Housing in the UK
One of the first things most people will be thinking about when they come to the UK is finding somewhere to live. Exactly what is needed will depend on the length and purpose of the immigrant’s stay in the UK and the type of visa they have. Some immigrants may have housing provided for them as part of the terms of their employment or course of study; some may be looking for a rental property and others may wish to purchase a home.
Regardless of the individual’s circumstances there are certain factors to take into account when moving into any sort of housing in the UK.
Private, Council or Social LandlordsFor those seeking a property there is a difference between:
- The private sector – where the individual pays the market rate to rent or buy a property. These are widely advertised in newspapers, online and by estate agents;
- Council properties which may be free or a low rent may be payable depending on the tenant’s means. Waiting lists for council properties tend to be very long and, although the local authority has a duty to house people who would otherwise be homeless, this could mean providing a single room. Priority will always be given to families and those with special needs;
- Property let by “social” landlords or housing associations. The rent for such properties is likely to be considerably lower than the market rate but potential tenants may have to satisfy certain criteria. Apart from being on a sufficiently low income there could be other requirements such as suffering from a particular type of disability.
The UtilitiesAll homes in the UK have electricity and a clean, constant supply of water which is safe to drink. Most homes also have a direct gas supply. When moving into new housing one of the first things to do is to contact the companies who supply these services to set up an account. Traditionally most utility companies expected payment on a quarterly or six-monthly basis. However, today many people pay their utilities through a monthly direct debit.
There are now a number of different utility companies operating in the UK who may charge different rates for the supply. Customers can chose whichever they think is offering the best deal.
TelevisionsIf the property contains a television, or anything which can be used as a television (such as an enabled computer monitor) a television licence will be needed. Technically the licence is only needed if the television is watched. However, the TV Licensing authority is notorious for the way in which it pursues those who may be watching illicitly. When a television, or accessory, is purchased the shop will generally be obliged to notify TV Licensing. The hapless purchaser is then likely to receive a threatening notice telling them they need a television licence even if one is already registered to that address.
Even students living in halls of residence at a university should obtain a television licence. Reductions in the annual fee are available for those who live in residential care or who are blind. The licence is free to those who have reached their 75th birthday.
TelephonesMost homes in the UK have telephone lines fitted. It is up to the individual householder whether or not they wish to make use of a land line telephone service. A number of different companies now operate in the telecommunications market and some may offer complete packages including telephone, broadband and other services for a monthly fee. A growing number of people in the UK, particularly the young, now rely solely on a mobile phone rather than a fixed land line.
Local Services and Council TaxAll local authorities provide basic services including rubbish collection, recycling, street lights and road cleaning. These are all paid for through Council Tax. Most home owners or tenants are liable to pay a monthly council tax to their local authority. A demand will be sent in about March of each year setting out the amount that is payable for the year from April. Council tax payers are entitled to pay this by monthly instalments rather than as one lump sum. If they wish to pay in this way they should contact their council as soon as they receive the bill. The right to pay by monthly instalments is lost if payments are not maintained.
Those on low incomes may be entitled to council tax benefit, students are exempt from paying council tax and single people are entitled to a discount. However, none of these benefits is automatic and in every case the householder must make a formal application if the benefit or exemption is to be applied to their account.