Looking for housing can take a lot of your time. It is like looking for a job, you can’t look once – you have to keep searching until you find the right thing. 

We are helping people into accommodation all the time. It takes hard work, but don't give up.

Before you start looking

When you start looking for somewhere to live, think about:

  • what kind of property you need
  • how many bedrooms you need for your household
  • how much you can afford
  • how much help you will get with paying the rent if you are on a low income
  • the best place to live to access the services that are important to you - this could include schools, work and support networks
  • if you can afford to move, taking into account removal costs, furniture and appliances
  • any upfront costs, like rent-in-advance, deposit and other costs

The government's “How to Rent” booklet has a lot of useful information. It can help you choose the right home and gives advice about what to think about when looking for a home.

Where to search for housing

You can look at letting agents for details of properties in the area you want to live. Use websites like:

Letting agents often do credit checks. You need to be sure that you will pass these. You could look for a helpful landlord who would be happy to rent to you without using a letting agent.

Landlords can pick and choose their tenants, so it is important to always give the right impression.

You could also look for a home to rent or a room in a shared house in newsagent’s windows and local newspapers.

Moving in costs

Holding deposits

Some landlords ask for a holding deposit to reserve the property for you. This cannot be more than 1 week of rent and is returnable when you move in. 

The landlord may not return the deposit if you:

  • do not move in
  • give misleading information
  • fail a right to rent check

You should always ask if it is returnable if you pull out for any other reason.


Most landlords are going to want a deposit ahead of you moving in. This is money that you pay as a safeguard against damage or other costs. 

There is a cap on the deposit that the tenant pays at the start of the tenancy. If the total annual rent is less than £50,000, the maximum deposit is 5 weeks of rent. If the annual rent is £50,000 or above, the maximum deposit is 6 weeks of rent. 

Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST)

The most common form of tenancy is an AST. Most new tenancies are automatically this type. If your tenancy is going to be an AST, then the landlord must put the deposit in a scheme approved by the government. They have to do this within 30 days.

Rent in advance

You usually pay the first month of rent in advance. This can be longer than a month, so check with your landlord.

Financial help

If you are facing homelessness, we may provide support including help with upfront costs of securing a new home if you do not have the money. We have recently reviewed and enhanced our offers to private landlords. This could help you to secure a private rented property in your chosen area.

We can, for example, help with:

  • up to 5 weeks’ rent in advance to secure the property
  • up to 12 weeks’ rent in the form of a Deposit Bond
  • up to 8 weeks’ rent in the form of a cash deposit
  • help with ongoing tenancy support and a point of contact to help both sides with any issues
  • a pet bond if the family has a pet to encourage a landlord to consider one of up to £400
  • a Landlord Welcome payment if they offer a 12 month tenancy which is paid at the end of the first 12 months

What we can offer depends on the circumstances of each case. We will check if you meet the eligibility criteria and that you agree to pay the money back through small regular instalments.

Contact our housing team to have a full housing assessment and for information on how you can look for accommodation tailored to your needs. 

Help with the cost of rent

If you rent privately, Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is used to work out both:

  • housing benefit
  • universal credit housing element

LHA is not a separate benefit. It affects how much help you get with rent.

Universal credit is how most housing costs are paid. This replaces housing benefit.

The LHA takes into account where you live (or want to live) and the number of bedrooms you can claim for.

You can claim a bedroom for each of the following:

  • a couple who live together
  • someone in your household over the age of 16
  • two children of the same sex (a “child” is someone under 16)
  • two children of any sex who are both younger than 10

Many single people under the age of 35 can only claim the “shared accommodation rate” under Department for Work and Pensions rules. There are some exceptions to this, for example, if you:

  • live with a partner
  • have dependent children
  • have lived in a hostel for 3 months or more and are over 25 years of age

Find out more about LHA for under 35s.

If the rent is higher than any LHA you may be entitled to you will have to "top up" the payment with your own money. You need to consider whether you can afford to do this for the length of the tenancy.

Think about how much you will have to spend on:

  • council tax
  • water and energy bills
  • TV licence
  • food
  • insurance

This will help you to think about your budget.

Right to rent checks

Right to rent requires landlords in England to check that all tenants have legal status to live in the UK. This means that the landlord or their agent must do passport and immigration checks before letting the property.

The Home Office introduced these new checks with the aim of making it harder for people to live and work in the UK illegally. It only applies to tenancies in England.

You must prove that you have legal status to live in the UK if:

  • you are a private tenant in England, and your tenancy began on, or after 1 February 2016
  • the property that you are renting is your main home

When a landlord carries out checks they:

  • will need to see original forms of identification for anyone aged 18+ who will be living in the property. They will do this even if they are not on the tenancy agreement
  • will make copies of these documents
  • will have to follow up checks with the Home Office if you are subject to immigration control in any way
  • must always return original documents to you

The kind of documents that they will want to see will include passports, a biometric residence card or permit. You can find out more about the right to rent checks.

Social housing 

Social housing is for people who would struggle to rent or buy a house on the open market.

Find out about social housing in Dorset on the Homechoice website.

The demand for social housing is very high and you should not see this as a quick solution. Each week people can bid on properties. Sometimes properties attract hundreds of interested applicants. The website explains how we prioritise “bids” or expressions of interest for a specific property. The system ensures that those with the highest need get priority.

You need to be ready for independent living. You should be able to pass an affordability check with the different housing providers across Dorset. Being ready and capable of managing a tenancy is important.

Supported accommodation

If you are not yet ready to live independently, we have a small number of supported housing schemes across the county. You can speak to the Housing Options Team if you think you would not manage well living independently or lack the necessary skills to do so. It is important to be honest about this. You do not want to set yourself up to fail as that would have a detrimental impact on future housing options.

In a supported living placement, you would need to engage with support workers to help you move towards being “tenancy ready”. The accommodation is usually shared living. This means having your own bedroom but sharing the rest of the property with other people. Referrals generally come through the council so it is important that your case is properly assessed.