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Working out housing costs

Tuesday 3 February 2015 Renting A Home

Before you agree to rent a property, make sure you have worked out your budget and that you are aware of the full cost involved. Remember cost isn’t just about rent. You may have to pay bills, a deposit and other fees or charges. Use our house hunting checklist to make sure you’ve thought about all the key points.


Rents can vary widely across the UK. In some areas you will be lucky to find a house or flat for less than £100 per week, whilst in other areas you may pay £50 per week. Contact your students’ union or university accommodation service who may be able to advise you about average costs in your area.

Check your contract to ensure you know when and how rent should be paid. Make sure you will have income available (e.g. from student finance) when the rent is due.

Most full time students are not able to claim housing benefit. Some students may be eligible, including part time students, students with children and disabled students. More information about housing benefit:

Council Tax (England, Wales and Scotland)

Full time students are usually exempt from paying council tax. Part time students are not, but may be eligible for council tax benefit.


A deposit is a refundable sum of money paid at the start of your contract to cover certain losses the landlord may suffer during the tenancy (e.g. unpaid rent or damage to the property that is beyond normal wear and tear). 

Deposits are usually equivalent to around one or two months’ rent.  In Scotland you can’t be charged more than two months’ rent as a deposit.  You will usually have to pay the deposit before you move in.

See our deposits page for more information about how your deposit has to be protected and how to get it back when you move out.


Check your contract to see whether any other bills are included in the rent. Depending on your contract, you may also have to budget and pay for:

  • Gas, electric and water
  • Telephone and internet
  • TV licence
  • Contents insurance

Your students’ union may be able to advise you on approximate average costs. You can also ask current tenants what they pay for utilities. Remember, some bills are paid quarterly whilst others are paid monthly. You can often find payment plans that suit you and your cash flow.

Some landlords offer ‘bills inclusive’ contracts. These can be convenient but don’t always work out cheaper. Check the terms of the contract to see if there is any limit on the amount the landlord will pay for.

Fees and charges

Before signing a contract, check whether there are any other fees to pay in addition to the rent and deposit.  For example:

  • Does the landlord or letting agent charge a non-refundable referencing, booking or admin fee?  These can range from around £50 to over £200 per tenant. 
  • Look out for ‘check out’ costs at the end of the tenancy too. 

It’s always worth asking if these fees are negotiable before you sign, especially if there’s an oversupply in your local market. 

Following a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority, letting fees should be clearly stated in the property advert.  You can report any hidden fees to the ASA via Shelter’s website here.

In Scotland it is illegal for landlords/agents to charge fees for arranging or extending a letting.

Problems with accommodation costs

If you are unable to afford your rent or bills, get in touch with your landlord or supplier as soon as possible. You should also seek advice from you students’ union or another advice service.