It is generally not a good idea to enter into a contract for longer-term housing (other than halls of residence) before you arrive in the UK. There are, however, some exceptions. For example some housing providers (such as Unipol Student Homes in Leeds) have an online booking system offering access to their portfolio of accredited properties. Contact the housing office at your institution to check whether they work with any such organisations. If not, you cannot look at the housing, and you therefore cannot get a sense of whether the landlord is trustworthy or not. Nor can get a full and proper sense of what is available generally in the private sector.
It can be frustrating, arriving with uncertainty about your longer-term housing arrangements. However, there are things you can do to help prepare:
- read through what your institution has to say about private housing in your host town or city
- ascertain what are the processes for house-hunting and the level of support provided by your institution, your students’ union and any other local agencies. (They may have lists of local housing available for rent. They may also have inspected the housing to check that it is suitable.) The student office at your country’s Embassy or High Commission in the UK may also be able to give you information about housing
- check online to get an early idea of what is available and the quality and cost of housing in your host town or city
- through social networking sites try to connect with other students who are starting at your institution at the same time, and who will be looking for private sector housing. This could give you a head-start in making new friends; it could also be a way of finding housemates with shared interests
If your institution does not have temporary housing, your other options are hotels and guest houses. Guest houses are like hotels but instead of having a restaurant, they may have a dining room where you have no choice about the meals served. Living in a hotel for a long period of time will be expensive. However, hotels and guest houses provide useful temporary housing which you can book before you travel to the UK. Hostels (see above) also offer temporary housing.
After you have arrived and you are in your pre-booked temporary housing, start your search for longer-term housing early. Make full use of whatever house-hunting support your institution offers. Internet searches, housing agencies, local newspapers (for example Loot in London) and advertisements in shop windows or on a institution notice board are useful when you are looking for somewhere to live.
However, don’t forget to check if there is any type of accreditation scheme in operation. Also, you need to be aware that fraudsters have been known to operate in the private student housing market, preying on vulnerable (often international) students, for example by presenting themselves as legitimate providers online (for example, through websites such as Gumtree) and getting their victims to hand over money for a deposit on a non-existent property.
Agencies sometimes charge a fee but, by law, they cannot charge you just for registering with them and you should not pay for details of places they have to let.