‘Second Liverpool’ found hiding in the spare room

We desperately need another Liverpool.

There’s nothing wrong with the one we’ve got, we just need another. Right now. We also need another every year for the next 25 years. That’s a lot of Liverpools.

But let’s start with why we need one.

There’s a housing crisis. It’s a fact. We need to build 250,000 houses every year, enough for 460,000 people. That’s basically the population of…you guessed it… Liverpool.

We don’t build anywhere near that and we’re not about to. Last time we did was 1979-80.

Even if we could build a new Liverpool every year, where would we put it? Wouldn’t it just be easier if we had a spare Liverpool lying around?

As it happens, we do.

England’s homeowners have 19 million empty rooms between them. If we can persuade just 2.5% to rent them out they’d house 475,000 people. That’s basically the population of…you guessed it… Liverpool.

We could do that right now, with a decent incentive.

And we’ve finally got one.

As of April 6th people can earn £7,500 a year tax-free by renting out a room. It doesn’t just apply to homeowners – tenants can do it too with their landlord’s permission. It took us six and a half years to convince Government but they finally did it. Sounds like a decent incentive doesn’t it?

It’s a proper win-win. Tenants benefit from increased supply of affordable rooms and homeowners get a tax break to encourage them to open their doors.

Now, has anyone got a spare Manchester knocking about?


You can find out more about the Rent a Room Scheme and how it works here.

Renting out a spare room – Azaria’s story

Azaria shares her experience of renting out a spare room in her home in Swansea, South Wales.

“I’m happy to say that taking in a lodger has been a huge success for me. I was a 24-year old graduate working in marketing when I bought my first property (lucky, I know). It’s a two bed flat in the town centre and I advertised the room on SpareRoom. Within a few days I had quite a few responses to choose between, and arranged two viewings the following Saturday.

One of the viewers decided within a few hours that she’d like to move in with me – she’s a 31 year old Mexican who’d been living in Manchester and needed to be in Swansea for work. We get along brilliantly – she’s lovely, quiet, polite, funny and clean. We don’t see each other all that often, we’re both busy people with activities that keep us out of the flat on different nights of the week.

My boyfriend moved in with us in January. If anything he’s more of a pain in the butt than having a lodger – if he could be as clean and considerate as she is, we’d never argue again!

So I’ve gone from living by myself to living in a happy busy household of three adults, and it all works out just fine because we’re considerate and respect each other’s space. I’d recommend a lodger to anyone who’d otherwise be living by themselves – even if you’re not in constant conversation, sometimes it’s just nice to have that extra person for company, and of course the financial side doesn’t hurt either!”

Azaria benefits from room rents in Swansea averaging around £350 per month, which means that all of her rental income is tax free, thanks to the Rent a Room Scheme.

If you’d like to make your spare room work for you, post a free room ad now, and start getting enquiries.
Place a free ad

Or, to find out more about your tax free rental allowance under the Rent a Room Scheme, download your free guide.

Renting out a spare room – Tilda’s story

Tilda shares her experience of renting out a spare room in her home in Wood Green, North London.

Tilda on the right, with her flatmate (or lodger) Gemma
Tilda on the right, with her flatmate (and new-found best friend) Gemma

“I have a two-bedroomed flat in Wood Green, and whilst I could have covered the mortgage on my own, I knew things would be a lot easier with the income from a lodger. So I advertised the room on SpareRoom and got lots of replies. Gemma was one of the first to call up, and when we spoke on the phone, there was just something about her – I knew immediately we would hit it off. She was the first to view the room and I called her to let her know it was hers, but made her wait for the news, as I’m a big fan of dramatic pauses.

I’m no great shakes in the kitchen, so Gemma does most of the cooking when we’re in together. She’s practically banned me from the kitchen, but that’s no great loss as she’s a much better cook than I am. Her food is amazing!

Now Gemma’s really become part of the family. My brother got us both into boxing training, but Gemma laughs at me because I can’t punch. And my mother, who lives across the way, has been known to hang out with Gemma in the garden, the two of them chatting away and drinking wine until late.  I get a lot more than just the rent out of this relationship. I wouldn’t have met my best friend, if I hadn’t rented out my spare room.”

Tilda benefits from room rents in North London averaging around £680 per month, which means that almost all her rental income is tax free, thanks to the Rent a Room Scheme.

If you’d like to make your spare room work for you, post a free room ad now, and start getting enquiries.

Place a free ad

Or, to find out more about your tax free rental allowance under the Rent a Room Scheme, download your free guide.

Flatmates not cleaning up after themselves? Here’s a handy solution

Living in a flatshare can be fun, sociable and affordable. Unfortunately it can also be a source of headaches, particularly when it comes to arguments about cleaning.

When we surveyed the SpareRoom community about annoying flatshare habits recently, flatmates who don’t clean up after themselves came close to top of the list. If your flatshare doesn’t have a cleaner as standard, it can be a constant source of anguish, especially if one of the flatmates feels they’re doing more than their fair share to keep the place hygienic.

Could Mop be the answer to your cleaning woes? Our friends at MOP (www.wearemop.com) are making house cleaning super simple with an online booking service for trusted, pre-checked cleaners, with no commitment to a contract. All cleaners are interviewed, reference checked, and given a cleaning test before they start to work for Mop and there’s an insurance policy in place to cover your property and liability too, giving you complete peace of mind.

Mop just covers London for now, but is planning a country-wide expansion later this year. To keep things affordable, Mop is offering SpareRoom users a £10 discount for your first booking. Book now using code SPAREROOM to get your discount – and get a trusted cleaner online in under 60 seconds.

The lunacy of TV licensing – lodgers and sharers beware!

If you live in a shared house or share with your landlord as a lodger, do you need a TV licence for your own TV in your room? The rules are complex and daunting for the faint-hearted, but we think we’ve managed to get to the nub of them. Do bear with us whilst we try to explain.

Sharing with flatmates

So here’s the scenario. You’ve just moved in, say with friends or a bunch of people you don’t know. There’s a telly in the living room but you can’t all agree on watching the same programme together. So you put a small TV in your own room and watch what you like. The house has a TV licence which you pay jointly towards. You’re covered aren’t you?

No. Not exactly. It depends on the tenancy arrangement. If you’ve moved in with friends and rented the whole house jointly (on a joint and several tenancy agreement where you’re all equally liable for the rent), one TV licence should cover the whole house. But on its website, TV licensing notes an exception, “such as whether or not you have exclusive access to a toilet or washing facilities”. What difference having your own en-suite should make to your legal status regarding television watching is anyone’s guess, but if you’re not sure how this might apply to you, it’s best to give them a call.

If you’re renting just a room and you have your own separate contract or rental agreement, then it’s quite clear that you’ll need your own licence for watching a separate telly in your room.

Sharing a house with your landlord

Scenario B – you’ve found a nice place to live, sharing with a lovely family. They’ve got a spare room and you’re happy to share their cosy home with them. You’ve signed a licence agreement, which is quite different in law from a tenancy agreement, and doesn’t give you exclusive rights over any part of the house. So you should be fine to watch TV in your room, assuming your landlord has a licence already, right? Wrong.

The TV licensing website is a little hazy on the subject of living as a lodger, stating that “You’re covered by the homeowner’s TV Licence if they have one, provided you live in the same building. If you live in self contained accommodation such as a separate flat or annex you need your own separate licence.” So far, so good – you’re not living in self-contained accommodation, you just have a room, and it’s not even got a lock on the door! But wait, there’s more. “You don’t need a licence if you’re a lodger and have a relationship with the homeowner – for example, a family member, common law partner, a nanny, au pair or housekeeper.” Hang on a second, you just said it was ok if it’s not self-contained. Do I also need to be related to the homeowner or working for them? It’s not entirely clear from the wording on the site, so we asked TV Licensing for clarification. They came back and said “If you are a tenant or a lodger with an individual tenancy agreement for your room it would mean your room is classified as a separately occupied place and you must be covered by a valid TV Licence to watch or record television programmes as they’re being shown on TV. This includes the use of devices such as a TV, computer, mobile phone, games console, digital box and DVD/VHS recorder.” So even though a lodger is not a “tenant” in law, they do seem to require a licence to watch TV separately from the rest of the household.

What’s more a licence isn’t shareable between properties you’re living at. So if you’re a Monday to Friday lodger, and have a licence for the TV in your own home, you’d still need an additional licence to watch another TV in your weekday room, separately from the TV in the communal sitting room. Wait. There’s a single exception to even this rule. If the TV is battery powered, you don’t need a licence, but as soon as it’s plugged into the mains, thereby installing the device, you do need a licence. Have you ever heard of such lunacy?

TV licensing tell us, “Anyone caught watching or recording live TV without a valid licence can risk prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000.” For more information on licensing and to ask questions, visit http://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/. Please don’t ask us – we’re as bemused as you are!

How to solve the Housing Crisis in London

SpareRoom attended the Future of London Housing debate hosted by the Evening Standard on Wednesday 20th March, in a packed room of over 1000 attendees. Housing is clearly a subject that is close to the hearts of many Londoners and the debate and following Q&A session became quite heated – showing the passion and emotion involved.

All of the panellists, including thinkers and politicians from all sides of the political spectrum, agreed that more housing supply was needed to relieve the housing crisis enveloping London. Deputy Mayor for Housing, Richard Blakeway called for London’s share of stamp duty to be ploughed back into a massive house-building programme. Whilst the MD of Berkeley Housing proposed a simplified planning process, the former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone’s call was to provide council housing for mixed communities, so there is less segregation between rich and poor in London. Alain de Botton, philosopher and writer, suggested a blueprint for attractive, affordable design that could be repeated easily and efficiently across London, removing some of the hurdles in the planning process, whilst the broadcaster and architectural graduate Janet Street Porter called for high density building, across railway lines and over car parks, like in New York. Possibly the biggest applause of the evening went to Evening Standard columnist Rosamund Urwin’s suggestions of disbanding Foxtons, banning Kirsty Alsopp and deporting the Candy Brothers. Standing up for ‘renty-somethings’ she focused on her own case of being shut out of home ownership, and renting with family members.

Whilst many of their suggestions were valid and probably will help to resolve the housing crisis in a few years to come, if more intensive building programmes do get underway (we’ve only built half the number of homes we need for the last 20 years and have a lot of catching up to do), there was a distinct lack of focus on the here and now. With so many thousands of people on housing lists in London, and the capital attracting workers and students like never before, there is an imperative need to offer practical solutions to today’s housing crisis, before London becomes a place that no real people can afford to live and work in.

Sharing existing resources seems to be the elephant in the room that nobody would mention. Amongst the talk of pressing empty properties and even offices into homes for the needy, there is no mention of the thousands of under-occupied properties that can help to ease the crisis. This is already happening – as teenage children grow up and move away, ’empty nesters’ are starting to rent out their spare rooms in their thousands – but we need to see more of this, to make an impact. What could the policy makers do to help encourage this trend?

We would suggest a raise in the tax free limit homeowners can earn through the Rent a Room scheme for starters – it’s been at the same rate since its introduction in 1997, whilst rents have been rising dramatically. Why not make it more attractive for people with spare rooms to take in a lodger, and help to remove the pressure on the limited supply in the private rented sector, and the social rented sector too? We’ve been pushing for this with our Raise the Roof campaign for some time, and hope that the Chancellor may see fit to increase the tax benefit in his next budget, even if it wasn’t included in last week’s.

Other ways to increase supply include removing some of the hurdles involved in turning a property into an HMO. This will promote more efficient use of existing property, and help young people to find somewhere affordable to live in the here and now, rather than being told to wait for houses yet to be built.

Do you agree? What do you think could be done to help solve the housing crisis sooner, rather than later?

A lesson from EastEnders

Anyone who saw last night’s episode of EastEnders (and apparently there were 8.1million of us!) will have seen Dot Branning get into trouble over renting her home to a lodger without permission, and is now being investigated for housing benefit fraud.
Dot Branning is quizzed at Walford Council

As Cora Cross failed to pay the rent and unauthorised lodgers were staying under Dot’s roof, the council is seeking a full explanation of exactly what happened, and is threatening legal action.

If you’re thinking of taking in a lodger, or who have already done so, those scenes might have struck a worrying note with you. If you’re worried about how taking in a lodger might leave you open to issues with your local council, your mortgage lender or your insurance company, there’s a wealth of information on the SpareRoom website to help you. SpareRoom guides you through every aspect of taking in a lodger, and explains what your obligations are. You can also download a free copy of our Guide to Taking in a Lodger, which will get you off on the right foot.

Do you need an EPC?

Advertising a property to let has got more complicated over the years with the burden of regulation growing ever bigger.
From 9th January 2013 regulations concerning EPCs (Energy Performance Certificates) have changed, meaning that a landlord will have to have commissioned an EPC before marketing their property and obtained within 7 days of it going on the market. If you don’t get one within that time, you have a further 21 days to get one, provided you’re able to demonstrate you’re making every reasonable effort to get hold of one. Even if you’ve got an agent working for you, it’s still the landlord’s responsibility that an EPC is procured in a timely fashion, and made available to prospective tenants free of charge. The asset rating (energy efficient rating) on the EPC must be stated on any advertisement of the property in commercial media, including newspapers, magazines, the internet and any other written material describing the property.

What about shared housing? Do I still need an EPC?

This is where there is a crucial difference between renting out a whole property and renting by the room. If the space you are advertising is not self-contained, then you do not need to provide an EPC. Where individual rooms in a building are rented out, and there are shared facilities eg a kitchen or bathroom, an EPC is not required. This is because an EPC is only required on the rental of a building or part of a building that’s rented out separately. Renting a room does not fit the requirements.

A crucial difference

We feature both houses let on a room by room basis as well as whole properties suitable for sharing on SpareRoom. The latter, which will be distinguished as not available by the room, and let on a joint and several contract to a group of sharers, will need an EPC.

If in doubt, consult the Government regulations.

Change to gas safety regulations come into force 31 Dec

There’s only 10 days to go before new regulations come into force which could affect all landlords with gas central heating in their rented properties. Read this now to avoid problems.

Landlords have an obligation to provide heating that is working and safe. If the heating breaks down or isn’t repairable, the result is unhappy tenants, even if you provide temporary heaters.
New regulations coming into force at the end of the year mean that it’s possible that gas safety engineers won’t be able to approve a boiler for use. This is because they must be able to check not only the boiler but the flue in its entirety. If they cannot gain access to the flue to check this, they won’t be able to issue a Gas Safety Certificate, and will have to shut down the system in the meantime. Result: unhappy tenants complaining to landlords.

What can landlords do to protect themselves and their tenants from this unhappy outcome?

If you’re not sure if the entire flue is visible and checkable, get an engineer out to have a look. Fit inspection hatches if there’s the least bit of doubt, as an engineer will be obliged to turn the system off if he cannot inspect the flue in its entirety.

For more information and frequently asked questions, visit the Gas Safety Register website at http://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/advice/flues_in_voids.aspx

Kindle an interest in Flatsharing

We’re pleased to announce that The Essential Guide to Flatsharing is now available for Kindle. Priced at a very reasonable £4.98, the book is now available to download from Amazon.

Whether you’re looking for a flatshare or renting out a room, The Essential guide to Flatsharing has everything you need to know. Written by Rupert Hunt, the founder of SpareRoom.co.uk, and Matt Hutchinson, SpareRoom’s resident expert, the book serves as a no-nonsense guide to the world of shared accommodation. It brings together the pair’s expert knowledge of dealing with flatshares, lodgers and landlords and shares tips and insights on how to avoid the pitfalls of sharing. From financial issues to living in harmony with your flatmates, this book covers it all.

Now available for Kindle for the first time, the guide will prove your stalwart friend and advisor as you travel through the maze of shared accommodation. Download a copy now!