What you need to know when choosing accommodation
26 January 2012
When making a decision about what accommodation to choose, equip yourself with as much information as you can and as early as possible. Find out what is available. Check institutional websites thoroughly. Read carefully all correspondence sent to you by your institution about accommodation.
If you are considering going into accommodation which is not allocated by your institution, have a good look at what’s on offer on commercial websites, particularly any sites mentioned in material made available by your institution.
Many institutions work in partnership with other organisations to provide help for students looking for accommodation in the private sector. If you are unsure about anything or if you want to know more, don’t be afraid to get in touch with your institution’s accommodation office, either by phone, email or letter.
Is there a guarantee of accommodation for new international students for their first year and for any subsequent years of study?
Many institutions offer a guarantee of accommodation for the first year of study, and a few extend this guarantee to the full period of your studies. However, you need to be clear whether you qualify for any guarantee made. Some institutions only guarantee accommodation for international students paying the full international student fee rate.
Is there a deadline for submitting my application?
Many institutions set a deadline for applications and it is important that you return your paperwork by this date. If you think this will be difficult for you, contact them in advance to explain why your application will be late.
Is there any communal living space and if so is it adequate?
Having a communal living space within a flat, on a floor, in a block or in a shared house is good to have for relaxing and for socialising. Not having a space like this can be very limiting. If you can, check what this is like in available material provided, or contact the provider.
Do I want or really need en suite provision and can I afford it?
Many international students opt for this, because the level of privacy it offers is important to them or because it supports ritual washing as part of religious observances. However, be aware of the extra cost over a standard room. Would you rather have a standard room (often larger), sharing toilet facilities, and have extra cash to spend on other things which are important to you?
What is the mix of students in the accommodation likely to be?
Whether you are in institutionally-allocated accommodation or in the private sector, you may be sharing accommodation facilities with students from the same country, international students from other countries and/or UK-based students. These may be undergraduates and postgraduates, male and female. To help manage your own expectations, you might want to check this pre-arrival, if the information is available. If you have particular requirements, it is important to raise this with the provider beforehand.
Does the accommodation offer good social opportunities?
Living in halls of residence gives you access to large numbers of other students, possibly from many different cultures. Living in shared self-catering flats, allocated by your institution is also likely to give you good social opportunities. Your institution may organise social events for students in these types of accommodation.
If you live in a shared house or in a studio/bedsit in the private sector, you are unlikely to have social opportunities on this scale. Nonetheless, if you opt to live in a shared house, you will have some choice about who you live with. Living in a bedsit/studio can be lonely. Many university towns have residential areas which are a focus for student living and these can have a strong student identity and sense of community.
What are the management and security arrangements for the accommodation?
Many international students new to the UK have particular concerns about personal safety and security. Institutionally-allocated developments often have some sort of security service – staffed offices and security personnel on patrol for some of the night/day or perhaps a full 24-hour service. Developments may also have controlled access and CCTV.
What are the arrangements for food and cooking?
Unless you are going into single accommodation, you will be sharing food preparation and cooking facilities. The number of students you share these facilities with varies widely – it may be four or five; it may be twenty. It should be easy to find this out, as it is likely to be in material made available to you by your institution or by a prospective landlord. If it isn’t clear, contact them. If you have specific requirements for preparing food and you are concerned about how the facilities will support you in meeting these requirements, you should contact your institution or prospective landlord.
What are the accommodation arrangements for vacation periods?
If you live in a shared house in the private sector, you are likely to sign a contract for a fixed and uninterrupted period, so that you can live in the accommodation from the start of the contract until it ends. This may also be true of accommodation allocated by your institution. However, some institutions have special arrangements for vacation periods, particularly Christmas. Because many staff take leave from work at Christmas, the level of service to students may be reduced. To help manage this, some institutions require students staying in institutional accommodation over the Christmas period to relocate into one or a small number of the halls. You might want to check whether this is the case for your institution. Similarly for the Easter vacation, students may be required to relocate to enable the institution to stage residential conferences. Whether this is likely to affect you as a resident should be made clear in material the institution makes available to you. If you are concerned about it, contact the accommodation office.
Where is the accommodation located?
It may be on campus; it may be near your place of study; or it may be some distance away. If it’s not on campus, check that the locality offers you what you need and what you want: for instance shops, friends living nearby, places for meeting friends and socialising, good transport links, parking provision (if needed), a safe environment.
What are the transport links and what are the costs?
This is particularly important if your accommodation is not on campus or if you can’t reasonably walk (or cycle) to your place of study or to other places that you need or want to get to frequently. In some towns living further out, away from college, shops etc, can save money, as accommodation may be cheaper. If you are thinking of living further out, try and check that possible extra travel costs do not outweigh your savings on rent.
Rent and other accommodation costs
Can I afford the accommodation?
Look out for hidden costs and things which are not included. Try to work out how much money you will have and what you will need to spend on things to get you through student life, including food, rent, study materials, bills (everyday and utilities), clothes, a social life and transport. Try and get an idea of what proportion of the total money that you have, you can (or want to) use for rent. You can use the International Student Calculator at <http://international.studentcalculator.org.uk> to help you plan your budget.
What is included in the price – meals, gas and electricity bills, water rates and if I am paying my own utility costs, how much should I budget for?
For institutionally-allocated accommodation, gas, water and electricity costs are likely to be included, but check this. If you are weighing up which type of accommodation is cheapest, it is helpful to have a rough idea of gas and electricity costs. Your institution may be able to provide guidance on this.
Does the price include possessions insurance?
Whatever type of accommodation you choose, you are recommended to take out possessions insurance to protect your belongings from theft, fire, loss or accidental damage while you are staying in the UK. Some institutions include possessions insurance as part of the deal, but check this covers all your possessions. Sometimes it is necessary to register laptops and tablets under a policy and anything to do with bicycles normally involves registering the bike.
If there is no insurance included in the rent, check whether the institution offers an insurance deal separately or recommends one. If you are in the private sector, you will probably need to make your own insurance arrangements. Websites such as www.moneysavingexpert.com offer a good overview of insurance policies for students. Furthermore, companies such as Endsleigh Insurance can provide policies to cover clothes, books, IT devices, TV, hi-fi equipment and valuables.
Is there internet connectivity in the accommodation and if so, is there an extra cost?
These days students expect this to be provided in institutionally-allocated accommodation and in private halls. It almost always is – but check. If you have access to social networking sites, it may be possible to find out from existing or previous residents if the service is a good one. Some providers, for an additional fee, allow you to increase your allowance for data download and/or speed but wait to see what you need, because normally the standard service is adequate.
Are bed linen, towels and kitchen utensils provided and if not, does the institution offer packs I can buy?
You should be able to check this in advance in available material or by contacting the provider. If you are going into accommodation in the private sector, you will need to make your own arrangements for these items.
What is Council Tax and do I have to pay it?
Council Tax is a system of local taxation, which is collected by local authorities. It is a tax on the properties in which people live. The local authority uses the money collected to provide local services, including for schools, rubbish collection, social services. Full-time students who live only with other full-time students or in halls of residence do not have to pay Council Tax. If you are living in private accommodation, remember that if just one person in your household is not a full-time student, it will make the rest of the residents liable for payment of the tax. For further information on Council Tax, see the information sheet Council Tax and international students – <www.ukcisa.org.uk/students/info_sheets/council_tax.php> – or ask for advice at your institution.
If I have a car, are there parking facilities and if so, is an extra cost attached?
Driving a car in the UK is costly and most students get by with a combination of walking and using public transport (buses, trains) and taxis. If you do intend having the use of a car, be aware that parking facilities are generally in short supply and expensive. In addition if you intend to run a car you will need to ensure that your licence is valid for use in the UK; that you have appropriate insurance; and that the car is taxed and has a valid MOT. See the Information sheet Driving in the UK: a guide for international students - <www.ukcisa.org.uk/student/info_sheets/driving.php>.
Am I required to pay a deposit? If so, how much is it and what is it for?
A deposit is a sum of money you pay to your institution/landlord at the start of the contract. The institution/landlord will return the money soon after you move out, but they are entitled to keep some of the money if they incur expenses for which you are responsible, for instance:
- damage to the property, eg broken windows
- damage to fixtures and fittings such as furniture or carpets
- the cost of cleaning the property if you have left it in a condition which means the landlord cannot re-let it without cleaning it
- re-decoration costs, eg if you have painted a room without the landlord’s permission
- the cost of replacing keys which you fail to return to the landlord
- any rent which you haven’t paid
- the cost of removing from the property any rubbish you leave behind.
Depending on what it says in your contract, your institution/landlord can make additional charges, for instance:
- an extra charge for dealing with late rental payments you might have made
- the cost of replacing any missing items, eg curtains, furniture
The institution/landlord cannot charge you for fair ‘wear and tear’ throughout the tenancy. ‘Wear and tear’ means the normal deterioration of fixtures, fittings and items provided through normal use of them.
It is standard practice for institutions/landlords to charge a deposit. It is also fair: institutions/landlords need some financial protection in case they incur costs as a result of the actions of students leaving their accommodation.
Never pay a deposit without getting proof of payment for any money you have handed over, especially if you pay in cash.
The deposit is normally equal to one month’s rent but can be more, especially in London.
By law, private landlords and suppliers must now protect your deposit money by signing up to a Tenancy Deposit Scheme. Education institutions and those in shared rooms are exempt from this requirement.
The Tenancy Deposit Schemes are designed to make sure money is not unfairly deducted or kept from you at the end of your tenancy. They provide a dispute resolution service, so that if you believe your landlord has acted unfairly in keeping some or all of your deposit when you move out, you can use the service to argue that you should get your money back.
There are three schemes that are registered with the government for these purposes:
- Deposit Protection Service <www.depositprotection.com>
- My Deposits <www.mydeposits.co.uk>
- The Dispute Service <www.thedisputeservice.co.uk>
Your landlord has to tell you which of the three existing schemes they have signed up to. If you have not received this information, you can check directly with the schemes to see if your deposit is protected.
To help ensure you get your full deposit back when you move out:
- when you move into a property, check for damage, uncleanliness and missing items and report any problems to the landlord in writing, keeping copies of all correspondence and, if appropriate, taking and keeping labelled and dated photos
- keep a detailed list of contents
- ensure the property is thoroughly cleaned before you move out
- ensure you remove all your possessions
- respect the property and treat it well
- make sure you understand what the contract makes you responsible for
- ensure you do not have any rent owing at the end of your contract
- dispose of rubbish properly to minimise the risk of pest infestations, which are costly to get rid of
- report any damage to the landlord as soon as it happens – repair/replacement may be cheaper than leaving it to the landlord to put right after you have left
If you feel your deposit has been wrongfully withheld, you should seek advice from your students’ union <www.nus.org.uk/en/Students-Unions>, a Citizen’s Advice Bureau <www.citizensadvice.org.uk>, Shelter <www.shelter.org.uk> or another housing advice agency or local law centre. You can also download Unipol’s deposit recovery pack <www.unipol.org.uk/Media/PDF/Deposit_Recovery_Pack.pdf> for further information.
What are the payment terms?
Check whether there are any limitations on the method of payment. Be aware of what the institution’s or landlord’s requirements are in relation to upfront payments, payment periods and instalments. Make sure you understand what the consequences are if you fail to pay your rent on time. Some institutions require a substantial rental payment upfront and the payment of the rest of the year’s rent in instalments, due at fixed points in the letting year. These arrangements vary and you’ll need to be clear what they are. In the commercial sector it is usual for students to have to pay an instalment at the start of the contract (which can be up to half the annual rent) together with a deposit.
What is a guarantor and will I need one?
Many landlords now require students (and particularly international students) to provide a guarantor as a condition of the accommodation contract. The guarantor – a third-party individual or organisation – guarantees to pay the landlord any rent which the student fails to pay and the cost of any damage for which the student is responsible and fails to pay. Landlords generally insist that a guarantor is UK-based.
Colleges and universities rarely ask for a guarantor to be provided. Landlords for privately-rented shared houses will often not insist on you naming a guarantor, especially as, for many international students, it is very difficult to identify someone who is UK-based to undertake this legal commitment. It is the landlords of large-scale purpose-built accommodation developments in the private sector who are likely to require you to provide a guarantor. If you cannot provide one, they will probably require you to pay most, if not all of, the rent for the full contract before you move in. This is a considerable financial challenge for many students. In a small number of cases, particularly in London, your college or university may be able to stand as guarantor for you. If you find yourself in difficulties over this, check with your institution whether they are prepared to act in this capacity.
If you do need a guarantor and you are able to find one, it is important that your guarantor’s financial liability is limited to just your personal rent/damages. Unipol has prepared a model guarantee for this purpose. [see http://www.unipol.leeds.ac.uk/Leeds/IFS/Contracts/Guarantee.asp]
If I sign a joint contract will my liability be different?
If you have signed the same contract as your friends and you all agree to take the property at the same time, you will be jointly and severally liable with each of your housemates for any rent arrears and/or damage to the property. So, if one tenant moves out, the landlord/agent can pursue the remaining tenants (as well as the tenant who has left) for any monies due.
Does the length of the contract fit my period of study?
The standard academic year runs from September/October to May/June for undergraduates and September/October to September for postgraduates. The letting year for accommodation typically runs from August or September to the end of June. It is sometimes possible to negotiate an extension to include residence for the summer months – July, August and the first 10 days or so of September. Make sure that your accommodation requirements fit your study requirements. You may be on a course which operates to a non-standard calendar (for example a Semester 2 start); you may have a requirement for a postgraduate writing-up period at the end of your studies; or you may want to attend a graduation ceremony beyond the end of your course and your accommodation contract. Think about these issues and check with your institution or landlord if you have concerns.
This information supplements our Information Sheet on Accommodation for international students: an overview, which includes a list of useful contacts for further information <www.ukcisa.org.uk/student/info_sheets/accommodation_overview.php>.
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The information in this information sheet is given in good faith and has been carefully checked. UKCISA and Unipol, however, accept no legal responsibility for its accuracy.