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How to pay less for student accommodation in the UK

There are three types of rented accommodation you’re most likely to come across in the UK. Save the Student reveals how they vary – and how you can save money on housing.

University accommodation

The most common type of university-owned accommodation is the halls of residence (“halls”), located either on campus or dotted around town. Most offer a mix of single and double bedrooms (communal kitchen, showers and toilets) and more expensive en-suites (bedroom + bathroom). There may also be a few flats suitable for families or groups of students. Some halls have on-site laundry facilities, as well as a bar and social spaces. Halls can be either catered (inclusive meals) or self-catered, with some of the oldest universities offering ‘formal dining’ in traditional gowns, i.e., the Harry Potter experience!

Good: Costs are usually inclusive of rent and utilities (water, wifi, electricity and heating) – so you can just turn up, move in, and get on with your life. Rooms are furnished, but you’ll need to supply anything else you need!

Not so good: Fixed/bundled bills means you can’t negotiate individual costs to save money – you could pay less overall in non-inclusive or private accommodation. Also bear in mind that there are always more students than rooms! Apply early, as the cheapest or niche accommodation goes quickly.

Worth knowing: Halls can house both male and female students, though usually in separate areas.

Private rented accommodation

Private accommodation is statistically the most popular choice among students. Choices include taking a room in someone’s home, sharing a whole flat or house with others/other students, or renting a whole flat or house to yourself. Obviously the more people you share costs with, the cheaper it is for everyone!

Finding a place can sometimes be challenging. The trick is to start early, visit several properties (and more than once), and ask for testimonials from other tenants. You’ll find places for rent in local newspapers / on social media, via estate agents, and through word of mouth – but always ask your university’s housing office for recommendations and advice first.

Good: Less like living in a hotel, and more like a home. Also more chance of negotiating lower rents, especially if you’re renewing a lease (handy if you fancy staying in one place for the whole of your studies).

Not so good: Paying a month’s rent plus deposit in advance is standard in private accommodation and halls; in private accommodation you may also have admin fees and other charges. It’s possible to find inclusive rents, especially when renting a room in someone’s home, but otherwise you’ll have to arrange all bills and insurance yourself (keep that in mind when setting your budget). Unlike halls, private homes are rented all-year round: check your contract before signing up to 12-month stints!

Worth knowing: UK households have to pay council tax, which covers local services like roads and rubbish collection – but full-time students under-18s, are exempt. If you share a house with non-students, technically only they are responsible for paying the charge.

Private halls of residence

Private halls are the most expensive option. On the other hand, rents tend to include utilities, wifi and even gym facilities as standard. There are also more types of residence on offer, including studios (bedroom + kitchen), en-suite options, and individual/shared flats.

Good: Private halls are more like plush hotels – they’re new, modern and usually in tip-top condition. Some rental costs even include contents insurance (but check it gives you the cover you need!).

Not so good: It’s up to you whether the extras are worth the added cost, or if you’re willing to sacrifice the luxury to pay less. You may also need a guarantor to co-sign your tenancy agreement.

Other tips

If you only need short-term accommodation in the first instance, staying with a host family could be a cheaper and more flexible alternative: ask your university if they know of (or manage) any schemes. Hotels and serviced apartments are rarely affordable for more than a couple of nights: rental schemes such as Airbnb can be easier on your budget until you get something permanent organised. Finally, don’t forget the power of networking! If you have strong ties to a church, mosque or other religious body, or your parents have professional connections, it’s always worth asking who can help you get settled.