Room to rent? UK housesharing on the rise due to energy bills and living costs

<span>Photograph: Andrew Paterson/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Andrew Paterson/Alamy

When they finally moved in to their first home together last summer after four years of housesharing, Rosie Macdonald and her partner didn’t expect they’d be returning to living with another person so soon. But with rising living costs and concerns over energy prices, in April the couple organised for a housemate to move into their home in Leeds.

“We were struggling to keep our heads above water before the increase in inflation,” says Macdonald, 27, a senior digital PR strategist at Love Energy Savings, a business utilities and price comparison retailer. “While we’re good with our finances, I worked out what the increases might be with each cap – my job means I have my ear to the ground in that sense – and calculated how much extra we might need.”

The gap has been filled by her friend Katie moving in, with the housemate paying £320 a month including bills. However, this amount will increase soon. “I’ve just done my finances for the winter bills and we’ll have to up the rent by £100 a month,” says Macdonald.

The government has provided a £400 discount for energy bills over the next six months, but for many households bills will still rise from next weekend.

Macdonald isn’t the only one contemplating bringing in a lodger to help. A survey by rental website SpareRoom found that 90% of homeowners who’d previously had a lodger said they’d consider finding one again to help with rising costs.

“Numbers aren’t yet back to pre-Covid levels but there’s a definite increase recently and there are signs of a turnaround beginning,” a spokesperson for SpareRoom told the Observer. “We’re expecting to see a large uptick in autumn when the weather starts to get colder and energy price rises really start to bite. We know a lot of people are considering taking in lodgers to help with the cost of living. We expected a strong response [with our poll] but the numbers were much higher than we anticipated.”

On the flipside, SpareRoom said July 2022 was the highest month on record for new people signing up to look for a room on its website, up 9% on the previous highest July (2019) and an increase of 37% on July last year. Gumtree said searches for the term “bills included” increased 260% from March to August this year.

With a winter of gloom ahead, people are figuring out ways to help soften the financial blow by sharing their spaces.

With their energy bills fixed until June next year, Bryony Lewis, 38, and her husband are being generous with the enviable position they find themselves in. Living in the same village in south Hampshire as her parents and in-laws, the couple, who have children aged six and four, plan to open their home up to both sets of parents in the evening and provide food, “so we can all keep warm while they spend less on their energy”. They have also invited them to stay over in their six-bedroom house at weekends.

“We have a big house and both parents are paying more for their energy bills than us,” says Lewis, who runs T & Belle, an online store selling parenting essentials and gifts. “We have agreed that any evening or weekend they can come round to ours and we can make extra food for them. We have also extended the invite to friends too. We understand the lucky position we’re in.”

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Maja Adam, 24, feels as if she has gone back in time with the way she has reduced energy costs. “I’ve recently started eating every evening meal at my parents’ house – they live in the same town – so my energy use is lower,” says the digital PR strategist who lives in Huddersfield. “It’s nice to see them more than I would normally but it does feel like stepping backwards to lose the flexibility of what to do with my evenings in my 20s.”

In Margate, Iain Purves, 34, is hoping to cut down on bills by creating a local group of four to six friends to rotate among each other’s houses one or two evenings a week.

“The idea would be that everyone switches off their heating to save money and splits bills at the host house,” says the energy consultant. “So, in this way on average the group can bring down their energy bills a bit, bring down the ingredients cost by cooking in bulk, plus socialise together.”

He has mooted the idea with one friend so far who was interested in the suggestion. He admits that there may well be challenges to realistically organise it more than once a week due to diary clashes, while working out exact costs might prove difficult as “people might not have timers on heating so we could struggle to work it out”.