‘Second Liverpool’ found hiding in the spare room

Where-is-Liverpool

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?

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

A Victory in the 2015 Budget

Raise the Roof logo

As most of you who’ve used SpareRoom in the past six years will know, we’ve been campaigning hard to get the chancellor to increase the Rent a Room Scheme tax threshold. We just found out he did just that in the budget, raising it from £4,250 a year to the £7,500 we asked for.

This is great news for renters – especially flatsharers. With around 19 million empty bedrooms in owner-occupied properties in England alone, we’re just not using our housing effectively. As we’re not building in anywhere near the numbers we need to, unlocking some of those rooms will make a big difference.

Here’s how:

  • Encouraging people to rent out their rooms means more supply – that helps keep rents down
  • There’s a huge demand for affordable rentals right now, especially rooms. This addresses that need head on
  • Average rents for people living with the owner are lower than traditional rents – good news for renters on a budget
  • Unlocking just 5% of those empty rooms would house almost a million people, that’s the equivalent of a city the size of Birmingham!

It’s great to see the government addressing the housing crisis with simple, effective measure that will make a difference to hundreds of thousands of people quickly, while they work out the longer term policy changes we need to fix the housing crisis for good.

Thanks to all of you who signed the petition or helped spread the word. We’d also like to thank the people and organisations who’ve supported Raise the Roof publicly over the past six years, including Shelter, Sarah Beeny and Generation Rent.
Great news all round.

Matt

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!

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!

Options for social tenants facing the Bedroom Tax

Changes to benefits are coming into force on 1st April 2013, which will affect the housing benefit entitlements of thousands of social tenants up and down the country.

Housing associations and local authorities have started to inform their tenants of the changes and their expected impact, but there is still much to be done to help social tenants make informed decisions about the changes and how to mitigate their impact.

New rules on under-occupancy will mean that people will receive less housing benefit to cover their rent, if they are deemed to be under-occupying their home. The government is seeking to save money and at the same time, encourage those with homes too large for their immediate needs to move to smaller homes, vacating the larger ones for growing families.

The under-occupancy rules will affect an estimated 670 000 households next April, and there are not enough alternative one bedroom properties for under-occupying couples and singles to move to.  In some parts of the country, particularly the North, the impact is likely to be felt more strongly, as a greater proportion of social housing stock is larger, due to fewer restrictions on space.

The average cost for each under-occupying tenant will be £676 per year, based on an expected £14 per week shortfall in housing benefit. When the welfare reform kicks in next year, tenants will face tough choices between paying for the shortfall in their rent through income, or downsizing. An alternative to this tough conundrum is for the tenant to take in a lodger. With their spare room filled in this way, they won’t be deemed to be under-occupying, and they have the capacity to make some additional income, whilst remaining in their own home.

Some local authorities and housing associations are starting to develop strategies to support tenants who wish to consider taking in a lodger. The tax and benefit implications are not straightforward, and it’s vital that social tenants get help to consider the wider implications of having someone unrelated to them living in their home.

SpareRoom has published The Social Tenant’s Guide to Taking in a Lodger, which is available for free download, and is intended to guide individuals through this potential minefield. Housing associations may also use it as part of their efforts to support tenants in their choice of action in response to the Bedroom Tax.

To download the free guide, visit http://www.spareroom.co.uk/bedroomtax

How to offset the shock of an increase in SVR

More than 1 million UK homeowners got a shock last week when 4 mortgage providers (Halifax, the Co-operative Bank, Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire bank) increased their standard variable rates. NatWest also pushed up the rate on its One Account, affecting a further 100,000 customers.

With many homeowners already living on frozen salaries, and with tightened belts, this further increase in outgoings could be critical.

The general advice in this situation is to speak to your mortgage lender in the hope that they may be able to help. The earlier you let your mortgage lender know if you think you’ll struggle the better.

One practical way to offset increased outgoings is to take in a lodger. Not only will the £4,250 you can charge tax free under the Rent a Room Scheme be a huge help in these circumstances, you may also benefit in other ways. Having someone to water your plants or feed your pets while you’re away, for example. Friendship is often a happy consequence of taking in a lodger, and we’ve even heard about one or two marriages that resulted from it too!

Make sure you speak to your mortgage provider first, but taking in a lodger could give you the breathing space you need as SVRs increase. Visit http://www.spareroom.co.uk/lodger for more information.

Taking in a lodger #5 – Placing an ad as a way of testing the water

So you’ve done some research and considered what it is you want from a lodger. Now it’s time to place an ad. You may be thinking ‘But I’m not ready to advertise my room just yet’, and that’s fine. Advertising your room can be incredibly useful though as it can tell you several things you can only guess at otherwise:

  • Will anyone want my room? – Advertising can help you work out how many (and what sort of) people are likely to be interested
  • Am I charging the right amount? – If your room is too cheap (or too expensive) it’s worth finding this out so you can make adjustments
  • Is my ad any good? – You may well find you end up tweaking your ad as you go. The responses you get will give you an idea what you might not be saying that you should
  • How to deal with enquiries – Learning how to communicate with prospective lodgers can hep you get the kind of information out of them that’ll tell you whether they’re suitable or not

Of course, we wouldn’t suggest anyone puts up an ad if they’re not planning to rent out a room as that would just waste people’s time. However, advertising sooner rather than later gives you plenty of time to meet several people and find the right fit.