Moving to London: financial considerations
I thought I was prepared for the costs of moving to the UK, but some expenses came as a shock, writes Amy Bracken
London is expensive, as capital cities tend to be. After a number of years renting in Dublin, I was already accustomed to living somewhat frugally before moving here. I soon found food, clothing and socialising costs are pretty much on a par with Dublin, but I was wholly unprepared for other surprising expenses. London is a fantastic city to live in and is full of opportunities, but before you move, you must be financially prepared, and have some savings behind you.
London is divided into a number of travel ‘zones’, and unless you are living in zones 5 or 6, (and thereby have a very lengthy commute if you work in the city centre), then you can expect to fork out anything up to £2,000 for your first month’s rent and a deposit on your flat. With regards your deposit, the UK government has a number of protection schemes in place for rental deposits, and landlords are required by law to place your deposit in one of these within 30 days of receiving it. It is vital that you check online to make sure this has been done, as it could lead to complications later on.
When choosing an area, always research the transport links to your college or work. While rent is cheaper in zones outside of the city centre, travel cards are more expensive, increasing the further out you go, and commutes can be extremely long.
My number one tip is not to rely on Google Maps to get an idea of travel times. The journey planner on the Transport for London website will allow you to plan and timetable your route using bus, Tube and train, and is very accurate. Doing a dummy run at rush hour is also a good idea if you are already living in the city, because some Tubes and buses can fill up at that time and you may not be able to get on the first one that comes along.
A weekly or monthly Travel Card, where you select the zones you will be travelling in, provides unlimited travel on trains and buses and will save you some money compared with individual tickets. If you are under 25, you can apply for a Young Person’s Railcard, which will get you reduced rates on all UK train routes outside London.
Areas such as Kilburn, Camden, Clapham and Balham are very popular with Irish people, but thanks to transport links, Putney, Brixton and areas in East London are up-and-coming. You should investigate the cost of Council Tax in the area you wish to move to, or you could be in for an expensive surprise when your first bill arrives as it can vary a lot between areas. Everyone in the UK (with the exception of students) must pay the tax, which is calculated based on the area and size of the property – surprisingly for some, it is often considerably higher in less affluent areas. It covers local services such as refuse disposal, libraries and green space maintenance. London boroughs such as Wandsworth, which is popular with Irish people owing to its proximity to Clapham, and the City of Westminster, boast low Council Tax charges, but even then you can expect to pay a minimum of £700 per year, even for a small flat.
Another bill to be aware of is water charges, which are calculated based on consumption. Rates vary depending on the water company which operates in your area, but average around £350 per year.
When you start renting, particularly if you have a new lease and are not merely taking a room in an already-occupied house, you will pay charges to set up electricity, gas and water charge accounts. Registering with the borough to set up a Council Tax account also incurs a charge.
Other financial considerations for moving to London include obtaining a National Insurance Number (like a PPS number), and setting up a UK bank account. Setting up a bank account can be tricky without a billhead with your name on it, so you need to set up your household bill accounts as soon as you sort out accommodation. You then need to call the Job Centre and go for an interview to obtain you NI number, which can take a number of weeks. Until that’s done, expect to be very heavily taxed on your wages.
The London Irish Centre offers an advisory service for anyone concerned about the financial implications of moving to London. It has published a guide for Irish newcomers, which can be downloaded on their website.
I’m fully set up now and reaping the benefits of London life. It has been well worth the expense.
Amy Bracken works as a television researcher in London, where she has been living for almost a year. She blogs at itsnotagradlife.wordpress.com. For more information on finding accommodation in London and the associated costs, see here. Yesterday, Will Norton of Sonas Recruitment gave some advice on the jobs market in London and how to impress employers.