Renting privately for Ukrainian refugees
As a Ukrainian with a Family, Extension or Homes for Ukraine visa, you have the right to rent property in the UK from the date of arrival.
Under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, you are initially entitled to a minimum of 6 months’ rent free accommodation with your sponsor under the Homes for Ukraine scheme (provided things don’t break down between you). While many sponsors will be happy to extend this arrangement, we anticipate many guests will need to go on to find private rented accommodation eventually. On this page, you will find useful information about what is involved, so you can better plan and prepare for this. It can take a couple of months, if not more, to look for and secure a property, so it’s worth discussing timetables in good time with your sponsor, to avoid last minute, stressful scenarios and less than ideal choices.
Do speak to your local council to find out if you have other realistic options to renting privately, such as social housing. Your local council will also advise you of any help they provide with renting, such as paying the deposit.
If you have a very good relationship with your sponsor, they may be interested in formally offering you a room for rent once the initial sponsorship period ends. This may be the best option in many cases.
Content is currently mainly reflective of the process in England, and variations will apply for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We have not included all these variations in the interests of brevity, for what is already a very long guide. We recommend you consult the appropriate advice in other regions as follows:
- Scotland: Refer to Finding a private rented home – Shelter Scotland for example.
- Wales: Refer to https://sheltercymru.org.uk/housing-advice/finding-a-place-to-live/renting-privately/ for example. From December 2022, there have been some changes to the laws on renting in Wales.
- Northern Ireland: Refer to https://www.housingadviceni.org/advice-private-tenants for example.
Letting agents in these regions will be up to date with the rules that apply, so we recommend talking to them to find out more details. However, a lot of the principles and tips mentioned here will still be relevant.
On this page
- Landlords, letting agents and referencing agencies
- Why it’s not always easy to rent privately
- Difference between rent, deposit and holding deposit
- Financial referencing checks – credit history and affordability
- Help with housing costs from the benefits system
- Help with housing from your local council
- Your options if you can’t pass financial referencing checks
- Where to search for properties
- What is the minimum number of rooms you need to rent?
- Sharing accommodation to reduce costs
- Avoiding being scammed
- Official guides to renting
- Checks done to be accepted as a tenant
- Paying more rent upfront to secure a property
- Can you pay 6 months’ rent upfront and then claim this from Universal Credit?
- Summary – how to improve your chances of renting
- Rental agreements
- Renting a room in a shared house
- Moving into your new home
- Staying on to rent in your sponsor’s home
- Further information and help
Landlords, letting agents and referencing agencies
When renting privately, you may be renting directly from a private landlord, or from a letting agent who acts on behalf of the landlord. You might also be renting from someone that doesn’t own the property but has the right to ‘sublet’ the accommodation to you i.e. they pay rent to a landlord, but they can legally also charge you rent, in which case, they are your landlord.
A letting agent would typically be an estate agent (most of the well-known estate agents have separate ‘sales’ and ‘lettings’ departments). They advertise flats and houses, show people around and take care of the paperwork. They receive a percentage of the rental amount from the landlord as fees for the work they do. Depending on the arrangement they have with the landlord, they may also manage the property from a maintenance perspective or collect the rent, so you may be dealing with the letting agent rather than the landlord while you live there.
There are usually a number of referencing checks which are carried out on a prospective tenant before the landlord agrees to take them. Some checks are mandatory by law and some are a guide. Letting agents typically delegate the checks to organisations known as referencing agencies, who will produce a referencing report and recommendation (‘pass’, ‘fail’ etc) for the landlord to consider. Landlords who don’t use letting agents may still choose to use referencing agencies to do their referencing checks, or do their own referencing.
Why it’s not always easy to rent privately
It’s worth being aware of the factors that influence how tenants are chosen from a landlord’s perspective. These affect British people too.
The landlord of a rental property has usually taken out a large mortgage in order to be able to purchase the property in the first place. The mortgage company puts conditions on how much the landlord’s rental income needs to be in order for them to lend the money to the landlord in the first place. If a landlord can’t keep up their mortgage payments, their credit record will be badly damaged and their property could be repossessed by the mortgage company. No-one wants this situation. That’s why landlords must ensure that whoever they rent their property to, can actually afford to pay the rent throughout the tenancy agreement, and that’s why there are background checks done on your finances.
Many landlords have taken out what is called rent protection insurance to protect against rent not being paid. A condition of such insurance would be that the property is only rented to tenants who have passed suitable referencing checks, or who can provide a guarantor that takes responsibility instead. Performing a referencing check with a referencing agency costs the landlord money, and so they prefer to only go ahead with the strongest candidates.
Where a landlord doesn’t have such insurance, or doesn’t use a referencing agency, they may be able to be flexible and consider tenants who do not meet all the criteria, especially if they are sympathetic to the circumstances Ukrainians find themselves in.
Simply presenting yourself and hoping to rent when you haven’t put yourself in a good position financially is a risky strategy in the current market conditions, as it narrows your options considerably.
Currently, it is up to the landlord’s discretion around whether they accept pets, although we understand legislation in this area may be changing. It is also unfortunately the case that some landlords don’t want to accept tenants with children, and advertise flats for professional single people or couples only. It would be harder to get children accepted in a shared house as well.
All that being said, Ukrainians have successfully gone on to rent privately after living with their sponsors, so it’s not an impossible task. You just need to be aware of the realities so you can prepare well and we hope this article helps.
Difference between rent, deposit and holding deposit
Quite often, people confuse rent and deposit. They are two different things.
Rent is the amount the property costs to rent (usually a monthly figure). The figure quoted may or may not include bills. You could offer the rent asked for, or a bit less, or, in cases where there are too few properties available, many people looking and it seems very reasonably priced, you could even offer more than the asking price to secure the property. Rent is paid in advance every month, and one month’s rent is taken in advance when the tenancy agreement is signed. If you don’t pass referencing checks, and don’t have a guarantor, you may need to pay several months’ rent in advance to secure the property.
A deposit is an amount that is also taken when the tenancy agreement is signed. It is a protection for the landlord against any unpaid rent, or for the cost to replace damaged items, at the end of the tenancy. It cannot be used instead of rent. A maximum of 5 weeks’ equivalent of the rental figure may be asked for, and this must be held in one of the government approved deposit protection schemes (TDS, My Deposits, DPS). As a tenant, you must be told which scheme is being used. All schemes have a free dispute resolution service. (Note that in Scotland, landlords can charge up to 2 months’ equivalent of rent as a deposit.)
Shelter have produced a useful article: https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/tenancy_deposits/what_can_your_landlord_deduct_from_your_deposit which describes the situations in which it is considered fair for a landlord to keep part of your deposit. Provided you have been paying your rent on time, you have not ended your tenancy early without agreement and you have returned the property to the same condition that you received it in, apart from what could be considered normal ‘wear and tear’, you should not lose any of your deposit.
You may also see some properties advertised as ‘zero deposit’. See here for an explanation of this. In this case, you would typically pay only 1 week’s equivalent of rent as a deposit (plus a setup fee) instead of 5 weeks. However, at the end of the tenancy, even if you had paid your rent on time and there were no issues, you will not get this money back, unlike a traditional deposit, and you’re still liable for any damages or unpaid rent. If your local council is able to help you with the full 5 weeks’ deposit, or you can afford it yourself, this is probably still a better option.
When you see a property you like, you will be asked by letting agents to put in a formal offer, which they will then pass to the landlord, along with offers from all other interested parties. If the landlord likes you best, they will take you forwards to referencing checks, which you yourself will not be charged for, but which still cost them money to get done. At this point, to show that you are serious and not a time-waster, you can be asked to pay a holding deposit (in England) which is a maximum of 1 week’s equivalent of rent. The property will no longer be shown to other potential tenants. The holding deposit will be refunded if you do not pass referencing, or put towards the first month’s rent if you are successful and go on to sign the tenancy agreement. It won’t be refunded if you pass referencing and then decide you don’t want the property after all. (Note that in Scotland, it is not allowed to charge a holding deposit. In Wales, holding deposits may be charged, but certain written information must be provided by law beforehand.)
Financial referencing checks – credit history and affordability
Credit reference agencies such as Experian or Equifax receive and hold records about individuals’ credit history (showing for example that you have bills in your name that you have paid on time) and a corresponding ‘credit score’ is built up over time. There is a very common misconception that you need a good credit score to rent and you can only have this if you have been in the UK for many months and taken out lots of credit-based products.
We spoke to a couple of referencing agencies, and they explained to us that they are not looking for a good credit score as such; this would typically be required if you wanted to take out a financial product like a loan or credit card, which is not the case with renting. What they are looking to do is a ‘soft credit check’ to make sure there are no negative events in your credit history, such as court judgements against you. One agency told us that if you had only been in the country for 1 to 3 months, then as long as you could produce 2 proof of address documents which showed a UK address, that would be sufficient for them to conduct their credit check. This shouldn’t be too hard to achieve. Rightmove’s referencing department told us that letting agents may even decide to skip the credit check if they know someone hasn’t been in the country long enough.
What is hardly ever mentioned is ‘affordability‘, which is much harder to achieve. Affordability refers to your actual income in relation to significant expenses such as rent – after all, it’s actual income that pays the actual rent, not credit scores. Even a British person living in the UK for many years and with a fantastic credit score cannot rent if they have no means to pay the rent. Referencing agencies use a standard calculation here where the guaranteed annual income before tax needs to be 30 times the monthly rent. For example, if two adults were renting a property costing £1800 a month to rent, their total income should be £54000. You can check what you can afford based on your income using this online calculator: https://rentright.co.uk/calcrent. Remember that it is in your own interests to be able to afford to rent and have enough to live on as well; you don’t want to take on a financial commitment that you will struggle to manage.
You may need to arrange childcare in order to work full-time and increase your salary, but the good news is that you may be able to get up to 85% of childcare costs paid for by Universal Credit when you are working, provided you use a registered provider. See Help With Childcare for more information.
Some of the referencing agencies we spoke to also said that ‘zero hours contracts’ would cause referencing checks to fail, because income under such contracts could not be considered ‘guaranteed’. Another one required 12 months’ of bank statements to work out an average income in this case. Thus, we advise finding full-time jobs which are not zero hours contracts, before looking to rent.
Referencing agencies also advised that any help received from benefits systems such as Universal Credit or Housing Benefit to cover your rental costs is not counted towards your income for affordability purposes, as you wouldn’t receive it until you have a signed tenancy agreement in the first place, and they don’t consider it ‘guaranteed income’.
Referencing agencies said that savings could be used to cover a gap between income and rent (if your salary fell short of the required amount for example by £2000, and you had savings of this amount, this could be included).
If you have a full-time job, you will be a more attractive prospect to landlords, even if you still need to rely on support from benefits to cover part of the rent. You will need to ask landlords and letting agents if they will consider you in this case; some may be able to be flexible. Your local council may also know of landlords that can accept benefits.
OpenRent (a popular rental platform) have produced this article which explains how tenant referencing works and what to expect: https://blog.openrent.co.uk/tenant-referencing-and-credit-checks/
Help with housing costs from the benefits system
You can potentially get some help with your housing costs once you have secured a property to rent. If you don’t have a lot of savings, then even if you are working, and don’t currently receive any Universal Credit, when you add in your rental costs, you could find that you now qualify to get help with housing costs from Universal Credit. You can also apply for a similar benefit called Housing Benefit if you are on Pension Credit.
Note that the maximum amount you can get is known as the Local Housing Allowance rate and it depends on the following:
- The number of bedrooms your household is entitled to – use this link to enter your household details such as ages and genders of children and see the result
- The area where you are expecting to rent – use this link to enter the approximate postcode to check, and put in the number of bedrooms the first link says you are entitled to
Note that you don’t have to rent the exact number of rooms that you are entitled to under this calculation; for example, if you are entitled to the rate for 2 rooms, you are not obliged to actually rent 2 rooms. However, the amount paid will never be more than your actual rent (even if you are entitled to more). You can use an online benefits calculator tool like Turn2Us to work out what help you can actually get, taking into account your income / savings. See UK Benefits System for details on how to do this.
So for example, if you are entitled to a 2 bedroom rate of £1300 in a London postcode area, but you actually rent a 1 bedroom flat at £1000 in the same area, the maximum you can get towards your rent is £1000, even if you are eligible to receive the full amount of £1300.
Single people under the age of 35 are only eligible for a ‘shared accommodation rate’; this means basically you are expected to look for a room in a shared house or flat.
Something to be aware of also is that there is an overall Benefit Cap which limits how much you can get in benefits per year.
You can also get help with council tax if you are on benefits. There is also some support for the cost of living, to help pay bills.
Make sure your name is on a signed tenancy agreement, or other written agreement, as you can’t get paid otherwise. Universal Credit will contact your landlord to verify you are renting from them and to verify the landlord’s details.
Help with housing from your local council
Some local councils have schemes (known as ‘rent deposit schemes’) where they can help you pay the deposit and sometimes the first month’s rent by providing funds to you (which you then pay back later to them). Contact your local council to find out more. Do this before you start looking, as landlords won’t be able to wait for you to find out this information if you like a property; properties get snapped up quickly. Even though you are not anticipating being homeless, the local council may require you to fill in a ‘Housing Enquiry’ form as though you may become homeless soon. Ask them if you can submit the form before the standard 56 days in order to get their agreement to help. We recommend filling this in especially if you have children, as you will have priority need with the council. Note that this is not the same as applying for council or social housing, although the forms will look quite similar.
Making a ‘homeless application’ also enables the local council to support you with finding landlords that are willing to rent to tenants who rely on benefits to cover the rent.
If you’re going to struggle to pay your rent as a result of a shortfall in the amount you get versus the amount you have to pay, you can apply to your local council for a Discretionary Housing Payment.
Your options if you can’t pass financial referencing checks
If you are unable to pass the financial referencing checks (especially the affordability checks), then the options you have are basically to:
- Offer 6 months’ rent upfront (the minimum period of a tenancy). You can get this paid back through the benefits system if you are eligible, once you share the signed tenancy agreement
- Use a UK-based guarantor
- Find a landlord that does not require such strict referencing checks (your local council may be able to tell you about such landlords, or you may find one through your own research)
- Look at other options such as social housing
We recommend trying to improve your chances financially as much as possible before you need to start looking for somewhere to rent.
Where to search for properties
To get an idea of typical rental values for properties in your area, we recommend starting by looking at online rental platforms such as those mentioned here. Phone or visit local estate agents in the area you want to rent in, as they can also give you a good idea of the typical rental values for different types of properties in the area, and how easy or difficult it is to find accommodation.
While it’s true that on average it’s more expensive to rent in a big city such as London, there are some cheaper areas of big cities like London too. Generally, you will get more for your money outside of London though.
Rightmove and Zoopla are mainly used by letting agents who advertise flats and houses on behalf of landlords. We have found these platforms advertise a really good selection of properties, and usually you will see the same property on both platforms. You can create a search area of interest (e.g. a postcode +- 1 mile) and receive daily alerts of new properties added that match your criteria. You can message the letting agent that is advertising the property to request viewings. The letting agent will ask you to register in their database and you can develop a relationship with them so they know what you are looking for.
If a letting agent knows you are a good prospect and you have a relationship with them, they can let you know about properties before they put them on platforms such as Rightmove.
OpenRent is mainly used by private landlords to advertise flats, houses and rooms directly.
SpareRoom, and IdealFlatmate are mainly used by people advertising flats, houses and rooms. Roomies is used by people with a room to rent. There are many similar platforms. Something to be aware of in a house share is that people may be sharing spaces such as living rooms and kitchens and interacting with each other. As such, they may want to choose someone who they feel will fit in with the household; don’t take this personally.
Your local council can tell you about landlords that they work with or know of, that might consider tenants who will need to use benefits to cover the rent.
You can also ask for and search for properties to rent on platforms such as Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree and Nextdoor (a platform based on local neighbourhoods). Don’t only join Ukrainian specific social media groups to ask for somewhere to rent, as there will not be many landlords on these groups. Instead, find your local British Facebook and Nextdoor groups as there may be more options amongst the general community. You may find landlords that can be more flexible around financial referencing checks on these platforms, but be more careful with properties advertised here at the same time, in case they are scams.
If you have a good relationship with your hosts, or have built a network, for example by attending local refugee support groups, your contacts may know of people who would be happy to rent their property to you.
What is the minimum number of rooms you need to rent?
There are rules on how many people can share accommodation before it’s classed as ‘overcrowding’. Neither you nor the landlord can put in more people than is allowed by law. You must also ask the landlord’s permission if you would like someone else to move in afterwards.
Have a look at Shelter’s Guide to overcrowding rules in England (similar guides are available for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland): https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/repairs/check_if_your_home_is_overcrowded_by_law. These are quite complicated to understand, so the key things are that any room you can sleep in like a living room counts as a room, the gender of the people sharing a room is important, and children under 10 can be ignored in certain cases. For example, a mother with a daughter over 10 years old can share a room, but a mother with a son over 10 years old would need to have 2 rooms i.e. a 1 bedroom flat, as a minimum.
However, the landlord themselves might apply different rules on the maximum number of people they are willing to rent to, for the number of rooms, which could be less than required by law.
One of the advantages of renting your own accommodation is that provided there is enough space, you have taken a minimum of 6 months contract, and your landlord agrees, you may be eligible to host someone yourself under the Homes For Ukraine scheme. See Finding a UK Sponsor. If you plan to do this, make sure the rented property is big enough from the start.
Sharing accommodation to reduce costs
We would anticipate that if you have made friends with other Ukrainian guests in the same situation, or other people living here through work for example, you might be able to afford a bigger place or save on bills by deciding to rent together. There should be no reason why this is not possible.
For example, a 1 bedroom flat in London might cost £1300 a month, but a 4 bedroom house might cost £2600 a month. You’d only pay for things like internet once.
If you intend to rent with someone else, and you (or they, or both of you) want to claim housing costs under Universal Credit, then you should either each have separate tenancy agreements, or have a joint agreement which has both your names on it, so that you can claim for help with your portion of the rent. You will not be able to receive any help with housing costs under Universal Credit unless your name is actually on some form of rental agreement.
The same principle applies if one of you would be on Pension Credit e.g. if you were renting with your parents. For them to claim Housing Benefit and get help towards the rental costs, they also need to be named on the tenancy agreement.
If you want to share a rented property with another family, one thing to be aware of is that every local council has a different rule around the maximum number of unrelated adults that are permitted to rent a property together before a landlord has to pay for a special licence in order to be able to rent their property. In such cases, the property is classified as a House of Multiple Occupancy so you may sometimes see the abbreviation HMO on adverts. The special licence means the landlord has more obligations around for example, fire safety rules, so they may decide they would rather not accept that many adults, and there may be fewer options available. Depending on the specific council, the special licence may be needed if there are as few as 3 adults in the house; with other councils, it’s 4 or 5.
Avoiding being scammed
It is hard to rent and so if someone offers what seems like a cheap option with no checks needed, you’ll be curious. But you don’t want to fall victim to a scam.
Be aware of typical market rates in your area by speaking to letting agents and searching on platforms such as Rightmove and OpenRent. Question anything which seems too low and find out why it’s being offered at that rate.
Always view the accommodation first, preferably take someone with you. Be aware of the fees that are legally allowed to be charged (covered in the Government Guide that we give a link to here) and don’t pay anything else.
If it doesn’t feel right, don’t be pressured into paying or signing anything. It’s better to pay a bit more by going through reputable channels than fall victim to a scammer. Renting from someone dodgy will also jeopardise your ability to claim costs from Universal Credit later.
Friendly local estate agents can be approached and asked if they will help you review a proposed tenancy agreement, before you sign it or hand over any money.
Official guides to renting
The Government has produced a general guide to renting privately here: https://www.gov.uk/private-renting
The most common form of rental agreement is a legal contract known as the ‘Assured Shorthold Tenancy’ (see https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/private_renting/assured_shorthold_tenancies_with_private_landlords for details).
This guide describes the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords under the Assured Shorthold Tenancy model in England: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/how-to-rent/how-to-rent-the-checklist-for-renting-in-england
The guide is also available in Ukrainian: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1093993/How_to_rent__easy_read_Ukrainian_translation.pdf and Russian: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1093994/How_to_rent__easy_read_Russian_Translation.pdf
Among other information, the guide describes:
- Which types of fees are permitted by law (typically, only a holding deposit of 1 week’s rent to secure the property is allowed, and it is fully refundable or goes towards your rent)
- The maximum deposit that can be charged (usually equivalent of 5 weeks’ rent), and how it should be managed / protected by a government approved 3rd party
- The minimum tenancy term (6 months)
- Help with costs if you are entitled to benefits (see also the section ‘Help with housing costs’ on this web page)
- Checking if the landlord or letting agent has the right accreditations
- Ensuring the property is safe and fit to live in
- Paperwork the landlord must provide you with, such as a gas safety certificate and an energy performance certificate
- Ensuring the landlord is entitled to let the property
If you live with the landlord, then you are a lodger and slightly different rules apply. For example, the landlord does not need to protect your deposit in the same way, and it’s easier to evict you. You should still have an agreement similar to an Assured Shorthold Tenancy in place, so that you know how long you can stay, what the rent is and how much notice you or the landlord should give to end the agreement. The tenancy agreement is also needed to be able to claim housing costs for Universal Credit, or Housing Benefit for Pension Credit. See https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/private_renting/lodgers for more information.
Checks done to be accepted as a tenant
Below, we list the typical checks done by landlords (or their agents), before you can be accepted as a tenant.
Right to rent check (England)
In England, all landlords and letting agents must carry out a ‘right to rent’ check (which checks your immigration status, as well as your identity). If you have an Immigration Account (see Immigration Account), or a biometric residence permit, you can prove your right to rent by visiting this website: https://www.gov.uk/prove-right-to-rent. You generate a ‘share code’ which you can send to the landlord or agent. When they receive the code, they will look it up in order to digitally confirm your right to rent in the UK. If you are waiting for your BRP, you can also use your Unique Application Number to prove your rights.
Otherwise, if you don’t have these, you should be able to present your passport with visa entry stamp for a ‘manual’ right to rent check (BRPs are not acceptable via this route). Refer to this link for more information: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1069600/2022.04.12_RTR_User_Guide.pdf
Proof of income (affordability check)
To check your income meets the affordability criteria, the landlord, letting agent or referencing agency may ask for documents such as:
- recent bank statements or pay slips
- proof of benefit awards
- your employment contract or accounts if you work for yourself
They are likely to contact your employer to speak to them as well. If your contract has not yet started, or you are still in a probation period, the referencing agency will take this into consideration as a risk factor.
It’s best to gather all the proofs of funds that you can, including a benefits calculation to help the letting agent or landlord decide whether or not you seem like a credible option.
A ‘soft credit check’ may be requested to be done as part of the referencing process using credit reference agencies such as Experian or Equifax. Note that this is an optional check. Also note that as long as you can produce 2 proof of address documents which showed a UK address, that could be sufficient for a referencing agency to conduct this credit check.
If you don’t have these documents, you may wish to explain the situation to the landlord or letting agent, and if they are understanding, they may decide to skip this check. For example, people who need to rent on arrival in the UK such as overseas students or corporate workers, do not need to undergo credit checks as they won’t have any records, and a Ukrainian refugee could argue they are in the same situation.
However, once you have been in the UK for a while, think about the things you can start doing to build up a credit history, as this can be useful for many other processes too. You can check your credit score for free with Experian.
Previous landlord or sponsor reference checks
Landlords, letting agents and reference agencies, as part of their background checks, may ask for a reference from a previous landlord. This would cover things like whether or not you paid the rent on time and didn’t damage the property. If you have not rented before in the UK, then obviously you may not be able to provide a landlord reference. It’s best to be straightforward about the situation and explain when you cannot get references. A landlord may be understanding and sympathetic.
Referencing agencies probably won’t consider a personal reference from a sponsor, but where a referencing agency is not used to do the checks, then if you are on good terms with your sponsor, this could be helpful to show to a landlord.
Differences in checks done by referencing agencies
OpenRent is a popular platform that private landlords use to advertise properties for rent. They use a referencing agency called Rentguard, who we spoke to in order to understand some of the checks conducted. We also spoke to Goodlord, a referencing agency used by some other letting agents and landlords, and we spoke to Rightmove’s referencing department. There are many such referencing agencies.
In our conversations with Rentguard and Goodlord, both advised that ‘zero hours‘ contracts were a problem. Rightmove said they would require 12 months’ worth of income statements if you were on a zero hours contract, which they would use to determine an average income.
However, be aware that different agencies may use slightly different criteria when conducting their referencing checks. For example, Rentguard’s detailed criteria for passing referencing seemed in general to be more flexible than Goodlord’s. So it’s important to understand exactly where you have failed referencing, as you may be successful elsewhere.
If you have tried multiple options and are always asked to provide a UK based guarantor because you cannot pass referencing checks, usually, the guarantor would be a close relative or friend. They would have legal requirements to pay for rent or property damage if the tenant cannot. It’s a huge responsibility, and generally not something a host would be willing to take on. Guarantors also have to be reference checked, and are likely to need to show income which is 36 times the monthly rent.
Check if your local council offers a rent guarantee scheme which you can use. If you are totally stuck, another option might be using one of the commercial companies that offer guarantor services for a fee. Always check these companies out carefully beforehand (read customer reviews on TrustPilot; read their terms and conditions carefully; seek advice before proceeding, etc).
If you have the results of a benefits calculation which show that Universal Credit or Housing Benefit will cover a significant portion of the rent, and you are on good terms with your sponsor, they may be happy to be a guarantor for you on this basis.
See https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/private_renting/guarantors_for_private_renters for more information.
Paying more rent upfront to secure a property
If you are going to be competing with other people to convince the landlord to choose you, one of the things you can try is offering to pay 2 or 3 months’ rent upfront, instead of the standard 1 month.
Paying more than this is going to be difficult if you don’t have a lot of savings. Paying 6 months’ rent upfront is however, potentially one way to avoid the need for a guarantor.
Note: you’re not paying an increased deposit; that remains the same.
Can you pay 6 months’ rent upfront and then claim this from Universal Credit?
As you might have to pay 6 months’ rent upfront to bypass the need for a guarantor, a common question is can you claim the housing costs from Universal Credit for the 6 months’ rent already paid?
We spoke to Citizens Advice, who said that the liability still exists under Universal Credit, even if it’s already been paid for. You should therefore be able to upload the tenancy agreement and receive the housing costs from Universal Credit that you were entitled to, if you are still eligible for Universal Credit. The same would apply if you were on Pension Credit and were claiming Housing Benefit.
Summary – how to improve your chances of renting
To summarise, here are some things you can do to improve your chances:
- Start the process early by looking to see what the market rates are in the area; start to see a few properties
- Ensure you have got yourself a full-time job that isn’t a ‘zero hours’ contract
- Have some documents in your name that prove your address in the UK, so that you can have a ‘soft credit check’ done
- Speak to your local council to find out what help they provide with renting privately; they could put you in touch with landlords that are willing to accept rent covered by benefits, or agree to cover the deposit. You may need to put in a ‘homeless application’ to access help; this is worth doing if you have children for example.
- Save up so you can offer to pay more rent upfront and avoid the need for a guarantor
- Talk to different letting agents and landlords to understand what proofs they will need and what flexibility they have
- Get a ‘benefits calculation’ done by Citizens Advice or Turn2Us to show a landlord what help you will get from Universal Credit (or Housing Benefit if you are on Pension Credit)
- Gather all your evidence around available financial help (help from the council, benefits calculation, people willing to be guarantors) before you start looking, as properties move quickly
- Use your trusted networks to see if friends know of someone willing to rent accommodation to Ukrainian refugees in particular
- Ask on local general community groups such as Facebook and Nextdoor
- See if anyone in a similar situation may wish to rent with you and share costs
- If your benefits calculation shows you’re entitled to receive some money toward rental costs, put in a claim for these costs once you’ve secured a property
You can refer to Shelter’s article: https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/private_renting/types_of_renting_agreement to check what type of rental agreement your should have with your landlord – a tenancy or a licence.
If you do not live with your landlord, then you will typically need an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement. This must be for a minimum initial term of 6 months, and quite often, it is for a minimum term of 12 months. After the ‘fixed term’ is over, the landlord may want you to sign a new contract for another 6 months or 12 months, or your agreement may change so that you can continue to live there, but you only need to give the landlord a month’s notice of leaving at any time (a ‘rolling tenancy’).
Under an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement, a landlord may give you a minimum of 2 months’ notice that they would like you to leave their property (for example, they may want to sell it) but if you choose to stay past the date given, they will need to get a court order to evict you.
When you move in with other people in the same property, you may be offered separate tenancies, a joint tenancy, or a tenancy in only one person’s name. Remember that if you need to claim housing costs under Universal Credit, your name needs to be on an agreement.
You are responsible for paying rent until your tenancy ends legally. Depending on your agreement, you could be responsible for rent until:
- new tenants move in
- your fixed term ends and all tenants move out
- the tenancy ends by agreement with your landlord
- you end a rolling tenancy with a tenant’s ‘notice to quit’
As a lodger, your agreement is more likely to be a licence. You have fewer rights in this situation, for example, it is possible to evict you without a court order. It is advisable to ask for a written agreement (see https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/private_renting/lodgers) so that you both know where you stand. You will need a written agreement with your name on it to claim help with housing costs. The agreement should also ensure you have a reasonable notice period, so that you have enough time to find a new property, should the landlord wish you to move out. Most flats are advertised by letting agents as soon as the previous tenants give notice, because this means that there is time to find a new tenant without the landlord losing rent due to an empty property. This therefore also means that when you start looking, you may not find a flat which is empty straight away.
For Wales, see https://sheltercymru.org.uk/housing-advice/renting/renting-from-a-private-landlord/ for an explanation of contract types.
Renting a room in a shared house
Rooms to rent can be in the same property as the landlord (you would be a ‘lodger’ in this case) or in a house share, where you are sharing with other people.
Sometimes in a house share, a group of people will have taken the property as a whole, under an Assured Shorthold Tenancy for a minimum of 6 months or 12 months, but one person needed to leave early, in which case they may be searching for a replacement to take their place and avoid having to pay rent till the end of the agreement. Your actual tenancy will then start from when they leave and you move in. In other cases, each person may have their own separate agreement.
When renting a room from someone, make sure the person lettting you the room is entitled to do so. They may have signed a contract with the landlord that does not allow them to ‘sublet’ their room to someone else, or they may be claiming benefits such as housing costs under Universal Credit, in which case, will they be declaring that you are also giving them rent? Ask to see their contract if needed. It might become difficult for you to claim the housing costs you are entitled to for example, if they aren’t doing things properly.
Staying on to rent in your sponsor’s home
In cases where your sponsor would be happy to rent a room to you in their home after the initial rent free period of 6 to 24 months that was offered under Homes for Ukraine, they would need to become a resident landlord in order to charge you rent. As a resident landlord, they can receive up to £7500 tax free rental income to them under the ‘Rent a Room’ scheme.
See https://www.gov.uk/rent-room-in-your-home for more details on how this process works.
They would need to provide you with a written rental agreement for you to claim help from Universal Credit or Housing Benefit. Given that sponsor payments increase to £500 a month for the second year of sponsorship, it might be easier for them to continue sponsoring you under Homes For Ukraine.
Further information and help
For further information and advice, Shelter is a well-known charitable organisation which is focussed on housing issues, homelessness and so on. For more information on private renting, such as your rights and responsibilities, you can refer to their many detailed articles at this link: https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/private_renting. In general, their website is very informative, and they also describe other options to renting privately elsewhere on the site. You can get more help from them here: https://england.shelter.org.uk/get_help. If you have serious problems such as risk of becoming homeless, or you have nowhere to stay, you can call their emergency helpline on 0808 800 4444 as well as contacting your local council.
You can also talk to your local council’s housing department about your situation and options, as they can advise you and they may even have a legal duty to help you find accommodation depending on your circumstances. Note that the actual name of the relevant department may vary from council to council.
You can also talk to Citizens Advice, another well-known charity that advises people on many different aspects of life.
You can also try popping into a local estate agent’s office, and even if you are not renting a property through them, their lettings department should be helpful enough to explain the typical process in the UK to you, and whether your rental agreement looks standard.
With thanks to Hawes and Co Estate Agents for providing additional inputs and insights.