can make payments via Paypal if both users have a Paypal account.
If you'd rather though, you can make payments outside the app as you would normally and simply record them in Splitwise.
Warning – joint accounts with flatmates can affect your credit rating
Credit scoring is a system used by lenders to check how financially attractive you are to them, using your past actions to predict future behaviour. Yet if you're 'financially linked' to someone on a financial product, it can have an impact. Even a joint bank account with housemates from which to pay house bills theoretically means you could be co-scored.
However while it's technically possible joint utility bills could be reported on credit files, current practice is not to do so. Similarly we've also confirmed being jointly named on a utility bill with a flatmate shouldn't mean you're jointly credit scored.
Bear in mind though that if there are two (or more) names on a utility bill and there's a default, it's likely to be reported on both (or all) credit records.
If you move out and no longer live with housemates who you had joint finances with, once the accounts are separated or no longer active, always write to the credit reference agencies and ask for a notice of 'disassociation' to stop their credit history affecting yours in future. See the Credit Scores guide for full help.
Your landlord should ask before entering
When you rent a property, your landlord may well need to come in from time to time for repairs, as well as to inspect the property (eg, to check you haven't turned a 'no pets' tenancy into an indoor farm).
If your landlord wants to access the property, they should give you notice and arrange a time with you first. Government guidelines on private renting says landlords need to give you at least 24 hours’ notice and visit at a reasonable time of day unless it's an emergency.
If your landlord or letting agent comes in without asking, you've a right to ask them to stop. If they continue to enter without permission, this could be considered as harassment – a criminal offence. Contact Citizens Advice or a solicitor for help, or even the police if you feel threatened. See the Shelter website for more info.
Make sure you know where your stopcock is
Your mains water tap, or stopcock, is the off-switch for all the water in your home. Hopefully you'll never need it. But if you don't know where it is and a pipe bursts, you'll be powerless to stop it flooding your home.
If you don't know where yours is, check NOW. It could be under the kitchen sink, by the boiler, in the airing cupboard or elsewhere in the property. If you don't know where it is, ask your landlord to show you. See Martin's blog: Stopcock tips – can you find yours?
One MoneySaver's tip:
Stopcocks should be turned a couple of times a year to minimise 'seizing' due to scale. Never open fully, or they're more likely to jam.
Vet the landlord
If a prospective landlord strikes you as unreliable or unreasonable (eg, they turn up an hour late), think twice. After all, it's easier to walk away now than be stuck with a landlord who won't carry out essential maintenance and repairs as needed – or worse.
- Renting direct from a landlord: Don't hand over any cash until you've got the landlord's full name and a contact address in the UK for them. If you're concerned, forumites also recommend checking they own the property via the Land Registry website (costs £3) – for more info, see the Check out your landlord discussion.
- Renting via a letting agent: This is a firm that rents out properties on behalf of the landlord. Check they're a member of a professional body such as the Association of Residential Letting Agents, National Approved Lettings Scheme, UK Association of Letting Agents or National Association of Estate Agents.
- Renting direct from a landlord: Don't hand over any cash until you've got the landlord's full name and a contact address in the UK for them. If you're concerned, forumites also recommend checking they own the property via the Land Registry website (costs £3) – for more info, see the Check out your landlord discussion.
Check whether you need your own TV licence
If you rent, whether an entire property or a room in a shared property, you must be covered by a valid TV licence to watch or record live TV, or watch BBC iPlayer. (You don't need one to watch other catch-up services though – see Do I need a TV licence?)
Usually you'll have to organise this yourself (or between yourselves if in a shared house). But speak to the landlord first, as they may already have a licence for the property. If you live in self-contained accommodation, such as a separate flat or annex, you'll need your own licence.
I'm in shared accommodation – will one TV licence cover it?
The answer to this depends on whether you have a separate tenancy agreement for your room, or a joint tenancy agreement with others you share with.
If you've separate tenancy agreements, each of you must have your own TV licence if you watch or record TV. These individual licences will also cover any communal areas.
If you've a joint tenancy agreement, one TV licence may cover the whole house. Yet bizarrely, there may still be other reasons, such as if you have your own toilet and sink, why you need your own separate licence, so it's best to contact TV Licensing to check your circumstances.
If you're a lodger and have a relationship with the homeowner (a family member, partner, nanny, au pair, housekeeper etc), you'll be covered by the homeowner's TV licence, provided you live in the same building. But if you're a lodger and you have a separate tenancy agreement for your room, you'll need your own licence.
I'm a student – do I need my own?
Generally speaking, yes, though there is a loophole that will allow you to be covered by your parents' licence under some circumstances. See Student TV Licence Trick for details.
Max your interest if you're saving to buy a house
There's no shame in renting – and 21% of households in the UK do it. Yet if you're lusting to own, ALWAYS save for your deposit the right way to reach your goal sooner. In a nutshell...
The Government launched the Lifetime ISA in April 2017. You can earn interest tax-free and then the state will add 25% free cash (up to £33,000) on top of what you save. For full info see our Lifetime ISA guide.
Next it's worth seeing if you qualify for a top-interest paying current account, some of which give up to 5% at the time of writing – see Best Bank Accounts for more info. If you're willing to put in the legwork, max your savings further by following the steps in our 60-second guide on the 5% Savings Loophole.
If you've put the maximum in your Lifetime ISA, go for a top-paying easy-access ISA, which gives tax-free savings of up to £20,000 per tax year. See our Top Cash ISAs guide for the best accounts.
- Once you've maxed your ISA limit and reached the in-credit limit on interest for your current account, put the rest in a top savings account. Full best buys are in Top Savings.
Save 60%+ on rent – become a property guardian
Fancy living in a church, school or fire station? In return for babysitting empty premises to deter squatters, property guardian companies charge their 'guardians' as little as a third of local rents.
Prices vary hugely but it typically works out at £300/mth, or £400/mth in London. This is a bargain, considering the average private monthly rent in the UK stands at £965 (£1,611 in London) as of July 2020, according to tenant referencing company HomeLet.
Buildings include everything from monasteries to mansions, so you could end up living it up in a sprawling country pile for less than a flat.
Since the law changed in 2012 to make squatting in residential, but not commercial, properties illegal, building managers have seen a rise in squatters in commercial properties and are increasingly turning to guardianship to combat this. This may lead to more opportunities to take up property guardianship in the future.
Here's what MSE Becky made of the experience: "I lived in guardian properties for three to four years and paid a third of normal London rent. Places can be huge but you often don't know how long you've got, and facilities can be basic."
What's the catch?
You must be employed and need to be flexible – here are a few things to consider.
Guardians have fewer rights than tenants. You may have to up sticks at two weeks' notice. So this is good for those with flexibility, eg, people who can kip at their parents'. The firms usually try to find alternatives, but it's not guaranteed and you have to pay a transfer/admin fee of about £70ish. Many guardians live in the same place for years though. See more on limited rights and what to watch out for.
There are fees involved. You must pay a deposit. It varies, but it's typically between £350 and £500, or £600 in London. Most charge a £100ish admin fee when you sign up, plus you need to buy a fire safety pack (c. £60). Rents usually include bills and council tax.
Accommodation can be basic (and eerie). Most places need work doing and are unfurnished, so it's more suited to adventurous types. You often share with others, depending on the property size, but usually get your own room. Many of the buildings don't have central heating, so woe betide you if it's winter and you don't have a heater (oil-filled only, usually).
- You may need your own furniture. It will generally say on the advert whether the room includes any furniture but it also worth checking what's included in the communal areas too. Check out our Freecycle & Freegle guide for some ideas.
This forumite's story sums it up. If you've done it, please share your experience.
My boyfriend and I were guardians for a huge country estate for eight months. Good points were cheap rent and incredible location. Bad were limited security, and being at the mercy of the property owner.
I liken the experience to camping, but in an old property. You have to be flexible and get on with the other guardians. But if you've no commitments, are not spooked by old properties, don't mind roughing it and want to save money, it's worth considering.
– Forumite MissFox1973
Where to find guardian properties
- Ad Hoc has guardians across the UK, but is especially strong in northern England, the West Midlands and Scotland. Currently has 35+ properties available, including a former museum in Dewsbury. Prices start from £160/mth. Utilities are usually included but you may have to pay council tax on top.
- Dex Property Management currently has about 130 properties across England, including Lincoln, London, Shropshire and South Shields. Prices start at £175/mth.
- Live-in Guardians manages 30 buildings in central London. As an example, one of its properties in Covent Garden currently houses 10 guardians, who each pay £475/mth (significantly less than average rents for a room in that area).
- Lowe Guardians offers guardian properties across London, and requires guardians to be aged 21 or over, in full-time employment and willing to be interviewed. At the time of writing, there are five vacant properties listed on its website, including a former care home in Clapham Junction. Utilities are included with some properties, and the firm says it doesn't charge any admin fees.
The point about limited rights compared to tenants is an important one to bear in mind. While some companies advertise a four-week notice period, we've heard of cases where guardians have been evicted with as little as 24 hours' notice.
We've also heard that it can be be difficult to get the companies to carry out repairs, and guardians need to be fairly self-reliant in this regard. It won't be the same everywhere and many guardians live happily in their properties, but it's something to be aware of.
You usually need to be 18 or over, employed with no criminal record. You're not allowed to have children or pets.
Don't worry, you're not expected to patrol the building, fighting off intruders, but you will need to keep it secure and report any security issues. Parties are off limits, and you'll have to keep your area clean and tidy.
You need to tell the property management company if you're going on holiday, or away for more than a few days.
As with normal property rentals, you must provide ID, proof of income and references.
Letting fees are banned in England, Wales and Scotland
Landlords and letting agents are now banned from charging letting fees in England, Wales and Scotland (they still apply in Northern Ireland however).
In England, the rules kicked in on 1 June 2019 (see our MSE News story for more details), and Wales followed suit on 1 September 2019.
Previously you could have faced stumping up £100s in fees on taking out a new tenancy, including tenancy set-up and checkout, and referencing and credit-check fees, before you'd even stepped through the door.
The only fees a landlord or letting agent can now pass on to a tenant are:
- Utilities and council tax if included within the tenancy.
- A refundable deposit capped at five weeks' rent if your annual rent is less than £50,000, or six weeks' rent if annual rent is more than this.
- A refundable holding deposit to reserve the property, capped at a week's rent.
- Changes to the tenancy requested by the tenant, capped at £50 (or "reasonable costs", backed up by written evidence from the landlord or agent).
- Early termination of the tenancy requested by the tenant.
- Defaults by the tenant, such as fines for late rent payments or lost keys. Fines for lost keys must be "reasonable costs", with evidence given in writing by the landlord or agent (you don't have to pay the fee until you've received this evidence).
Before the new rules came into effect we'd heard of some shocking incidents where fees were charged, like £120 for permission to have a dog or £60 for photocopying a contract.
Extortionate fees from agencies – almost £700 in fees and £250 for the cat!
I'm already in a tenancy – can I still be charged fees?
The fees ban in England applies to all new tenancies entered into on or after 1 June 2019. You can't reclaim fees paid before this.
If you signed a tenancy before this which included agreements to pay further fees – for example, checkout fees or tenancy renewal fees – you will still have had to pay these up until 31 May 2020.
But since 1 June 2020, any term in a tenancy that requires you to pay fees is no longer binding, so you won't need to pay them regardless of what your agreement says or when you signed it.
If your landlord or letting agent charges you a fee they aren't supposed to, here are the steps to take:
- First, write to your landlord or agent asking them to return the fee. You can use the template shown on page 78 of the Government's guidance.
- If that doesn't work, you can complain about a letting agent to a redress scheme. All letting agents must belong to a Government-approved redress scheme, which will offer a free and independent dispute resolution service. Details of which redress scheme your letting agent belongs to should be available on the agent's website – or you can ask directly.
- If that doesn't work (or it was a landlord who charged the fee), contact your local authority. The authority can take formal enforcement action against your landlord or letting agent and order them to repay the fee, possibly with interest.
- As a last resort, you can go to the First-Tier Tribunal to recover the payment. The First-Tier Tribunal, which is part of the courts system, can also order a landlord or letting agent to repay fees.
You may have to pay a fee to use this service (although you could be eligible for financial help), so only try this if you're confident you were wrongly charged and you've exhausted the other options.
If you're challenging a banned fee, make sure you have evidence you were asked to pay – for example, emails or letters from your landlord or agent, or notes from conversations.
If you've already paid the fee, keep evidence such as written confirmations from the landlord or agent, receipts or bank statements.
- First, write to your landlord or agent asking them to return the fee. You can use the template shown on page 78 of the Government's guidance.
In Scotland, letting agency fees have technically been illegal since 1984, though the law was 'clarified' in 2012 to ensure agents stopped charging tenants.
So if you're charged, you should write to your letting agent. If this doesn't work, consider going through the courts. Find more information from Shelter Scotland.
You can complain to an official body – such as the Property Ombudsman, the Association of Residential Letting Agents or the National Landlords Association – if you think you're being unfairly treated by a landlord or letting agent. This can be for a number of reasons, for example if the landlord isn't keeping appliances to a safe standard, not just unfair fees. Check which organisation your letting agent or landlord is registered with before you complain.
These organisations can look into disputes, but they don't have any real power to force landlords or letting agents into acting. You can also speak to your local authority for help, Citizens Advice or Shelter.
Fines for late rent payments are capped at an annual percentage rate of 3% above the Bank of England base rate (so right now, that's 3.1%), calculated based on the number of days the payment has been outstanding. They can be charged once a payment's been outstanding for 14 days.
So for example, if you owe a late rent payment of £1,000 that's been outstanding for 40 days, you could be charged up to £3.40.
Get your landlord's permission if planning to redecorate
When you rent a property, you generally need to return it in the same condition as you found it, though some unavoidable wear and tear should be allowed (think slight wearing of carpets, not destroyed furnishings).
Bear this in mind if you want to redecorate, as any changes will need to be put back. It sounds obvious, but the key point to remember is the property isn't yours. So you can't just put up shelves, for example, without permission. If you want to make permanent changes, it's best to get it written into the contract from the outset.
Otherwise, if you plan to repaint the walls a different colour or make any other changes, first get your landlord's permission in writing. Otherwise it's likely you'll need to paint them back to the original colour before you move.
Your landlord has responsibilities too
If you're renting your property, you're not responsible for everything and there are several things your landlord needs to take care of.
Full details of this will often be set out in your contract, but as a minimum it should include: organising and paying for buildings insurance, putting in fire alarms, checking plug sockets, making sure wiring and electricals are safe and generally maintaining the property to a safe and liveable standard.
There's also certain documentation they're required to provide when you move in:
- A Gas Safety Certificate (see below).
- Deposit Protection Scheme paperwork (see above).
- A fire safety label on any furniture that's been provided.
- An Energy Performance Certificate.
- A copy of the Government's How to Rent guide (either a link or printed copy), as of 1 October 2015.
Dispute with landlord? How to get help
If the landlord isn't doing any of the above, and you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, you can ask your council's environmental health department for help. It must take action if problems can harm you or cause nuisance to others. If you live in Scotland, you should contact the Housing and Property Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland for help
Alternatively, if you think you're being unfairly treated during your tenancy, you can complain to an official body – such as the Property Ombudsman, the Association of Residential Letting Agents or the National Landlords Association. Check if your letting agent or landlord's registered with one of these first.
Yet while they can look into disputes, they don't have any real power to force landlords or letting agents into acting. You can also speak to your local authority for help, Citizens Advice or Shelter.
Try special picture strips instead of nails
Check your tenancy agreement before you get hammer-happy, as many won't let you put any holes in the walls to put up pictures. Yet there's a quick trick to help.
It's possible to get specially designed removable strips that promise to hold up pictures without damaging walls. To find them, ask at your local DIY store, or try searching for 'picture hanging strips' on Amazon's DIY & Tools section or eBay*.
Forumites recommend Command Strips. They usually cost a few pounds for a pack of four, though other types may be available too.
Feedback is generally good, ranging from "used these in all three sizes and they have worked brilliantly" and "they're my new favourite product" to "if you're lucky they work well, but haven't found them reliable". If you've used them, please leave feedback in the forum.
Forumites also warn to check the pack for the weight limit they can take, and not to exceed this. Otherwise, you could wake to find your Mona Lisa broken on the lino.
Note down any flaws – and use 'em to haggle
Once you've found the place you want, don't think you always have to pay the asking price for the rent. Ask if they're open to reasonable offers, and put in a lower price that you think is reasonable. Don't forget, it's a negotiation – they don't have to accept, but it's well worth asking, particularly if you think it's overpriced.
A good way to help you get leverage here is to note down any flaws in the rental. For example, the carpets may be worn in patches, or the bathroom ceiling could do with repainting. Point this out, and ask if they'll take a lower price because of it. If not, see if you can get the repairs thrown in (always get this in writing with the contract).
See the How to Haggle guide for more tips to help. It's well worth a try – even £10 off the monthly rent may not seem like a lot to a busy landlord, but it's an extra £120 in your pocket each year.
Key 'dud rentals' checklist
While small issues such as a dripping tap or squeaky floorboard needn't be a deal-breaker, use this list to help you check the rental out when you visit. It's worth taking an eagle-eyed friend or family member to help. Ask the landlord to fix any problems before you move in.
Or if you can live with it, use it to help you haggle on the rent:
Spot damp. Case the joint for wet spots, mould, peeling wallpaper and condensation. Does it smell musty?
Look up at ceilings. Look for cracks, brown stains, slow drips and leaks.
Flick switches. Turn lights on and off, especially with older switches.
Inspect the plumbing. Flush toilets and turn taps on. Check cupboards underneath sinks are dry. Check water pressure and that it gets hot, and that the central heating's working properly.
Locks are key. Ensure door locks are up to insurance standards. Some policies insist that front and back doors be fitted with a five lever mortice deadlock. Check windows for locks and the front door for break-in signs.
Turn on your phone. Check for a signal to see it's not a mobile dead zone.
Avoid kitchen nightmares. In the kitchen, mime preparing a dinner. Is there enough room? If white goods are included, check they're working.
Take a compass. Check if estate agents' promises of a sunny south-facing garden are true.
Pry next door. If renting a flat or terrace, alarm bells should ring if neighbours' properties are rundown. Their problems can quickly become yours. Listen for noise from neighbours and roads. If you can, try to get a second viewing at a different time of day.
Never, ever wire the money
Once you've found your dream gaff, alarm bells should ring if asked to pay rent or deposit by an instant money transfer service such as Western Union or MoneyGram. While you've no protection when you pay by bank transfer, at least these are usually more traceable – which means banks or police could use this to help get your money back.
Instant money transfer payments cannot be traced at all in cases of fraud, so are highly popular with scammers. So if someone asks you to pay by MoneyGram or Western Union, be highly suspicious.
Never pay this way. Landlords should be happy to take a bank transfer or cheque.
Protect your family from gas leaks
Sadly, thousands are affected each year by carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas that has no colour, taste or smell. Yet there are simple steps to help protect yourself and your family.
Always ask for a copy of the gas safety record. By law, your landlord must provide you with this at the start of your tenancy. If your landlord refuses, complain to the Health and Safety Executive – failure to follow gas safety requirements is a criminal offence.
Under the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, landlords must do a gas safety check every 12 months to ensure gas appliances and fittings are safe, and keep these maintained. All checks must also be done by a qualified engineer that's on the Gas Safe Register, the official gas registration body for the UK.
One forumite's experience is a case in point:
Just after we moved in, I had to call Transco in the middle of the night. We thought we had flu. We had carbon monoxide poisoning and were alive due to a faulty cat flap venting out most of the gas.
The system was condemned. It was a very lucky escape – it never occurred to me to check the gas certificate.
– Forumite november
Ensure you've generous or unlimited broadband usage if flat-sharing
If you're in a flat-share and you know everyone will be downloading, make sure you've a decent download limit on your broadband package, or better still go for an unlimited package (most are anyway these days). Fail to do this and you may be stung with extra charges from a housemate's EastEnders catch-up marathon.
Be aware many contracts are 12 months, and some even longer. If you move out before the contract is up, you'll still have to pay for remaining months, unless you can change the name on the contract to someone who's still going to be living in the house (check with your provider).
See the Cheap Broadband guide for the full list of best buys, including unlimited and superfast broadband, plus how to work out how much data you'll need.
Get first dibs on properties on your favourite streets
NEVER sign a contract you aren't happy with
Once you get the contract, read it carefully before signing. Check it includes how much the deposit and rent are, when it's due, and what it covers (eg, council tax, utility bills, and other dos and don'ts, such as whether you're allowed to smoke or sublet).
Discuss points you disagree on, or don't understand, with the landlord or letting agent. If they agree to change it, don't just take their word. Ensure the contract's changed too so you've proof. Katy Rushworth from legal firm Clarke Mairs LLP told us:
"Tenancy agreements will often have things in there that simply do not apply to that particular property. They may have the wrong person stated as the landlord, wrong property address, refer to a garden that doesn't exist – the list goes on.
"There's no reason tenants should sign up to something they are not happy with. Equally, the agent is being paid to get these things right. So don't just accept 'it's the standard document' – who knows what the standard document relates to!"
One MoneySaver's experience is a reminder to check what you're signing up to:
Our letting agent went right over the top pasting rules into the contract. It tells us to clean the shower head for one hour in vinegar each week, after every shower we must use a towel and squeegee to clear all water from the cubicle to prevent drying marks etc.
Take a meter reading when you arrive
It's easy to forget this when you've a ton of unpacking to do, but do meter readings for your gas and electricity when you move in. This way, you can pass them on to the suppliers to ensure you aren't charged for energy that the previous occupants used.
It's also worth noting you should do a meter reading every time you get a bill. Don't rely on your energy provider's estimate; these are often way out. If they're underbilling, you'll have a big whack to pay at the end of the year. If they're overbilling, then they've unfairly got your cash.
If your direct debit is way off kilter, call up and ask for it to be changed. You've a range of rights to ensure it's correct. See the Energy Direct Debits guide for help.
Squeeze 'em for info
Before you sign on the dotted line, ask as many questions as possible, and get important answers in writing. Even if they don't tell the truth, you may notice them squirming when you broach certain subjects.
Even better, if the occupants are in during your viewing, use the opportunity to ask about the best and worst things about living there.
Here are our top 10 rental questions to ask:
How long is the contract? Are there scheduled rent increases?
How long has it been up for rent?
Can I see electrical, boiler and gas installation checks/reports?
Is the deposit in a deposit protection scheme? Which one?
Is maintenance of communal areas expected (eg, the garden)?
Is it furnished, part or unfurnished? Which items are included?
Who lives upstairs/next door? Have there been any disputes?
How long were the previous renters living there?
Is a parking space included, or is a parking permit needed?
What's the council tax band? (You can also check this yourself.)
Your tenancy type affects your rights
The type of tenancy agreement you have, and when your contract started, will affect your rights, so check what you've got. In a nutshell, 'assured shorthold tenancy agreements' in England and Wales are generally the most common type if renting with a private landlord (there are different names in Scotland and Northern Ireland – see below for help checking yours).
Assured shorthold tenancy agreements generally last six to 12 months, and mean your landlord must provide some repairs (plus other criteria too). When an assured shorthold tenancy ends, it becomes a 'month-to-month' tenancy. So unless your landlord ends it, you can stay on.
How to check what tenancy type you've got
Finding which tenancy type you've got can be tricky. It depends on a huge amount of factors, including when you moved in, how you pay rent and who you live with.
To help, housing charity Shelter has useful Tenancy Checker tools for England and Scotland. Just answer a few points on where you're living and when you moved in, and it'll quickly tell you which type you've got, plus your rights for each. Shelter also has info on tenancy types in Wales, or try Housing Advice NI for Northern Ireland.
Warning! You could be held responsible for the actions of other tenants
If it's a joint tenancy, each tenant will be responsible for the actions of the others. So be careful who you sign up to these with – if one person doesn't pay their share of the rent, the others will need to fork out for them.
Joint liability clauses in shared tenancies mean you're responsible for the actions of your co-tenants in certain areas, as stated in the contract. If they accidentally set fire to the sofa, you may have to pay for the repairs.
Once you've found the perfect place, make sure you get in ASAP
Once you've found your place and you're itching to get in, there are tricks that can help bagging it.
Know your budget. Don't be pushed past it – letting agents are experts at doing this. For help use our free Budget Planner.
Make a good impression. Don't forget, you're being checked out too. They're more likely to want a tenant that's professional, prompt and polite.
Get your references lined up. If your landlord will need references (eg, from your employer), ensure you ask your referees in good time.
Be prepared to go fast. Good rentals are often snapped up, especially in sought-after city areas. Once you've decided, move quickly with your offer. Yet don't be irrational – stick to your budget and don't be pressured.
Go through the contract ASAP. Raise any issues as soon as you can with the landlord, so there's time to get them changed before you move in. Also check who's managing the property (ie, the landlord or letting agent).
Have the rent and deposit ready. Make sure you have enough cash set aside for the first month's rent and deposit (usually about six weeks' rent). This can be a lot more than you think, so work it out early. For example, £200/week rent could mean you'd need to put down about £2,000 to cover these.
Pack an 'essentials' box to help when you arrive
Put key items you'll need immediately in a clearly labelled box, and pack it last (so it's the first box you'll get to when you're unpacking). A box with a kettle, mugs, tea, biccies and loo roll can be a godsend when you've no idea where everything is.
Double-check the inventory and report any defects
If you're given an inventory when you arrive, ensure you fill it in and carefully check for any existing damage in the property or its contents. Don't worry about being too specific – note down anything you can see, be it a cracked tile, damaged paintwork or a chipped mirror. If you can, take photos as evidence too.
Even if they don't give you an inventory to fill in, list any defects in writing to the landlord as soon as you can; see Shelter for a printable inventory template. Ensure it's signed and dated, and keep a copy so you can see what's on it when you move out.
This way, if the landlord tries to eat into your deposit for any of these when you leave, you'll have hard proof the damage was already there where you moved in. Similarly, take photos when you move out so you've proof it's in good order – see above.
Save your landlord's number in your phone for emergencies
The time you lock yourself out is exactly the moment you realise you should have done this earlier. So don't just keep this pinned to a notice board or in the back of a diary – save your landlord or letting agent's number to your phone now if you haven't already. You might just be glad you did.
Use the right 'rent a property' finders
There's a plethora of search sites which let you quickly search for property to rent in your chosen area. They won't all come up with the same listings, so it's best to try a few if you can.
The best we've found:
The mack daddy of home search sites, Rightmove lists a huge number of rental properties, with over 200,000 to choose from at the time of writing.
- Slick and tidy website, with a clear and easy to search and a good amount of filters to refine your results.
- Its 'draw a search' feature lets you literally, er, draw where you want to live on a map – good if there are streets you're keen on (or want to avoid).
Zoopla also lists a huge amount of rental pads – its site says it lists over 220,000 properties to rent at the time of writing.
- Clear and simple to use, it also has a similar 'draw search' feature, plus this allows freehand drawing for extra speed.
- Its nifty heat map view shows average property values at-a-glance (click 'Heat' on top right of map), useful if you want to find areas likely to be pricey.
MoneySavers also rate lesser-known Home.co.uk. It says it lists almost 200,000 houses, flats and rooms to rent at the time of writing.
- Can be clunky and lacks the charm of the other sites, but includes extra info, including how the rental price compares with others nearby.
- Lets you set the exact search radius you want to use, eg, search all properties in a radius of 0.219 miles – good for nerds.
OnTheMarket.com launched in 2015 after six leading estate agents clubbed together to challenge the dominance of Rightmove and Zoopla.
- It's shaken up the online home-selling market with rules for members restricting the number of portals they can list their property on, making it somewhat 'exclusive'.
- It'll let you filter by when the property was added to the site, to make sure you're only seeing rentals hot off the press.
Remember to redirect your mail and update all your addresses
When you move, it's always a good idea to get your post redirected to your new address. This can be very helpful as it will avoid you missing an unexpected bill being sent to your old address.
You can set this up via the Royal Mail website. For UK redirection it currently costs £33.99 for up to three months, £46.99 for three to six months and £66.99 for six to twelve months.
It's also important you make sure you update your address with everyone who needs to know it. This can avoid hefty fines – for instance, if your driving licence is out of date you're risking a £1,000 fine.
- Bank accounts
- Blood donor agency
- Car tax
- Council tax
- Credit cards
- Driving licence
- Electoral register
- GP (although this may need to change)
- Immigration (if you have a visa)
- Insurance provider
- Loan provider
- Loyalty schemes, eg, Clubcard, Nectar, Avios, frequent flyer membership
- Mobile phone provider
- Mortgage lenders (if you own a different property)
- Online delivery address (for accounts including eBay, Amazon and supermarkets)
- Pension providers
- Savings providers
- Sports clubs (if you're a season ticket member)
- Subscriptions (eg to magazines, newspapers or membership schemes like Taste card)
- Train firms if you've a season ticket
- TV licence
- Utility companies (energy, water, Digital TV, broadband and phone)
... and to register to vote
When you move, you don't automatically get registered to vote at your new address. If you aren't registered, you don't get a say on who represents you.
It can also help boost your credit score as if you're not on the electoral roll it's unlikely you'll get accepted for credit. This is because credit reference agencies use the register to confirm where you live in order to counteract fraud.
The registration process now requires that, rather than one person registering all members of a household, each individual needs to register themselves. You can register on Gov.uk.
You'll also need to keep an eye out for the Household Enquiry Form, which is sent out every year to check people are registered to vote, and must be sent back to avoid a possible fine.
Check out the neighbourhood
No matter how plush the pad, MoneySavers are unanimous that location counts. After all, you can add your own touches when you're renting, but you can't move it to another spot. So prowl the neighbourhood on foot, hunting for clues.
Of course, if it's only temporary rented accommodation for a month or so, you may be happy to put up with a less-than-glowing area. But if you're planning to rent there for a while, a little research can go a long way:
How safe is the area? Steel yourself and take a look at the Police.uk crime mapping website for England and Wales. It breaks down recorded crimes by street, including burglary, robbery and anti-social behaviour (gulp!), all of which mean dearer insurance premiums.
Get info on noise levels, air pollution and transport links. You can get oodles of free information online on school league tables and even noise level checks. See Free House Price Valuations for a full list – though our guide's designed for buyers, it has useful tips to help renters too.
If you're a total newcomer and you're planning to rent there for a while, you could even stay in a local bed and breakfast to get a real feel for the area. Get the lowdown from locals and ask a local bobby or Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator.
Top 10 moving day questions to ask the landlord
With all the stresses of moving, it's easy to forget simple, practical questions you'll wish you've asked. Worrying about when the dustmen come is easily forgotten when you're humping boxes upstairs, but even less fun when you're left with overflowing bins for a week. So we've put together some key questions to ask:
Where's the mains water stopcock (see stopcock tips above)?
Where's the fuse box?
Where are the gas and electricity meters?
Which days are rubbish and recycling collected?
Are there instruction manuals for any electrical items?
Who supplies the gas and electricity?
Where is the thermostat?
What's the landlord or letting agent's number?
Where are the TV aerial and phone line sockets?
Which provider supplies the home phone and broadband?
Scope out transport links and travel costs
When choosing an area to rent in, don't forget to factor in public transport if you or your family will need it for work or school. How frequent are buses and trains, and how much are they? If a season ticket's expensive, savings had by renting in the sticks can quickly be swallowed by the cost of the commute.
For London commuters, CommuteFrom shows which areas are the quickest hop from the office. Select a central London rail or Tube station, pick a maximum journey length, eg, no more than one hour, and it brings up the best commuter routes.
Sadly there isn't a similar version for the rest of the UK, but try searching test routes you'll need on the National Rail journey planner, or for bus routes and frequency, check your council's website – Gov.uk has a handy tool to find yours.
Don't under-insure your home's contents
When you're renting, contents insurance can give useful protection if there's a break-in, or your stuff gets damaged. Yet don't under-insure – this could lead to insurers not paying out when you need it.
For example, say you're insured for £12,000, but actually have £24,000 of contents, and then £6,000 worth is stolen. The insurer could then assess your property and only pay out in proportion to your cover, meaning you'll get just £3,000 back.
Or worse still, the policy could be cancelled for being underinsured. If this is the case, you must disclose it in future, hiking insurance costs – and making it more difficult to get cover at all.
To work out the correct amount, walk from room to room, noting down what everything would cost on a new-for-old basis, including smaller items like clothing. It soon adds up. For a full list of best buys, see the full Home Insurance guide.
Instantly compare removal costs
If you're moving from your parents' with no furniture, a car and a couple of mates will likely suffice. If not, many people choose to enlist extra help from a removal firm.
If you decide to use a local 'man and van' service, watch out as they may not have insurance for any damage caused in transit (always check). So here, it's a question of balancing a lower price against service, and only going with what you're happy with.
If hiring a van to do the move yourself, do note you may need to be 25 or over – always check the contract. Also consider extra insurance to cover the excess (the amount you'll pay towards a claim). Otherwise small scrapes can cost large, and may be more likely if you aren't used to driving a van. See Cheap Car Hire.
Give yourself a money overhaul
Moving into a new place is the perfect time to grab your finances by the nipples and tweak 'em hard. You'll be signing up to new services anyway, so could save £1,000s on your previous bills by ensuring you grab everything cheapest.
For a detailed checklist of over 30 quick ways to cut bills, see the full Money Makeover guide.
You CAN switch to a water meter if renting
For some in England and Wales, switching to a water meter could save hundreds. A quick tip can help you work out if you could be better off with a meter:
Rule of thumb – If there are more bedrooms in your house than people, or the same number, consider getting a water meter.
Plus as stated in the Water Industry Act 1991, if you've a fixed-term tenancy agreement of six months or more you DON'T need your landlord's permission – though it's best to let them know first if you can.
For full info on water meters versus standard billing including free calculators, see the Cut Water Bills guide.
Sadly, in Scotland it isn't free to have a water meter installed (it's quite expensive) so, unless you live alone in a manor-type property, stick to billed payment.
Take snaps when viewing
Take photos of the property on your mobile if you can. They'll be a useful reference point later, when all the places you've seen start to blur into one. Though of course, bear in mind it's private property, so don't post them online.
Can you do council tax rebanding if renting?
Up to 400,000 homes in England and Scotland are in the wrong council tax bands. Yet in 10 minutes, at no cost, it's possible to check 'n' challenge your banding, not only potentially slashing what you pay now, but getting a backdated rebate from as far back as 1993.
Thousands have already tried this and succeeded. Plus as you pay council tax regardless of whether you're the tenant or owner, if you're renting, it's certainly worth going through the system to see.
Before you challenge your band, courtesy dictates you should discuss it with your landlord first though. This is also because it's a good idea to agree on who gets the cash from any payouts, particularly if the claim's backdated to before you lived there, or if you pay the landlord for council tax (ie, their name's on the bill).
Note a reassessment means your band could be moved up as well as down. See the Council Tax Bands guide for the full step-by-step details.
Students don't pay council tax
If you're a full-time student living alone or sharing with other students, you DON'T need to pay council tax, no matter how many of you live in the house.
If you're sharing with one or more non-students though, it gets more complicated. You still won't be charged council tax, but you may want to consider how to best split the household's council tax bill.
Live with a non-student? If a student lives with one non-student, the student won't be taxed and council tax will be charged as if a single person lives there (so long as the student's full-time, otherwise check). That means the non-student can apply for the 25% single person's discount.
However, this poses a moral dilemma. Should the non-student pay the 75% due? Or should the student contribute? Our suggestion is to split the 25% difference between the two people, so the non-student pays 62.5% and the student 12.5%.
From the student's perspective, they wouldn't pay anything if their housemate was also a student. From the non-student's perspective, they'd only pay 50% of the bill if their housemate was also a non-student.
Live with more than one non-student? The student is still exempt but because there are two non-students the house has to pay the full 100% charge. So it gets complex – the student hasn't added to the council tax bill, but nor has their presence resulted in a discount.
You'll need to decide if and how you want to split the tax bill, though the legal stance is that full-time students aren't liable for the bill if non-students can't or don't pay.
You need to apply to your council for these discounts – they aren't deducted automatically. To apply, visit Gov.uk.
Get free advice if disputes arise
If you're having problems with your landlord, or you need extra advice with any issues while you're renting, there are several places that can offer free help.
Housing charity Shelter has specialist housing advisers that can help you negotiate, as well as free advice helplines – see its sites for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland for contact details for where you live.
Not having locks for each room may affect insurance claims in shared accommodation
If you're renting shared accommodation, eg, in uni halls, your insurance won't cover you for theft unless there's been a violent or forced entry. So always make sure you lock your room's door when you leave, even if you're just popping out briefly.
If you're in a house share that doesn't have locks on each room, be aware this may adversely affect any home insurance claims. As there won't be any signs of forced entry (after all, a burglar could just walk into your room) they may not pay out. You could get tenants' home insurance – see our Home Insurance guide for more.
Tricks to boost storage and improve the look of your home
If you can't afford to live in your dream home just yet, don't despair. There are lots of nifty MoneySaving tricks to make the most of the one you're in right now, from low-cost ways to make your bathroom sparkle to raising your bed to create storage space underneath.
Folk at MSE Towers know a thing or two about making the most of a smaller pad – after all, many of us live in central London, where accommodation can be decidedly cosy. So we asked the team what they've learned over the years. See our Tricks to boost storage and improve the look of your home.
Consider carefully whether you should really buy instead
While it's wonderful to plan, budget and buy a home you can afford, too many have unhealthy 'must own, must own' mentalities.
I met some scorn talking about this back in the 2006 property boom. Yet now after price dips in many parts of the UK and the still-looming spectre of monster mortgage deposits, maybe it's time to reappraise attitudes and bust myths.
Too often non-home owners are depicted as an underclass. It's why I've met 21-year-olds desperate to overstretch their tentative first pay packets and risk financial ruin just to buy.
Owning is a nice goal, but you're no loser if you don't immediately clamber onto the housing ladder. Bigger-picture financial security is more important.
Some say: "Property prices may fall but not in [insert where they live]." Yet the only way to know that is with a crystal ball.
Hot demand now could change if interest rates rise, and existing mortgages become less affordable – not a prediction, just a possibility.
The money-savvy should always hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
Get a FREE first-time buyers' guide
Of course, we aren't saying you should rush out and buy a property. But if you are making the jump from renting to buying, we've a detailed free PDF guide to help you get the very best mortgage deal possible.
The MoneySavingExpert.com First-Time Buyers' Guide is a fully detailed step-by-step guide to getting the best possible mortgage deal.
For every 1% you can cut off your mortgage deal, you'll save £1,000 a year on a £100,000 repayment mortgage. So it's well worth taking the time.
Add your tips for renters on the forum
The House Buying, Renting and Selling forum board is a great place to share your experiences of renting with others, from hunting for the perfect rental to moving tips 'n' tricks you've learnt along the way.
Whether you want to ask about the landlord not emptying the house, renting with pets or having a pigeon stuck in the chimney (!), it's well worth a visit. And if you've tips to help others, share them in the Renting Tips discussion.
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