Rent to Buy scheme

Last updated: May 2024 | 3 min read

Are you a first time homebuyer looking for ways to afford your new home? One of the schemes available for you in the UK is Rent to Buy. Read on to know how this scheme can facilitate you in the exciting journey of owning your first home.  

The Rent to Buy scheme is a great opportunity for first time buyers wanting to get onto the property ladder in the UK. This path offers many advantages. Read on to see how it paves a way towards owning your dream home.

We have an article for first time buyers, providing in-depth information.

What is the Rent to Buy scheme?

Rent to Buy is a government scheme in the UK designed to ease the transition from renting to buying a home.

It allows tenants to rent a property for a set period, typically below the market rate, with the option or obligation to buy the property later.

This approach gives tenants time to save for a deposit and to decide if the property is right for them. Here's a more detailed article on how you can save for a house deposit.

Origins and evolution of Rent to Buy in the UK

The Rent to Buy scheme in the UK emerged as a response to rising property prices and the difficulty many people face in saving for a deposit while paying rent.

Initially introduced to help first-time buyers and working households struggling to get onto the housing ladder, the scheme has now evolved.

It includes various programmes like London Living Rent and individual housing associations offering their own versions of Rent to Buy, often targeting specific demographics or regions.

How the Rent to Buy scheme works

Basic structure

Rent to Buy agreements allow tenants to live in a property as renters while preserving the option to purchase it at a later date.

These contracts typically have a fixed period, commonly up to 5 years. During this time, you pay rent, with a portion of your payments contributing towards the eventual purchase of the property.

The purchase price is often agreed upon at the start of the tenancy, safeguarding you against future market fluctuations.

Notably, it's important to understand the exact terms of your agreement.

How Rent to Buy differs from traditional renting

Traditional tenancy agreements don't lead to an opportunity to purchase the property. Monthly rent in a standard tenancy is a fee for occupying the property, with no portion set aside for future purchase.

Rent to Buy schemes offer a structured path to ownership. Part of the monthly rent might contribute towards a deposit for eventually buying the property.

Rent to Buy agreements often fix the purchase price at the outset, providing clarity and a target for tenants aspiring to become homeowners. This structure is absent in standard rental contracts, where the focus is solely on the landlord-tenant relationship with no ownership prospects.

Market rent refers to the typical rent charged in a specific area, based on current market conditions.

In contrast, Rent to Buy often involves a reduced or discounted rent, providing the opportunity to save for a deposit to eventually buy the property.

This reduced rent is one of the most attractive features of Rent to Buy schemes, offering a pragmatic solution to balance living expenses whilst saving for homeownership.

However, the rent may not always be significantly lower than market rates, and the specifics depend on the terms set by the housing association or landlord.

Steps involved in entering a Rent to Buy contract

Engaging in a Rent to Buy scheme usually starts with a detailed eligibility check, encompassing a credit check and an assessment of your monthly household income. Learn how to improve your credit by reading our detailed article on the topic.

You'll need to provide essential documents like a photographic ID, current address verification, and possibly an employment reference or fraud prevention checks.

Once eligible, you enter into an initial tenancy agreement with the understanding that you'll have the option to purchase the home later. Plan from the outset, understanding how much you need to save and how the eventual purchase will unfold.

Thorough preparation at the earliest opportunity can enhance your chances of transitioning smoothly from renting to owning.

Distinguishing Rent to Buy, shared ownership, and other schemes

Shared ownership, a product offered by housing associations, allows you to buy a portion of a property and pay rent on the remaining share. Over time, you can buy more shares in the property, a process known as "staircasing".

In contrast, Rent to Buy arrangements focus on renting a property for a set period, usually at less than the market rate. This period enables you to save for a deposit to eventually purchase the property. Unlike shared ownership, Rent to Buy doesn't involve buying a portion of the property.

Financial considerations 

Monthly payments are usually lower than regular rent. For example if the rent is £1200, you might have to pay only £1000, saving £200 each month, leading to a £12000 saving over five years. This amount can be used as deposit towards the purchase of the property.

Often, the way it works is that a portion of your monthly rent is counted towards reducing the final purchase price. In this case the monthly rent might be higher than standard rent.

Calculating potential savings and costs

You must calculate your possible savings against the costs involved. This calculation includes comparing the total amount you'll pay over the tenancy agreement against a direct property purchase.

Consider other expenditures such as mortgage arrangement fees, council tax, and maintenance costs. Savings might not only be monetary but can also include the time value of money and the opportunity to build a good credit history while you rent.

Impact on household income and budgeting

This scheme can significantly impact your household income and budgeting. If the payments are higher than the standard rent, it can strain your monthly budget.

Yet, these payments can also act as forced savings towards property ownership.

Balance your current financial comfort with your long-term goal of owning a home and factor in possible changes in your income or circumstances, and how they might affect your ability to meet these monthly commitments.

Eligibility criteria 

Rent to Buy schemes target specific groups, usually the first time buyers or those who have previously owned a home but are currently unable to buy one on the open market.

You should be someone with a regular income but perhaps not enough savings for a traditional deposit.

The scheme aims to help those who are likely to qualify for a mortgage within a few years.

Credit history, income threshold & employment status

A clean credit history is a requirement to become eligible.

Housing associations or participating landlords might reject applicants with severe county court judgments or a history of missed rent payments. Check your credit file before applying, ensuring all information is accurate and up to date.

Your income needs to demonstrate your ability to pay regular rent and save towards buying the property. Most schemes have an upper income threshold of £60,000 collectively for a household. This varies but is normally set to ensure the scheme supports those who need it most.

Applicants usually need to be in stable, long-term employment. Some schemes might allow self-employed individuals but will scrutinise income stability more closely.

Certain schemes might have additional criteria, like being a current tenant of the housing association or living in a particular area for a specified time.

Preparing your application

Your application requires several documents and details. Begin by gathering proof of income, identification, and recent bank statements.

Prepare details about your current landlord and tenancy agreement. A robust credit check forms a critical part of this stage. Poor credit history doesn't automatically disqualify you, but it's wise to be upfront about it.

Rent to Buy also involves eligibility criteria detailed above.

From application to approval

Anticipate a waiting period. This phase allows agents to assess your eligibility and financial stability.

Upon passing the initial credit check and eligibility review, you'll enter into a more detailed evaluation. This phase might include interviews or home visits. Your current financial management, particularly how you handle month's rent and savings, will be scrutinised.

If your application advances, you'll receive a detailed tenancy agreement. This document requires careful review. It outlines your obligations, including rent payments, typically by direct debit, and any conditions linked to your option to buy the property.

Rent to Buy schemes sometimes have a separate scheme run by local councils or specific housing associations. These can influence the final approval stage, as each body may have additional criteria or steps to follow.

If successful, you'll join the Rent to Buy scheme, often starting as a tenant at a lower than market rent, whilst saving towards a deposit for your brand new home.


How much money do I need for the deposit?

Usually, a smaller deposit compared to traditional property purchases is required. Sometimes, part of the rent paid during the tenancy can contribute towards the deposit, but this depends on the specific agreement.

How do I apply for the Rent to Buy scheme?

If you are residing in England, the government website now advises consulting local councils and housing associations, which may also promote Rent to Buy properties. You can access a list of local housing associations through this government portal.

In Wales, residents have the option to apply for Rent to Own through landlords who participate in the programme.

In Northern Ireland, the application process can be done through the Co-Ownership website.

In Scotland, various government schemes exist to assist with home purchases.

What are the long-term implications for the buyer?

The long-term implications can be significant. These schemes can help buyers who are currently unable to afford a mortgage to step onto the property ladder. However, if circumstances change, like a relationship breakdown or changes in the property market, this could impact the agreement's viability.

What if I want to resell or rent?

Reselling a property acquired through a Rent to Buy scheme is a common concern. Once you officially own the home, you can sell it on the open market. However, if you decide to sell before owning it outright, the terms of your agreement will dictate the process and any penalties.

Renting options may vary based on your agreement and the stage of homeownership. During the renting period, subletting is usually not allowed. After purchasing the property, you can become one of the new landlords, subject to mortgage lender policies and the terms shared ownership.

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