UK Student Life homepage
Study, work or travel in the UK. British culture and life.
A-Z index
Message Board
Contact us
< Up
Life / Accommodation / Guide
Guide to renting accommodation in the UK
Accommodation (c) R.T.Allen
  Types of accommodation
  Choosing a location
  Costs of renting
  Finding accommodation
  Checking the property
  Tenancy agreement
  Change of address
  Resolving problems
  Council tax
Related pages:
Life/Accommodation/London (find somewhere to live in London)


This page explains how to find somewhere to stay in the UK, and how to deal with some of the problems which might occur.
To find a room in London, see also: Life/Accommodation/London
To find short-term accommodation (eg: staying less than a month), see: Travel/Accommodation

Student Housing Rights Guide
Authors: Graham Robson, Martin Davis
Publisher: Shelter
Date: August 2002


Back to top


Your accommodation is the place where you stay (note: the spelling is difficult - it is not "accomodation" - and there is no plural word "accommodations" in British English).

The landlord (or landlady) is the owner of your accommodation.
The money you pay to your landlord (usually weekly or monthly) is called rent.
You usually pay a deposit when you start renting; normally this money is returned to you when you leave unless you break or damage things or fail to pay the rent.
An inventory is a list of what is in the accommodation.

If breakfast and supper are provided it is called full board. If only breakfast is provided it is half board. If there are no meals provided it is self-catering.

If you live in a different building from the landlord you are known as a tenant. A tenancy agreement is a legal contract between you and your landlord. The notice period is the amount of time your landlord must give you if he/she wants you to leave the accommodation, or the amount of warning which you must give your landlord if you want to leave.

If you live in part of the same house as the landlord, you are a licensee. The contract is known as a licence agreement.

Back to top


What types of student accommodation are there?

Accommodation living in someone's home with a "host family", often arranged in co-operation with a school
Breakfast and evening meals are provided, usually eating together with the family
The bathroom is probably shared with other members of the family

(see Appendix C,D,E in "Studying & living in the UK" by British Council)

Bedsit / hall of residence
A single room in which you live and sleep; the room is both a bedroom and a sitting room (living room)
The cooking area (if there is one) is usually shared
There is usually a wash basin in the room, but the bathroom may be shared
Services such as cleaning and changing of sheets are often provided
If the room is in a building belonging to a university, it is usually called a 'hall of residence'

Studio flat
A small flat where the living room and bedroom are combined (a flat is known as an "apartment" in American English).
Usually the room has its own entrance and you are free to come and go when you want.
There is usually a small bathroom, but this may only contain a basin, toilet and shower.
A 'maisonette' is similar, but is usually not all on one floor

Flatshare / shared house
A "flatshare" is when you share a flat with one or more other people. You may have your own room, or alternatively you may share a twin-bedded or double-bedded room with another person.
A "student house" usually refers to a private house which is occupied by a group of students (sometimes called "student digs")

B&B ("bed and breakfast"), guest house
A room, usually part of someone's home, which the owners are renting out to make some money
Breakfast is provided, but no evening meal
The bathroom is probably shared with other guests

Back to top


Some of the factors to consider when choosing an area in which to live:

Transport: Availability of transport to and from your school, workplace or places to socialise with friends. Being near to a transport route can be convenient and could be safer. Note that buses may not run in the evenings or late at night in some areas.

Social life: You may want to live near where your friends live

Green areas: You can find street maps and aerial photographs from: or:

Check if there are local facilities you need. You can use the Find My Nearest tool at (based on the Thomson directories), or you can search Yellow Pages online at

For a detailed guide about how to find accommodation in London, see: Life/Accommodation/London.

Back to top


Calculate the maximum amount that you will be able to pay. Remember to consider travel costs as well as the rent: you may be able to find somewhere with a lower rent if it is far from your school or workplace, but travel costs could be higher.

Rents are often quoted as weekly amounts ("pw" or "per week"), even though they are often paid monthly instead ("pcm" or "per calendar month"). To calculate the monthly cost, multiply the weekly cost by 52 and divide by 12 (or simply multiply by 4.33). You will underestimate the cost if you simply multiply the weekly cost by 4, thinking that there are about 4 weeks in a month.

If renting a private room, remember that at the start you may need to pay a deposit (of perhaps one month's rent) as well as the first month's rent. You may need to pay an agent's fee after you have signed the rental agreement (ask for the cost including VAT - value added tax). Check whether you have to pay bills for gas / electricity (for heating and lighting), telephone (for line rental or installation, internet access or telephone calls), water (for water delivery or sewage removal), laundry or council tax (for local services). You will probably have to buy a TV licence if you use a television in your room (see: Prepare/Arrival). Make sure that you consider all of the costs when you are comparing different rooms. For more information about the cost of living, see: Prepare/Cost.

If available, student accommodation (for example halls of residence) may be one of the cheapest options you have because it may be subsidised by the school or university and you may not need to pay council tax.

Back to top


Once you have decided on which type of accommodation you want, a location, and a price range, there are many different ways to find accommodation:

Tell your friends that you are looking for somewhere to stay. Someone may be about to move out of his/her room, and may be able to recommend you to the landlord as the new tenant.

School / university
Ask your school or university if they help students to find somewhere to stay. There may be a student welfare officer who can assist you, or a student accommodation office. Many language schools will offer to find you accommodation with a host family, but they may not be able to tell you how close your room will be to the school.

Contact letting agents or estate agents in the area.
You can find an agent using UpMyStreet: Select Find My Nearest … , enter a postcode or town name, select Find by category and choose Moving home then Letting agents. The nearest ones will be listed first.
You can also look for agents using
If you are a UK student and want to live with your family during the weekends but near your university during the week, you may be interested in:

Note that some lettings agents do not deal with student accommodation, and some specialise in dealing with people from a particular country. It may be better to choose an agent which is a member of NALS (the National Approved Letting Scheme), see: An agent may charge a fee when you have found somewhere (typically about a week's rent), but is not allowed to charge to show you a list of properties or to take details of your requirements. One advantage of using an agency is that you may be less likely to have problems with the landlord, and there should be a proper tenancy agreement. In some cases you may be asked to provide a guarantor (a person - usually a British resident - who is willing to guarantee your rent in case you don't pay), or you may be asked to pay the first 3 or 6 months of rent at the beginning. Sometimes you may also be expected to provide references: the names and contact details of people who can comment on how reliable you are. The main types of references are: a work reference (from your current employer, if you have one), a bank reference (from your bank), a character reference (from a responsible person who knows you well), and a landlord's reference (from your previous landlord). These would need to be written in English. If you have not been living in the UK for long, it may be difficult or time-consuming to get all of the references which are requested, so you may need to ask the agent to check with the landlord which ones are necessary in your case. Once you have decided that you want to rent a room, the agent may ask you to pay a holding deposit while your references are checked - this money (perhaps 1 week's rent) will not be returned to you if then decide not to sign the tenancy agreement (it will be paid to the landlord).

Student accommodation websites
The following websites are for agents which specialise in accommodation suitable for students (especially for those at UK universities):
Accommodation for Students:
Student Pad:
Student Accommodation:
Generally these websites will allow you to search their adverts for free, but may charge you when you request contact details.

Look at message boards in your school, in shops or in the windows of local newsagents.
See the advertisements in your local newspaper, available from newsagents or in your local library.
In some regions of the UK (including London, Manchester and Liverpool) there may be a popular small ads paper such as Loot (see:
You may need to respond to adverts quickly and arrange to see the room soon.
For a guide to the abbreviations which are often found in accommodation adverts, see: Life/Accommodation/London.

Back to top


If you go to see a room or flat, you will need to make an appointment first. If you are using an agent, it may be possible to view the property during the day, if the owner has given a copy of the keys to the agent. If you are finding a room independently, you may need to see it during an evening or at a weekend, because in most cases the landlords will be at work during the day (even if you have already made an appointment, you may want to phone just before going to visit, to make sure that the person will be there). If you can, go with a friend when you visit a property. If you are a woman and will be going by yourself, think about carrying a mobile phone (see: Life/Telephone) and a personal alarm (see Personal/Safety) for your safety. If you are seeing many rooms, you may want to take a digital camera to take a photo of each one, so that you can remember them later (always ask for permission before taking a photo, and do not photograph private areas). Always take a notebook and pen with you, and make notes as you make the visits (you will quickly forget the details).

These are some of the things you may want to check when you see the property:

Money / contract
Do you have to pay a deposit, and when do you have to pay rent?
Which bills are not included in the rent? Water / gas / electricity / council tax / telephone line rental
If you want to move out of the accommodation, how much notice do you need to give the landlord?
If your school is arranging accommodation, will it find you a new room if you are unhappy with the room or family where they first place you?
Do you feel you can trust the owner?
If you are staying in a university's hall of residence, will you be able to stay there during holidays?
If you are with a host family, what is their main reason for wanting to accept a student into their home? If the main reason is to make money, in some cases the family may not speak to you often, may provide very cheap meals, or may argue about small matters such as the amount of toilet paper that is being used. Problems are more likely to occur in popular student locations at time when there are many students in the town (for example, in a town on the south coast of England in the summer) - there may be a lot of demand, and too little supply of quality host families

House rules
Can you wash yourself every day if you want to (some houses have a small hot water tank)?
Can you use the telephone? Is there a separate line for your computer (if you have one) for internet connections?
Can you bring your friends back? Can you have a friend stay overnight; if so, is there a charge?
Which rooms can you use?
Can you smoke cigarettes?

Are there any laundry or cleaning services provided? How can you clean your room, and wash/dry your clothes? If there is a washing machine, are there any charges for using it?
Are meals provided? If you do not want to take the meals that are offered, can you pay a lower rent? If meals are provided, what type of meals are they? If you cannot eat some types of food, check that you can be offered something else

Can you use equipment such as a cooker/microwave oven, washing machine, fridge or dishwasher?
Is there a shower or a bath, or both (many studio flats only have a shower)? How many people share these?
How many toilets are there?
Is there a telephone line you can use, and if so are there any restrictions about when you can use it? If you do not have your own telephone line in your room, will the landlord allow you to install a new line? This may be important if you need personal access to the internet.

Will you feel safe walking back to the accommodation at night? Are the roads well lit? Is it a safe area?
How near is the accommodation to your school?
Is there a park nearby?

How many other people share the property? Can they speak English? Will you have any social contact with them; how much common space is there?
Are there other people of your own nationality? If so, it may make you feel less lonely, but you may not speak English as much.
Are the other occupants all men, all women, or a mixture of men and women?
Are there smoke detectors, and is there a safe way to leave if there is a fire?

How much noise is there from the road or from neighbours? Is there a shared telephone near your room?
How much privacy do you have?
Is your room secure? Are there locks on the doors and windows?
How much space do you have?
What is the quality of the mattress and sheets?
How clean is the room? Note that British people usually wear shoes inside rooms
Will the room be warm enough in winter? Is there central heating, and are the windows "double glazed"?
Will the room be cool enough on a hot summer's day? Can you open the windows?
Are there any signs of damp on the walls?
Are there any unpleasant smells, for example from the kitchen or toilet, or from cigarettes?
If you are sharing a room with someone, do you think you can get on well with that person?
Is there enough storage space for your clothes, books and other belongings?
Is there a desk, light and chair for studying in your room?

Gas safety certificate
Each year about 30 people in the UK die from carbon monoxide poisoning from old gas boilers. Carbon monoxide is invisible and has no smell. Ask to see your landlord's gas safety certificate (your landlord is not allowed to rent a room if he/she does not have a certificate). Make sure that any gas appliances (gas boiler, gas fire, gas cooker) have been fitted safely and are properly ventilated, and ask when the boiler was serviced (this should be done each year).
For further information, see the Health and Safety Executive website:

Back to top


It is risky to rent somewhere without a legal agreement between you and the landlord (or accommodation agency).

The most common type of agreement is known as an assured shorthold tenancy (AST). As long as you pay the rent and do not break the conditions in the tenancy agreement, you have the right to stay for 6 months. After 6 months, if your landlord wants you to leave, he/she should give you details (in a written letter) at least 2 months before the date on which you are expected to leave.

If you have a licence agreement (you are living in the same place as the landlord), the notice period may be shorter than for a tenancy agreement, for example 1 month.

You should read the agreement carefully before you sign it. If you do not understand something, ask for someone to explain it to you. If necessary, you can ask for advice at a Citizens' Advice Bureau (see: Personal/Advice).

Below are some of the things you need to make clear before you sign:

Term (period)
How long does the agreement last?
Is there a minimum period that you can rent the accommodation?
Will you have the opportunity to rent the accommodation for a longer period?
How much warning do you need to give the landlord if you wish to leave?

Rent and bills
How much is the rent? When must the rent be paid?
How often are rent reviews (when the amount of the rent can be increased)?
Does the rent include council tax? Does the rent include water charges? If not, how much are these?
How are charges for gas, electricity, telephone line rental or calls or the charges for the television licence for a shared TV divided between the people living in the accommodation?

Deposit and inventory
How much is the deposit?
When you leave, how quickly will your deposit money be returned to you? Will you earn interest on the deposit while you are renting the room?
Under which circumstances will the landlord keep your deposit?
Check the inventory carefully before you sign the tenancy agreement. Make a list of anything that is damaged (for example, note any scratches, cracks or stains) and give a copy of this to your landlord. You may want to take photographs as soon as you move into the room, to prove that any damage was not caused by you. If anything is missing or damaged when you leave, your landlord may try to keep part of your deposit to pay for these.

Back to top


Once you have found new accommodation, you need to inform people about your change of address:

Take your existing TV licence to the post office and ask for the address to be changed.
Tell your doctor your new address in case he/she needs to write to you or visit you at home. You will probably need to change your doctor if you have moved to a new area; take your medical card to your new doctor.
Tell your school and/or workplace.
If you have a national insurance number, you should tell your local office of the DHSS (the Department of Health and Social Security - you can find the address at your local post office).
You may want to change your bank branch, or make sure that your existing branch sends statements to the correct address.
Ask your previous landlord to forward any mail to your new address.
Tell your own family as soon as you have moved, in case they need to contact you.
If you needed to register with the police when you arrived in the UK, you must tell them your new address.
You may want to tell your country's embassy in the UK.

Back to top


These are some of the problems students sometimes have, and some ideas about ways of resolving them.

Landlord problems

Remember that often the main reason a person rents rooms in their house is to make money. The landlord / landlady may not be interested in speaking to you, may not provide good quality food, and may complain about expenses, for example if you use a lot of hot water / electricity / toilet paper.
Get permission from your landlord before making any significant changes to your room: for example: moving furniture, installing a new phone line, buying a heater or fridge, or putting things up on the walls.
Make sure that you know the landlord's address and phone number in case there is a problem.
Ask for proof of the landlord's identity before giving any money (for example, a bill for the property), and ask for a receipt to make sure there is no argument about whether you have paid.

Loss of deposit

When you rent a flat or house, it is common to have to pay a month's rent in advance and a deposit, which will be returned to you when you leave except for the cost of any damage. If you have to pay a deposit, make sure that you are given a full "inventory" (a list of all the items in the house, including detail about their condition) before you move in; this may avoid arguments when you leave. Sometimes a bad landlord may try to keep the deposit unfairly, knowing that you may be leaving the UK shortly (this is less likely if you have obtained your accommodation through your school or using an agent).

Kitchen thief

In shared accommodation, other tenants (or occasionally their friends or other people who can enter the property) may sometimes take your food or drink from the kitchen without asking you. If you know who is doing this, ask him/her to replace what has been taken, or at least to ask for your permission before doing it again. If you don't know who it is, put up a sign in the kitchen, so that the person knows you are unhappy about it. If you have your own cupboard, you may be able to buy a lock for this. If it is a big problem, you may want to discuss it with the other tenants.

Kitchen smells

One of the tenants may like to cook food that smells, for example fish or curry. Ask them to close the kitchen door and open the window while cooking, and to store any of these ingredients properly. If milk or any other fresh food has gone bad, ask the person to throw them away.

Messy tenants

Tenants may leave unwashed dishes in the kitchen for a long time, or leave clothes or books lying around in the shared areas.

Sexual harrassment

Some people receive unwanted sexual attention from the landlord or from another tenant. If this happens to you, tell that person clearly how you feel about it. If you feel in danger, move to another place immediately. You may want to warn the other tenants, landlord, school or agency about what has happened.


The other tenants may come and go at different times to you. Slamming doors, music, telephone calls, loud voices and other noises may wake you up or affect your concentration while you are studying. Let the other people know when you need peace, and ask them to keep as quiet as possible during these times. You may want to buy ear plugs from your local pharmacy.

Back to top


Council tax is a local tax in Britain. It is used to pay for local services such as libraries, the police, the fire brigade, and rubbish collection.
When you rent a new room, ask whether the council tax is included in the rent.
In some types of accommodation, there is no council tax to pay. You do not have to pay council tax if all the adults in your accommodation are 'full-time students' (usually this means people on a course lasting at least 1 year who study at least 21 hours per week and at least 24 weeks per year). You also do not have to pay if you live in student accommodation owned or managed by a recognised school or university.

The amount of tax depends on which local authority or borough you live in, and the value of the property.
A typical level of council tax in London is about £30 per week for each property (a place with its own entrance), but this can vary a lot between boroughs.
A single person who lives on his/her own in a property may have to pay than the full standard charge (perhaps 25% less).
If you live in a block of bedsits, the owner pays the tax but may ask each of the residents to pay a share of it.
You can find out the council tax bands for your borough or local authority using UpMyStreet: Enter a postcode, select Home review then Council tax.
UKCISA produce guidance notes for students on "Council Tax and international students" at:

Back to top


UKCISA produce guidance notes for international students on "Accommodation":

Finding a room in London: Life/Accommodation/London

Home page: Home

Back to top

© UK Student Life 2002-2009

* Search this website ( or the web: