Most students who aren’t living at home will either move into housing provided by their college or university or find somewhere to rent privately. Check the college’s website or prospectus for information on the housing options it provides.
Very few students are entitled to housing benefit so it’s important to find somewhere that you can afford. Have a good look at all the options before you sign any tenancy agreements or contracts. Studentpad lists lots of different private housing for students throughout Northern Ireland.
Halls of residence
Lots of the colleges and universities in Northern Ireland provide their own student housing in Halls of Residence. Many of the units in Halls are reserved for first-year students, students from abroad or people who have particular needs, but it’s worth checking out this option even if you don’t fit into these groups. Talk to your student adviser or welfare officer.
Some Halls are self-catering while others may provide meals and services. You’ll normally have a bedroom to yourself with study space but you’ll share common areas like the kitchen, bathrooms and living area with other students.
When you live in Halls you’re usually a “licensee” rather than a “tenant”. This means you don’t have as many rights as a tenant and the college can evict you much more easily. You will usually have to sign an agreement which explains what your rights and your responsibilities are.
Make sure you read and understand your agreement. Get advice on any terms you’re not sure about. Once you sign it, you’re usually stuck with it and have to live by the terms in the contract.
Not all housing provided by colleges and universities is in a Hall of Residence. Some colleges have their own flats or houses which they will rent out to students. These can be popular so you need to apply early to get a place. Priority is often given to people who have children, mature students or people who have specific needs. Like Halls of Residence, people who live in this type of housing are usually licensees.
Purpose-built student housing
There's been an increase in purpose-built student housing in Belfast and other university towns in recent years. This is accommodation designed specifically for students but managed and allocated by a private company, which has no formal relationship with the university. You can apply directly to these accommodation providers, but the lease will be similar to that in a private tenancy. This means that you probably won't get any money back that you paid if you change your mind about living there. You will also remain responsible for paying the rent on your room if you move out and will only be allowed to stop paying the rent if you can find another student to take over your tenancy.
Most students end up in private rented accommodation at some point. You could end up sharing a house with people you know, renting your own bedsit or flat, or renting a room in a House of Multiple Occupation.
Make sure you know your rights as a private tenant and don’t sign your tenancy agreement unless you’re sure you’ll be able to pay rent on the property for the full term. If you end up leaving college or you don’t get the right grades to allow you to stay on you could be stuck with a room you don’t need but still have to pay for. It’s very difficult to get out of a tenancy agreement early.
Paying for your home
Students who live in university accommodation will usually have to pay their rent upfront or in instalments each term. You should get information about what you have to pay from your university. Get receipts for any payments you make, including any deposit you pay over.
When you rent your home from a landlord or through an agent, you will usually be expected to pay a deposit and a month’s rent upfront. Don’t pay the deposit until you’re absolutely sure you are happy with the property. If the landlord has agreed to make changes or repairs, make sure you get this promise in writing before you sign anything. Since April 2013 all deposits paid for private tenancies have to be protected in an approved scheme. Your landlord has to give you information explaining where your deposit has been protected and what you can do, at the end of the tenancy, if you disagree with any deductions that were made.
Your monthly rent will usually be paid at the start of the month. If you fall behind in your rent, you should let your landlord know immediately rather than trying to duck him or her. Otherwise the landlord may go directly to your guarantor for the money that is owed.
Don’t forget to budget for your other expenses: heating, electricity, phone, internet, TV, food, groceries, transport and, of course, socialising.
Housing benefit and financial assistance for students
Students are not usually entitled to housing benefit, but there are some exceptions.
If you’ve been in care you may be entitled to some grants or financial assistance from Social Services to help with costs associated with your course. Talk to your social worker to find out about these.
Many universities run hardship funds to help students who are struggling with the costs of attending university. If you’ve fallen behind on rent or you’re finding it hard to cope talk to the welfare adviser at your students’ union to find out if there is any financial help available.