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?
The best way to find out if you can afford to take on a new property is to do a proper household budget. Work out what you’ve got coming in each month and what you can expect to pay out. You’ll need to allow an amount for:
- 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
- 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. Find out who is responsible for paying rates on rental properties on our advice in our renting section.
You might be entitled to housing benefit to help with your housing costs if you’re not working or you don’t get paid very much. A money and benefits agency like Citizens Advice can help work out if you should be getting any benefits.
If you’re already receiving benefits and you’re having difficulty getting enough money together for a deposit and rent in advance for a new place, you may be able to get a loan from the discretionary financial support fund. This can be used towards your rent in advance, but you won’t get a loan for the deposit.
There is a type of top-up housing benefit available for people who rent their homes from a private landlord. It’s called a Discretionary Housing Payment. You might be able to get a bit extra towards your rent if you can show that you’re in financial hardship and can’t afford to make up the extra yourself. Find out more about housing benefit for private tenants in our advice in our renting section.
If you’re not able to afford a deposit upfront, try talking to Smartmove. Smartmove is a sort of charitable estate agency that works with vulnerable homeless people to find them tenancies in the private rented sector. The landlords who work with Smartmove don’t always ask you to pay the full deposit at the start of the tenancy and might allow you to pay it off in instalments. Smartmove staff can also help you make benefit applications and manage your tenancy.
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 housing benefit 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 housing benefit to cover the cost of a room in a shared house. There are some exceptions to this rule and if you're under 22 and you've been in care you will probably get enough housing benefit to cover a one-bedroomed flat or house. A benefits agency like Citizens Advice can help you work out what benefits you are entitled to.
Rent arrears or debt?
If you fall behind with your rent or stop paying it altogether you could be evicted and end up homeless. The Housing Executive might not have to help you if you become homeless because you intentionally stopped paying rent. 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.