What are student accommodation options in the UK?

What are student accommodation options in the UK?

This article about student accommodation options in the UK was published by the Great British Mag content team on 27 February, 2020

Once you accept your university offer to study in the UK, one of the first things you’ll need to think about is where you are going to live. Luckily there are a lot of good options for student accommodation in the UK, so here’s a step-by-step guide on your options.

What is a student hall?

This is a student accommodation typically managed by the university. They’re dormitories (shortened to dorms) that are generally the cheapest type of student accommodation and often provide private bedrooms with communal areas like a kitchen, bathroom or living room. You can also get private dorms that offer ensuite bathrooms.

As a first-year international student, most universities will offer you this type of accommodation. However, be sure to respond by the deadline given to you by the university and be aware that they cannot guarantee you will be given a place in student halls.

The other advantage is that student halls are sometimes on the campus where you will be studying or nearby to the university, which makes your daily commute cheaper and faster.

University hall accommodation vs private hall accommodation

There are a few major differences between university halls and privately-rented student halls, so how do you know what’s best for you?

University halls are the student accommodation managed by your university when you apply for it. They’re usually conveniently located on campus or very close by, which means you won’t have to travel far for class or meeting up with people for group assignments. Many first-year students choose university halls, as they’re great for meeting new people because you often share a kitchen and living area. They’re usually the cheapest option available (with bills typically included in the overall price) and are seen as a bit of a rite of passage for university students.

Privately-rented student halls are not run by the university, although sometimes they are managed in a partnership between the university and a private company and will still be located on or near the campus.

There tends to be much more variety in private student hall accommodation, from ‘no frills’ options to larger, fancy rooms with en suite and even studios. Obviously, the fancier the room the more expensive the cost. But there are some things you can do to try to reduce the costs, like choosing a smaller room. Private halls are generally better when it comes to offering more modern facilities and often have the option of an ensuite bathroom attached to your room. It still means you might have to share a communal kitchen, but at least you won’t have to wait for other people to finish in the shower. Bills are often included in the price.

Pros to a university hall


Cons to a university hall


Living in a university hall can be less expensive than most other options.

University halls can get quite noisy, potentially making it difficult to study.

The location is typically on or near campus, making it easy to get to class and other campus activities.

Since the halls need to accommodate as many students as possible, bedrooms are often quite small.

Many students build lasting friendships with people they live with in halls.

You will not get to choose who you live with.

University halls may have a designated ‘flat rep’ (usually a third-year student) whose job is to help you with any issues or questions you have about university life.

You will have to share a communal kitchen and in most cases a bathroom too.


Pros to a private hall

Cons to a private hall

The facilities tend to be more up to date and modern.  


Private halls can be more expensive than a university hall. 


Since the hall is not run by your specific university, you might live with students from universities besides your own. 


Your location could be far away from campus, meaning you might have to budget for commuting. 


You will potentially get more choice in the type of room you get. 


If you don’t live on campus, it might be more difficult to participate in university events and make friends on campus. 


Private houses or flats

In the UK there is always a good supply of houses and flats near universities. This option may suit you if you want to live with your friends or are moving to the UK with your family.

You may choose to rent a whole house or flat or take a room, which is called a flat or house share, and could mean you end up sharing with students or even locals. This option will mean you have to find the property yourself. More often than not you will also have to pay the bills, such as water and electricity, and sort out things like the internet. 

Finally, you will have to liaise with a private landlord. But don’t worry, there are a lot of protections for tenants in the UK, such as the Tenancy Fee Act, which means that deposits are capped at five weeks worth of rent.

University and Students’ Unions often provide lists of approved estate agents and landlords where you can find private houses and flats to rent. You can also go through local estate agents and your university may also have a list of approved landlords. 


Pros to a private house or flat


Cons to a private house or flat


Living in a house or flat is a great way to fully immerse yourself in living in the UK and getting to know the locals.  


Neighborhoods that are most convenient for your commute to university might be expensive. 


There is greater privacy and you can save money by cooking at home. 


In most cases you will be responsible for all bills and maintaining the property, including the garden, if it has one. 


If you live in a house/flat share, you may end up living with locals, which is a great way to learn more about British culture. 


If you don’t live on campus, it might be more difficult to participate in university events and commute to class. 


How do I sort out student accommodation before university starts?

Well, it depends what you’re willing to pay and how much you might compromise in getting what you want. If you want to meet new people and don’t mind sharing communal spaces with others, halls are the best way to go. If you want privacy and don’t mind living off campus, try renting privately.

The best way to find out is to set a budget, figure out what kind of student accommodation you want to live in and then do your research. Your university will have an accommodation team that can tell you what the university can offer. There are also websites like Unilodgers that can help you find student accommodation in major cities around the UK and who provide student advisers 24/7 to help you find the most suitable accommodation for your needs.

What is the deadline to apply for student halls?

If you’re planning to apply for university hall accommodation, it’s important to know the deadlines. Unfortunately, each university’s deadline is different so we can’t give you an exact date, but it’s usually between May and September, before the school year starts in October. For example, UCL’s deadline for undergraduate students is 31 May, but it’s 31 August if you’re studying at the University of Manchester. The best way to find out is to check your university’s website.

You will usually be required to fill out some forms in your student accommodation application. If you’re having any trouble, you can get in touch with your university’s accommodation office.

What happens if I miss the deadline to apply for student halls?

The best way to know what to do if you miss your university’s student accommodation deadline is to check with your university. You will be told which department to contact for questions about arranging accommodation. 

For example, the University of Bath’s deadline for guaranteed student accommodation is 1 July. If you miss it, you cannot apply until applications open again on 21 August. You will then be added to a non-guaranteed waiting list, which means you may miss out on university accommodation. If that’s the case, you will need to think about looking at privately-rented halls or private houses/flats.

What is a tenancy agreement?

When you decide which type of student accommodation you want to go with, you’ll usually sign a tenancy agreement. It’s a contract that details your name, your landlord’s name, the address, how much rent you’ll pay, the duration of your stay, when the rent is due, how you’ll pay rent, what your rent includes (bills, etc), procedure for carrying out repairs and general house rules (including overnight guests, pets, behaviour, etc). We recommend that you read the tenancy agreement carefully before signing the document.

Can I get single-sex student accommodation?

As an international student, it may be important for you to stay in single-sex student accommodation for cultural reasons. If that’s the case, you’ll need to confirm with your university or your private hall provider during your application process, but they should offer this as an option or at least help you find shared accommodation that suits your needs.

Do some student accommodations include meals? 

Some student halls have the option of choosing accommodation that’s catered, which means there’s a big dining hall or communal area offering food at scheduled times.


Pros to a meal plan


Cons to a meal plan


You don’t have to cook, so there’s no need to stress about buying or storing food.


If you have allergies or other dietary restrictions, you might not be able to eat everything that’s offered.


The meals are usually balanced and healthy.


It may be harder to make friends with people if you’re not sharing a kitchen.


Flexible eating times – for example: breakfast is usually 7am–9:30am.


You may not want to eat at the scheduled times.


The dining hall is usually located centrally on campus.


It’s more expensive than cooking for yourself.


Can the university provide accommodation for a family?

If you’re an international student on a tier 4 student visa, you may be eligible to bring your family with you. 

If you’d like to live with your family in student accommodation, it’s best to check your university’s website for more information. Priority is sometimes given to undergraduate international students, but it depends on the university. For example, at SOAS University of London, families can apply for university halls, private halls and private housing through the website – with applications opening in May each year.

Living with a host family

If you’re looking for a little home away from home, have you considered living with a host family? There are numerous websites that can pair international students with local host families, depending on what they need. You’ll need to fill in an application to help narrow down what you need and then you’ll be presented with some options that best match. For example, you can choose to stay with a host family that offers meal plans like breakfast, a packed lunch and dinner. Or you can go with the self-catering option, where you have full access to the host’s kitchen. Look around online for some options that might be best for you.

How much does student accommodation cost in the UK?

According to research, the average monthly spend for students in the UK is £807. More than half of that (£437) goes to rent. It then goes: groceries (£92), going out (£49), transport (£44), takeaways (£34), household bills (£32) and clothes/shopping (£31). You also need to consider phone bills, course materials and holidays.

One of the most important things you can do is work out a budget before you start looking for your accommodation, as costs can vary a great deal. This means meticulously planning out what rent, bills and general expenses you may be hit with. For example, student accommodation in London – which is one of the most popular cities for international students – can start from £100 per week and go all the way up to £1000.

Bills you will need to pay if they’re not included in your student accommodation

TV licence:

If you want to watch telly, you will need a TV licence, which is required by law in order to watch live or recorded programmes via a TV, laptop, tablet or mobile device. You need a licence whether you live in halls, private student accommodation or are renting a house or flat. If you live in a shared house, you only need one licence per house so long as you have a joint tenancy. If you have separate agreements with the landlord, you’ll need to get separate licences.


If you’re living in university or private halls, it’s likely the internet will already be set up for you. But if you’re in a private house or flat, it’s something you’ll need to look into. There are a lot of companies that provide broadband connection such as Sky, Virgin and BT and many of them offer bundles (e.g. broadband, telephone and satellite/cable TV) which can sometimes be a good way to save money. Alternatively, you can get a dongle, a small device which you plug into your laptop. You can buy one through most mobile phone network providers.

Council tax:

Council tax is an annual fee you pay to your local council to help pay for public services such as libraries, police, fire services and garbage collection. Student halls are automatically exempt from having to pay council tax. Similarly, if you’re a full-time student, you’re exempt from paying council tax. Check with your university if you have any questions.

Electricity, gas and water:

University and private halls often include electricity, water and gas bills in your rental price. But if you’re renting a private house or flat, you’ll most likely need to sort this out yourself. As soon as you move in, check the relevant meters and give the reading/s to your energy/water supplier. Your provider can help talk you through the process.

What to do if you have a disagreement with your landlord

If you’re living in a university hall, your ‘landlord’ is the university and they will have to take on all major repairs or problems with your student accommodation. But if you’re in a private hall or private house/flat, your landlord is whoever owns or manages the property. If there’s a disagreement with your landlord, you can go to your university accommodation office for advice or the citizen’s advice bureau. They can help explain your rights and offer a step-by-step guide in how to resolve the issue, depending on the severity. This can include making a formal complaint or taking the matter to your local council. The best way to try to sort out a disagreement is going to your landlord and having a direct conversation.

What to do if you can’t pay your rent

Talk to your landlord as soon as possible and explain the situation. You might need to reassess your budget and try to cut down on some expenses. If the situation gets worse, you can get free help with the Citizens Advice Bureau or you may be able to access hardship funds through your university if you’ve been through unforeseen financial hardship during your studies.