Guide to Student Accommodation

Cardboard HouseOnce you’ve picked your university, course and more importantly been accepted. The next stage is to arrange where you’ll be living.

The cheapest means of accommodation while at university is to continue to live at home, while it might not be free now you’re technically an adult, it will be cheaper than renting student digs. However, this isn’t for everyone and certainly not practical if your university of choice is located on the other side of the country.

Other types of student accommodation include:

Halls of Residence

These are owned by the university and are generally only available to first year students. Prices vary greatly and despite not being much less then renting privately, it’s a good and popular choice to transition between home and private renting. Early application is essential, as spaces are limited.

Private Halls of Residence

These are almost identical to University owned Halls of Residence, but privately owned. These are slightly more expensive and not as tightly regulated as University owned, which means that maintenance issues may go unresolved for some time. If you have got your university placement via clearing and there are no University Hall spaces left, this is your next best option.

House Share

This is the most popular option for many after their initial first year in Halls. Finding a place is becoming increasingly difficult with many groups of students feeling pressured into putting down deposits for their second year housing earlier and earlier in their first year. Splitting the cost of rent and bills is often the cheapest option for many students. If you are unable to get into halls or simply don’t fancy it, there are many websites out there that advertise houses looking for additional tenants.

Lodging

Although it’s not as popular these days, lodging can be an extra source of income for many these days due to new tax breaks. It can sometimes be much cheaper as food and utilities are often included in the rent, however your freedom is generally restricted and your rights are slightly different then with a regular tenancy since you’re in someone’s house.

Private Renting

By far the most expensive way to live while at university is to rent a place by yourself, as you take on the entire cost of the place, including bills and rent.

Accommodation Costs

The cost of rent varies a great deal between different university locations, many cities and towns with large student populations have ‘student areas’ such as Fallowfield in Manchester and Jesmond in Newcastle, where rent is about £60 to £80 per week, however London is considerably more expensive. If your budget at university is a particular burden it may be worth researching rent prices.

Generally the cost per tenant decreases as the number of people sharing increases, meaning the more people renting the cheaper rent is. While this is true up to about four people, more than five means that the landlord has additional admin to take care of so the cost of rent will be capped when more than four people are sharing a place. In addition the more people you have, the higher your utilities will be.

Deposit

Once you have selected the property you wish to move into and agreed upon rent etc, you’ll be required to sign a tenancy agreement and hand over a deposit for the duration of the tenancy. This will usually cost between one and two months rent for each person, if it’s more be cautious. It is now law that landlords keep your deposit within the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, which means it’s much harder for them to make unfair deductions. Landlords must now prove and itemise each deduction from your deposit, so don’t let it go without a fight. Of course it helps greatly if you keep the property tidy and report any maintenance issues immediately. If there is a dispute or issue, it is brought to the attention of the Scheme.

To make things easier, its advisable to complete an inventory prior to moving in, this records the present condition of the house and contents. You must do this promptly and return to the landlord; where possible also take pictures. This way any disputes can refer back to the original inventory.

Utilities

Utilities can also be an unwanted drain on your social funds, however they are quite essential, although some properties do include utilities in the rent. When looking at properties make sure to look out for houses with double glazing, look out for damp and draughts, if there are electric heaters already in the rooms it might be an indication that it’s a cold house and will be expensive to heat.

First you need to do is to take the metre readings and contact the suppliers to let them know you have moved in. You’ll also need to agree between yourselves how the bills are to be paid. Usually an individual will take responsibility for one utility such as gas or electricity then collect payment once the bills arrive or the direct debit goes out. Other methods are to contribute to a Utility kitty each week or month.

Don’t be afraid to switch suppliers if you feel you can get a better deal elsewhere, but ask your landlord first. Some houses are on a payment metre; this most certainly isn’t the cheapest way to keep your house running.

Ask yourselves if broadband is completely necessary, with many libraries open 24/7 it might be something you can live without, however if it is essential to your learning, shop around for the best deal, mobile broadband may not be the best choice, as many of you will be using the Internet, so look for deals where you can get routers for cheap. Additionally if you live near a pub or café that has free Internet for customers, see if you can access their wi-fi, of course this is only possible if it isn’t encrypted.

Top Tip: Where possible charge your laptop, phone or mp3 player at the university library instead of at home

Be conservative with your energy, reduce the thermostat, keep the central heating on timed when possible and off when the weather perks up, pack on the layers before you turn the heating up, only use what water you need and don’t leave lights and electrical items on and plugged in. These small changes can end up saving you pennies here and there.

You’ll most likely move out before the tenancy is up, so make sure you tell your supplier when the house is empty, since your name is on the bill you’ll be responsible for any energy used until the next tenants move in.

Council Tax

Full time students are exempt from paying council tax. When you arrive at university, make sure you obtain a copy of your council tax exemption form and sending it to your local authority after making a copy for your records.

If you’re living with a non-student, they will receive a 25% discount, so it’s up to you to decide how to pay. If you live with more than one non-student then they will have to pay the full amount, however as a student you are exempt, again it’s up to you to decide how it is paid, and if you contribute. It’s important to bear this in mind for the future if you are living with those in final years as they will have to pay once they are graduates.

TV Licence

Another bill you were unaware off until you moved out. If you have a TV, you will need to have a TV license, if you are sharing a house, then you only need one license for the house hold, however if you have an individual tenancy for your room, i.e. Halls, then you will need one for the TV in your room.

The cheapest way to get a license is to simply pay the annual cost. If you choose to pay monthly or quarterly you’ll pay a premium to do so.

Additionally if you move back home for the summer and have an extra three months on your license and won’t use it until it expires, you can get the rest refunded.

Exception: You will not need a TV license if you watch TV online, such as LoveFilm or BBC iPlayer, you also don’t need one if you only watch DVD’s or play games, however you’ll need to fill in a specific form on the TV license website.

Don’t be caught out, as you’ll receive a £1000 fine and potentially prosecution.

Insurance

Often overlooked, insurance for possessions should most certainly be considered, as student housing is a popular target for burglars who know they can usually pick up several laptops, mp3 players, digital cameras and top of the line mobile phones all in one fell swoop. Not only that but you face losing university work on your laptop.

Insurers such as Endsleigh offer specific student deals, but before you begin looking it might be worth seeing if your contents are covered under your parents Housing Insurance. Although don’t assume a student deal is the cheapest, also shop around and read the fine print to ensure your more pricey possessions (i.e. iPad etc) are covered to their full value.

Keeping doors and windows locked is of course priority number one so make sure you and your house mates get in this habit, especially those on ground floors, other wise your policy may not pay out.

What to ask a Landlord or Letting Agent

Typically, you’ll end renting via a letting agency; they are plenty of specialist student letting agents dotted around popular student areas. However, don’t be afraid to look into private landlords. Letting agencies are expensive for landlords as well, so don’t forget to check local listings in the paper or on Gumtree, this will invariably be cheaper for you as well.

Whether you go with an agency or a landlord, make sure you make a point of asking these questions or taking notes on these points:

  • You’ll more than likely be shown round the property by the currant occupants, look how clean it is, if not establish how clean it will be before you move in.
  • Ask the current occupants what the landlord is like; they have no reason to deceive you and will be quick to let you know if the landlord or agency hasn’t been fair.
  • Ask what their rent is to see if there has been a sharp increase
  • How secure is it; have they had any break in’s?
  • Establish what belongs to the house and what belongs to the tenants – make a list of what you need to get. The landlord of a student house should generally provide beds, basic furniture, sofas and white goods in the kitchen.
  • Check the external areas to see if anything is damaged
  • Check the type of boiler and areas for damp (common in student homes); ask about approx cost of utilities.
  • Who is responsible for maintaining the garden and is there equipment to do so?
  • Is there enough space for everyone to live – enough kitchen space and the appropriate number of bathrooms?

2 thoughts on “Guide to Student Accommodation

  1. I’m so glad that I chose to commute to my university from home. It saved me a ton of money and kept me out of trouble.
    Another way to save money on schooling, at least in the states, is to attend a community college to finish up your general reqs. and then go away for school for the important classes. The money that you save on tuition can help pay for living expenses.

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    • I think these days, attending a university near you is the only way for many, which is a shame because it really limits your options. I was fortunate to move to Manchester and it did wonders for my personal development. Which is great since my degree is pretty useless. That’s a terrific idea! It works slightly differently in the UK.

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