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The references and checks to rent a home

Everything you need to know about rental references and credit checks, including low credit scores, renting with a guarantor and renting from overseas.

Guest Author
Words by: Esther Shaw

Before you can rent a potential new home, you'll need to provide certain references and documents to the letting agent or landlord.

You need to show you can afford the rent and that you'll be reliable in paying it. And you'll need to prove that you're a trustworthy person who'll look after the flat or house. You will also have to show you have a 'right to rent' in the UK. 

Your letting agent or landlord will find this out by doing a number of checks.

The main checks and references that a letting agent will do before they rent a home to you are:

  • reference checks with your current landlord and employer to show proof of character

  • proof of income checks, where you might need to provide them with payslips and three months of bank statements

  • proof of identity checks by asking to see your passport or driving licence

  • a credit check with an independent credit reference agency such as Experian or Equifax. Your credit report is like a CV of how you’ve handled your past finances. It will flag up any unpaid debts, missed loan payments or County Court Judgements (CCJs) you have against you.

What if you have a low credit score?

As a renter, your credit score is important. It will indicate whether you can afford the rent on the property you are looking to move into, and whether you will pay it on time.

If you have a low credit score (or very bad credit), this may put off some landlords or lettings agents, and they may not give approval for the let.

You may have a poor credit score simply because your name isn't on the electoral roll. It only takes a few minutes to register to vote.

The good news is there are some ways to get past a low credit score, and demonstrate that you can afford to pay:

Be honest about your credit history

Be upfront about your poor credit score. Give an explanation for it, and don’t withhold information if you’re asked about your credit history.

If your score does not accurately reflect your ability to pay your rent on time, explain this. You may well find your new landlord or lettings agency understands and welcomes your honesty.

Offer to pay more rent in advance

If you want to show that you are responsible and won’t miss monthly payments, try offering to hand over a few months’ rent (or a bigger deposit) at the outset.

This may make the landlord more willing to overlook a poor credit score.

Get a referral from a former landlord

If you have a good rental history, ask a past landlord to vouch for you and confirm you’ve paid your rent on time. This may be enough to get a potential landlord to see past your low credit score.

Take steps to improve your credit score

If you’re worried about a low credit score, be proactive and take action to improve it.

You can get a copy of your credit report for free from a credit reference agency, such as EquifaxExperian or TransUnion.

Simple steps to better your credit rating include: getting registered on the electoral roll, ensuring you make all payments on time, and getting any mistakes on your file corrected.

Steps you can take to improve your credit score

Get a guarantor

If you have a very low credit score, you could consider asking a family member or friend with a good credit score to help you out. This will involve them taking on legal responsibility to ensure the rent is paid.

Young women arriving at the door

Renting with a guarantor

You could consider asking a family member or friend with a good credit score to be your guarantor.

A guarantor is usually a friend or relative who agrees to pay your rent in the event you can’t. They can help you secure a rental home by taking on legal responsibility to ensure the rent is paid.

A guarantor is a good option if you:

  • are struggling to prove you can afford rent

  • have a very low credit score

  • are renting for the first time

  • are a student with a limited income

  • have no income at all.

As this person will take both the legal and financial responsibility for the rent on your behalf, they will have to pass a credit check too.

Your guarantor will need to:

  • be employed, or have enough earnings to cover your rental commitment

  • be able to pay the rent, and the landlord or lettings agent will carry out a credit check or ask for information about their financial circumstances

  • sign on the dotted line to agree to their legal obligations as your guarantor

While a guarantor may enable you to rent, there are significant risks for the person taking on this role.

If they fail to pay the rent, the landlord can take them to court. It’s important the guarantor knows exactly what they are getting into.

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Renting a home if you are not a UK national

If you're moving from your home country to the UK, you'll need to get your head around the checks and references to rent a home.

At present, in England and Wales, landlords or lettings agents are legally obliged to check all renters have the 'right to rent' in the UK.

You will need to provide them with the following:

  • proof of identification, including a passport or national identity card and valid visa (if applicable)

  • original documents that prove your immigration status, such as a passport or biometric residence permit with unlimited leave

  • details of your employment (if available)

  • details of your expected earnings (if available)

  • character references

Note that if you are from outside the EEA (European Economic Area), EU or Switzerland, you will have a ‘time-limited’ right to rent to suit the purpose of your stay, as opposed to ‘unlimited’ right to rent. 

Those with an ‘unlimited’ right to rent include EEA nationals, Swiss nationals, as well as people who have the ‘right of abode’ in the UK, and those who have been granted ‘indefinite leave to remain’ or who have ‘no time limit’ on their stay in the UK.

Q&A: Right to Rent

You will need to present the relevant documents to the agent or landlord in person before signing the contract so they can take copies.

This can be difficult before arriving in the UK for the first time, so in practice, you can usually scan the documents to the agent before signing the contract.

If you need someone to guarantee your rent, landlords will usually want a guarantor who lives in the UK, as it will make it easier to take legal action if required.

This could make life tricky if, say, you’re an international student coming from abroad. To get around this, you may be able to offer to pay a bigger deposit or more rent upfront. (See tips above).

We try to make sure that the information here is accurate at the time of publishing. But the property market moves fast and some information may now be out of date. Zoopla Property Group accepts no responsibility or liability for any decisions you make based on the information provided.