How should you deal with a rent increase? Is it worth waiting to buy a home? Housing experts respond to your most common queries.
As the saying goes, there’s no place like home – but more of us are exploring what that might look like as living costs go up. To help you weigh up your options, we put forward your most-asked questions to three housing experts: Beth Kirkland, head of legal information and pro bono at Advicenow and Law for Life; Brian Murphy, head of lending at Mortgage Advice Bureau; and Andrew Johnson, senior advice manager at Money and Pensions Service.
Is there anything I can do to reduce the cost of my housing?
Andrew: As a tenant, you can apply for a one-off Discretionary Housing Payment to help with rent or a rent deposit if you’re claiming Housing Benefit or Universal Credit. Both tenants and homeowners on a low income or claiming benefits can consider applying for Council Tax Reduction (sometimes called Council Tax Support). Find out if you are eligible at gov.uk.
Should I wait to buy a home?
Andrew: Continued high inflation and further interest-rate rises, coupled with the escalating cost of living, could have a negative impact on future house prices, but nothing is certain. Whether now is the right time for you will very much depend on your own personal financial circumstances.
Brian: It should be about looking at whether what you want to achieve is affordable, both in terms of what you feel comfortable paying and what lenders will allow you to borrow.
How can I secure a mortgage at the best rate?
Andrew: To access the best-available mortgage rates, you’ll need a good credit score. Checking for any errors on your credit report; avoiding too many credit applications; and reducing personal debt, such as loans and credit cards, is a good starting point. Having a bigger deposit will also help you access better interest rates and improve your chances of being accepted. Lenders will see you as being less likely to fall behind on your repayments.
I have a mortgage but I’m struggling with my payments. What are my options?
Andrew: Mortgage lenders are regulated. They must treat you fairly and consider any suggestions you make to help deal with your arrears. They should also give you an information guide on how to deal with mortgage arrears and what your options are. This is also available free from the MoneyHelper website.
I’m a private tenant – am I eligible for any help with rent?
Beth: You may be able to get Housing Benefit, a Council Tax discount and other benefits to help with living costs.
Are there rules concerning taking in a lodger to help with rent?
Beth: You usually need the landlord’s permission – check your tenancy agreement. If you own your home, you might need the mortgage lenders’ permission, or if you’re a leaseholder or have a shared ownership agreement, you might need the landlord’s agreement. Another thing to think about is the impact it will have on any benefits you receive. It can affect your benefits if you let someone move in with you, even if they don’t pay you rent. If you were previously the only adult in your home, you will also lose the 25% Council Tax discount.
Are there any more affordable alternatives to renting privately?
Andrew: The main alternative is social housing, where you rent from a housing association or your council. It can be a lot cheaper, but available properties are in short supply and there are long waiting lists. Alternatively, you could consider moving back in with your parents or family as a temporary measure. Sharing the costs of renting a property with a friend may also provide a realistic and more affordable option.
My landlord wants to increase my rent – what are my rights?
Andrew: You don’t have to agree. Increasing your rent will depend on your tenancy agreement and whether you have a fixed-term or periodic (rolling) tenancy. There are also different rules depending on whether you’re a regulated or protected tenant. Regulated tenants generally have stronger rights. If you cannot afford the rent increase, or think it’s too much, you can consider applying to a tribunal.
I’m worried about becoming homeless. What help is available?
Beth: The council may owe you what’s called the ‘prevention duty’ to help stop you becoming homeless. Be aware, though, that this is not the same as offering you a new home. If you’re already homeless, the council may be required in law to do more to help you. You don’t have to be sleeping on the streets to count as being homeless. Advicenow has a survival guide – this will help you work out what help you are entitled to.
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