Your guide to renting references and credit checks. Plus, advice on poor credit scores and guarantors.

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 you'll be reliable in paying it - and 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 rentin the UK. 

Your letting agent or landlord will find this out by carrying out a number of checks which will usually include:

  • Asking for proof of character in the form of references from your current landlord and employer

  • Asking for documentation to show proof of your income. This may include payslips and three months of bank statements

  • Running a credit check on you 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.

  • Asking to see your passport or driving licence. 

Renting with a low credit score 

As a renter, your credit score is important, as this 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 a low credit score, and demonstrate that you can afford to pay:

  • Be honest – be upfront about your poor credit score, and give an explanation for it. 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 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 your 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, then 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.

  • 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. (See below).

Steps you can take to improve your credit score 

Young women arriving at the door

Renting with a guarantor 

If you’re a young person renting for the first time – or if you are struggling to prove you can afford the rent – a guarantor can make it possible for you to secure a home. 

A guarantor can also offering a helping hand if you’re a student with limited income, or no income at all.

A guarantor is someone – usually a friend or relative – who agrees to pay your rent in the event you can’t.

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.

Here are some things you need to know:

  • The guarantor will usually need to be employed, and have enough earnings to cover your rental commitment.

  • The landlord or lettings agency will usually carry out a credit check on the guarantor to  check they are able to pay the rent – or at least ask for information about their financial circumstances.

  • Any arrangement with a guarantor must be in writing. This must detail the guarantor’s legal obligations.

  • 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.

Renting if you're not a UK national

If you are moving from your home country to the UK – perhaps due to a change in family circumstances, a new job, or to study – you will need to get your head around the relevant checks and references.

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

While this could be subject to change – as it is being challenged in the High Court – for now, at least, landlords and letting agents will need to ensure you are eligible to rent in the UK – and able to do so.

You will need to produce 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.

Find out more about the right to rent checks on the government's site and in our guide.

Things to bear in mind:

  • You will need to present the relevant documents to the agent or landlord in person before signingthe 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).

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