Living with others can be a fantastic experience, but certain aspects of shared living can easily sour the whole affair. Number one on that list is, unsurprisingly, handling household bills and rent.
Knowing how to split rent and utility bills fairly when sharing a house or apartment seems like a no-brainer...until you try and do it. There’s always some niggle or gripe over who pays what and how much they owe. It can be truly testing.
So, if splitting the bills isn’t straightforward, what’s the best course of action?
Read on to find out.
Why being upfront about money is important
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, it’s probably a good idea to emphasise exactly why all of this is important, as failing to properly prepare could lead to things getting ugly further down the line.
Money, unfortunately, has a tendency to bring out the worst in people, so you need to be upfront about household finances in order to prevent arguments, or worse, occuring at a later date. Even the most solid of friendships can be put to the test if one party decides to stop paying their way in a shared property.
While lost friendships are undoubtedly regrettable, other unwelcome consequences can come to pass if you’re not candid about cash with fellow housemates. Remember, whoever’s named on the bill is liable for the entire sum should the account fall into arrears.
Put simply, this means they will be responsible for paying the outstanding balance, or else they could potentially face having a default notice put on their credit rating. Once in place, a default notice will remain on their credit rating for six years, regardless of whether the bill is eventually paid or not.
Obviously, this could prove extremely problematic and may even hinder the person's chances of renting in the future, as well as scuppering any need to obtain credit. Therefore, doing all that one can to avoid such events should be paramount in all renters’ minds.
Differentiate between the Big Two: Rent and utilities
With the why out of the way, it’s time to concentrate on the how. How do you split all the bills in a shared household fairly?
The first, and most important, thing you need to do is make a clear distinction between rent and bills. While it may be more convenient to lump both together into one payment, doing so isn’t going to serve you well going forward, so splitting them up is the way to go.
It’s worth bearing in mind that, like the named person on a utility bill, anyone listed on the tenancy agreement will be liable for the rent owed to the landlord. This makes the difference between sole and joint tenancies an important point to consider, especially for those who agree to a friend moving in halfway through a tenancy as opposed to renting together from the get-go.
Three best ways to split your rent
So, now you’re aware of just how vital it is to be upfront about the financial side of sharing a home, it’s time to get down to the practicalities.
As with most things in life, when it comes to splitting rent and bills, there are more ways to peel the proverbial orange than one might expect. Here are three of the best methods used by renters in the UK and beyond:
Straight down the middle (or thirds, quarters, etc.)
By far the most obvious route to take is to divide the rent into equal amounts based on the number of tenants living in the property. However, obvious doesn’t always mean best, and taking this approach can sometimes lead to certain housemates feeling disgruntled and hard done by.
Why? Well, there are a number of factors that could come into play, but the most common arguments against dividing the rent equally amongst housemates are either disparity in room sizes or couples living together in one room, which leaves them effectively paying double what a single person would for the same amount of space.
Equal splits are the easiest to work out, but they’re not always the fairest.
Splitting the rent based on the amount of money one earns is a relatively new concept and, like the equal divide above, it’s not without issues.
For starters, everyone would need to disclose what they earn to their housemates, which is something they may not be altogether comfortable with. Sure, this can work well enough between partners, but strangers brought together simply by the need to live in Central London? Not so much.
Even when splitting the rent between partners, this approach is probably best kept for those who have a significant difference in income. Opting to take this line when there’s very little in what you bring home financially could easily be seen as nitpicking, which isn’t the most romantic trait one can possess!
Pay by the room
The third and final method on our list of how to share rent between housemates is probably our favourite, so you could say that we’ve saved the best till last.
Paying by room works especially well when sharing a big house with multiple rooms of different sizes and varying desirable features, such as en suites, views, storage space, etc. The biggest problem with this way of splitting your rent is actually putting a price on each thing. How much more should you pay for an extra couple of square feet or a view overlooking the garden?
Thankfully, there are some simple solutions out there in the way of online calculators, and one of our favourites is SplitWise, as it’s free and incredibly simple to use. Yes, it’s a US based calculator, so it shows results in dollars, but we can simply substitute that currency symbol for a good ol’ pound sign in order to get a fair rental split amount in a matter of minutes. Sweet!
Best way to split utility bills in a shared house
With the rent taken care of, it’s time to move on to the utility bills. These are usually a bit more straightforward to work out than rent, with an equal divide the most commonly used method of calculation.
That being said, it’s worth running through the following points to ensure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet:
Talk it through before moving in
This simply means working out how you’re going to split the utility bills and going over the next couple of points together as a group. Making sure that everyone is explicitly aware of what they’re expected to pay, when it’ll be due, and who they’ll need to pay it to now will save any headaches later on.
Take a look at national averages
Whether you’re renting for the first time or sharing a property with a different amount of people than you’ve been used to in the past, it can be difficult to ‘guestimate’ what your bills are likely to be. Luckily, you can get a decent idea by looking at what similar households are paying across the country and base your initial calculations on your findings.
You can get such figures directly from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy here, but they can be a little too in depth and convoluted for a quick calculation. Energy firms will often give out averages as well, so try doing a Google search for ‘utility bill national averages’ or similar to get a steer on what you’re likely to pay. The Money Advice Service has a great page, too.
Decide who’ll be in charge
Next up, you should decide between the group who is going to be in charge of handling payments for the shared property and set up standing orders based on your findings above. A shared Google Sheets spreadsheet can be updated with actual figures once you’re up and running, with the aforementioned standing orders tweaked accordingly as you go.
Many renters will consider opening a joint account for household bills which, on the face of it, makes sense. However, almost every financial expert out there will advise tenants not to take this route, as it ties you into each other's credit histories and could negatively impact your future ability to borrow, should you wish to do so.
Shared credit histories aside, there’s also the chance that one of your housemates could withdraw all of the cash from the joint account and scarper. You wouldn’t be the first to think Steve or Sarah would never do that, only to find yourself out of pocket and furious six months down the line! Keep joint accounts for partners only.
Keep communication flowing
Once everything is set up and all are happy with the arrangements put in place, it’s a good idea to commit to reviewing household circumstances on a regular basis. That way, everyone has a chance to air grievances and put their point across, rather than stewing on things and building resentment to others in the house.
This doesn’t have to happen every week, not even every month, but quarterly is probably better than leaving it for six months. Keep it informal and easygoing, but do pencil in a date to review and reassess payments where necessary.
What happens if someone can’t, or won’t, pay their share of the bills?
Should the worst happen and one of your housemates gets behind on the bills, or flat out refuses to pay, things can get a little tricky. Not only will you have to have some incredibly awkward conversations with the offending party, you’ll also be forced to either cover the shortfall yourself in the meantime or risk defaulting and the potential adverse affect on your credit rating while you get things sorted out.
Unfortunately, the legal aspect of such situations isn’t exactly cut and dried, either. Company policies relating to phone bills will differ from energy bills, and they will differ from TV Licences and Council Tax. It can be a bit of a minefield.
Proper advice is way beyond the scope of this article, but this PDF on Problems in Shared Accommodation from the Citizens Advice Bureau is a good starting point. From there, you should contact your local branch of CAB directly and discuss your options.
You may be able to claim the money back via the Small Claims Courts, but it’s likely to be a long, drawn out process, which makes it all the more important to do everything you can to help prevent the situation arising in the first place.
If you’re looking to rent in Central or East London, or maybe just outside of the capital in West Essex, Petty Son and Prestwich is a letting agent you can trust.
Founded in 1908, we have over a century of experience in the property market behind us, as well as a wealth of very satisfied customers we’ve helped over the years. Check out our status on TrustPilot and AllAgents for further proof of just how well-regarded we are as a company. We’re also fully accredited, too.
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