Money can get tight when you’re living in your own home. As well as the obvious costs like rent, heat and electricity, you’ll have to pay for things you might not have thought about like rates, cleaning products and a TV licence.
Can you afford to move out?
It seems boring, but the best way to find out if you can afford to take on a new property is to do a proper household budget. There are apps that can help you to do this. You need to work out what you’ve got coming in each month and what you can expect to pay out. You'll need to think about all fo these things:
- rates (these are nearly always paid by the person who lives in the house, not the owner)
- other groceries
- telephone, internet and TV
- TV licence (you'll need one if you watch live TV on any device or if you stream anything from BBC iplayer)
- transport costs
- pet costs if you have pets
- childcare or school costs if you have children
- unexpected or seasonal costs – car repairs, tax or insurance renewals, Christmas and birthdays
- cigarettes or alcohol if you smoke or drink
- entertainment and socialising.
Be realistic about what you’re going to spend on these things. You might think you can cut down on what you spend on nights out for a while, but will you be happy still doing this three months down the line? If it looks like you’ll be spending more than you’ve got coming in you might have to accept that the rent on this property is too high and find somewhere cheaper.
Rates have to be paid on all properties in Northern Ireland. If you rent your home privately, either you or the landlord will be expected to pay rates. If you don’t pay your rates bill you could end up in court. The rules on who is responsible for rates can be pretty complicated, so it's important to be clear on this before you sign any agreement.
Benefits might help with your housing costs if you’re not working or you don’t get paid very much. If you're not already getting benefits, you can claim Universal Credit and this might include some help with rent. Contact Make The Call to find out what benefits you are entitled to.
Before you move into a new rented home, you'll normally have to pay the landlord one month's rent upfront and a deposit, which is usually equal to another month's rent. You may be able to get an interest-free loan from the discretionary financial support fund to help with some of this cost.This can be used towards your rent in advance, but you won’t get a loan for the deposit.
Benefits don't cover full rent
You'll only get a set amount of benefits, regardless of how much your landlord is charging you. The rules for rent benefits say that the amount you'll get depend on a few things, including your age and who lives with you. This means that most private tenants have to pay extra to their landlord on top of what the landlord gets from Universal Credit or Housing Benefit.
If your benefits don't cover your full rent, you might be able to get an extra payment from the Housing Executive. The extra help is called a Discretionary Housing Payment. Speak to our advisers if you'd like help to apply for this extra payment.
Leaving care or disabled?
If you’re leaving care and moving into your own place for the first time talk to your social worker about what help is available. You may be entitled to a grant from your local health & social care trust to help you get settled in.
You can apply for benefits if you’re leaving care, but only if you’re over 18. If you’re still under 18 social services will usually have to pay your housing costs. Chat to your social work team to find out what help they can give you.
Most single people who are aged under 35 and rent privately will only receive enough benefit to cover the cost of renting a room in a shared house, but if you're under 22 and you've been in care you may get extra help with your rent. Speak to our advisers if you'd like to know how much you'll get towards rent.
Rent arrears or debt?
Get advice if you fall behind on your rent. If you don't deal with this problem you could end up being evicted, and this can make it much harder to find else to live.The sooner you start dealing with any debt problems the easier it will be to sort them out.
The Housing Executive and housing associations should negotiate with you if you get into difficulties paying rent rather than trying to evict you immediately but a private landlord doesn’t have to do this.
Talk to an advice agency like Housing Rights if you’ve fallen behind on your rent. Get proper money advice from a free advice agency before you apply for any high-interest, short-term loans or borrow money from a money lender. There might be better options available to you.