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Understanding utilities & other costs for a first-time renter

Apartments | 5 MIN READ

If you are a soon-to-be tenant, it can be easy to forget about your utilities in all the excitement. Getting set up is one of the most important parts when renting a property for the first time. If you don’t know where to start, or you want to develop your understanding of utilities, and other costs, associated with renting an apartment, this guide is for you.

Written with the first-time renter in mind, learn about the different types of utilities and other costs involved when renting your first property. We’ve also included brief literature on how to set up your utilities. Along the way, this guide will share tips, tricks and links to additional reading to remove the confusion when dealing with utility suppliers to ensure you are ready to go on moving-in day. 

Everything you need to know about monthly utility costs

Moving into your first home is exciting, but it can also be a daunting experience because renting an apartment involves more than just being able to pay your rent. To ensure you hit the ground running, here’s everything you need to know about utility bills and other costs involved with renting.

What are utility bills?

Utility bills, or utility expenses, are an umbrella term that covers the different types of services and products that make up the running costs of a property; allowing you to live comfortably. These typically include gas, electricity, water, home landline, broadband, and council tax. In some areas, utility expenses can include security systems, trash collection, and sewer waste. Every household in the United Kingdom will be liable for, and pay, most of these service costs.

What utilities do you need to set up and pay?

When renting your first property, one of the first steps is to set up your home utilities, preferably before the moving-in day arrives. Although set-up can be time-consuming, getting your utilities in order, along with setting up payment methods, is mostly a straightforward process. Below we will run through the basics.

Energy (Gas & Electricity)

The first step is to find out who already supplies the gas and electricity to your new property. This can easily be done by asking the owner (landlord), the letting agency, or previous tenants. The next step is to find and take a meter reading and submit them to the new supplier ahead of setting up your account. Once set up, your new supplier will provide you with a tariff to maintain your energy supply. You will pay this monthly or quarterly. 

  • To get the best rates and tariffs for your energy consumption, compare energy deals with providers on websites like Uswitch or Go Compare.

Water

Generally, there is one supplier for each area, so finding out who your water supplier is won’t be too difficult. Just like above, locating and taking a meter reading is key to getting your account set up. You will need to contact your water supplier with your meter readings to set up your tariff. Again, once set up, a monthly or quarterly payment will maintain your water supply.

  • Check out this blog post from Split The Bills for some nifty water saving tips and tricks.

Broadband & Home Phone 

When renting a flat for the first time, broadband, and more so a home landline isn’t always the first priority on your to-do list. That said, getting an internet connection to stay connected with the outside world can be sorted within a couple of minutes. Using a website like comparethemarket or Money Super Market, you can compare broadband and home landline deals in minutes. These comparison sites are great for finding a provider that falls within your allocated living budget.

  • Note: It can take between 1 - 4 weeks for a broadband provider to get your connection installed. It’s best to get looking and secure a deal ahead of your move-in date.

Council Tax

Council Tax is paid to the local authority (council) for the area where you live. If you’re an adult and not in full-time education, or covered by any exemption of relief, you must pay Council Tax. To pay Council Tax, you need to get in touch with your local council to register. Once set up, you will receive your Council Tax Bill. For more information on Council Tax, read our helpful guides below.

Service Charges

Depending on the terms of your tenancy agreement, you may be required to pay service charges for services such as trash collection, sewer draining, cleaning, and your properties security systems - among others. It’s worth checking with your landlord or the letting agent whether these expenses are included in your rent or require further payment on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis.

Utility Bills

Other costs to consider when renting

As a first-time renter, you should bear in mind other fixed monthly costs to factor in when renting as these can affect the monthly rental budget set aside for your property.

TV Licence

You must have a TV Licence if you watch or record programmes on a TV, computer or any other device. This includes downloading or watching BBC programmes on the iPlayer - live, catch-up, and on-demand. A TV Licence costs £159 for homes and businesses and can be purchased here on gov.uk/tv-licence. What’s covered:

  • TV sets
  • computers
  • laptops
  • tablets
  • mobile phones
  • any other device that can receive a TV signal

You do not need a TV Licence to watch:

  • non-BBC programmes on online catch-up services
  • videos or DVDs
  • clips on websites like YouTube
  • closed-circuit television (CCTV)

Contents Insurance

It is rare to find contents insurance included in a tenancy agreement. However, insuring the cost of your contents against instances of theft, loss or damage is highly advised. Contents cover can be purchased online. You will need to fill out a form and provide key details about your property including location, security, and the cost of all your contents to have adequate cover in place.

Personal Expenses

Not to be forgotten, considering your personal expenses alongside utility bills and other costs ensures there is enough money to see you through each month. As a guide, our list contains weekly and monthly expenses:

  • Mobile phone contract
  • Loans and credit cards
  • Subscriptions - Netflix, Spotify, Disney+
  • Travel expenses - Bus, Train and the London tube
  • Car Insurance
  • Food shopping (weekly or bi-weekly)
  • Health and wellbeing - gym, days and nights out, hobbies

Residential Tenancy Agreement Document

A quick guide to the Tenant Fees Act 2019

Since the 1st June 2019, the Tenant Fees Act has prohibited landlords and agents from charging fees to tenants other than those ‘permitted’. The aim of the Act is to reduce the costs that tenants can face at the outset, and throughout, a tenancy.

Below we take a quick look at what the Tenant Fees Act 2019 sets out for tenants. For the full terms and conditions, read the Government guidance here.

What fees can be charged?

The only payments you will be asked to make, in connection with your tenancy, are:

  • Rent; this will be outlined in your tenancy agreement
  • A refundable tenancy deposit
    • Capped at no more than 5 weeks’ rent where the total annual rent is less than £50,000, or 6 weeks’ rent where the total annual rent is £50,000 or above
  • A refundable holding deposit (to reserve a property) 
    • Capped at no more than 1 week’s rent
  • Payments associated with early termination of the tenancy, when requested by the tenant
  • Payments capped at £50 (or reasonably incurred costs, if higher) for the variation, assignment or novation of a tenancy
  • Payments in respect of utilities, communication services, TV licence and Council Tax
  • A default fee for late payment of rent and replacement of a lost key/security device giving access to the housing, where required under a tenancy agreement (Disclaimer: This information is not legal advice. Prospective tenants should refer to the Government guidelines for official advice.)

If the payment a landlord or agent is charging is not on this list it is not lawful, and a landlord or agent should not ask you to pay it.

What fees does the Act prohibit?

Any fees that are not permitted in the Tenancy Fees Act are prohibited. These include:

  • Property viewing
  • Tenancy set up
  • Referencing - including 3rd party fees
  • Guarantors
  • Inventory checks (includes both entrance and on exit)
  • Check out fees
  • Gardening fees
  • Administration charges
  • Renewal and ending of a tenancy

What should I do if a landlord or agent has charged a prohibited payment?

If your letting agent or landlord has charged an unlawful payment, you should immediately check the prohibited payments list here, before seeking assistance from a charity like Citizens advice.

Why is Dolphin Square perfect for the first-time renter?

At Dolphin Square, we’ve spent years helping first-time renters find their perfect first home here in the capital. Along with our expert advice and support about renting an apartment in London, our current residents enjoy a convenient, contemporary lifestyle with access to a great range of comforts.

Dolphin Square offers an established, reputable and high-quality accommodation solution in Pimlico, London. We have taken the time to create an environment that serves all our residents beyond their expectations. If you’d like to know more, contact our Lettings Team or book your viewing today.