It might seem like the holy grail of accommodation quests, but there are several options for very cheap and free accommodation in London. So whether you’re in town for a few nights, want a change of scene for remote working, or you’re looking for something longer term – our guide has you covered. With most of these options, there will be some registration costs up front to use the associated services. But you’ll ultimately save on accommodation compared with a hotel or holiday apartment.
Hang out with cats and dogs with House Sitting
One of the few, legit free types of accommodation in London is house sitting, although we should caveat that it’s ideal for people who like pets. If you’re allergic to cats or dogs, this isn’t for you! But if you are pet-friendly, then the deal generally involves staying in other people’s houses for free in exchange for taking care of their pets.
Three of the best known sites in the UK are Trusted House Sitters, House Sitters UK and Mind A Home, and you’ll need to become a member to use either. All members are properly checked, or shall we say vetted (we’re not averse to recycling puns around here), and get references – this can be from friends and family you’ve done house sitting for.
As a rough guide, the admin and start up costs and processes include:
- Membership fees: £15.00–£99.00 for standard annual fees
- Background checks: £25.00. Some might ask for a basic disclosure doc, which is a criminal background check.
- References: You can sign up as a newbie, but if possible, offer to house or pet sit for a trusted friend or family member first so you can show some experience.
- Utilities: House sitters are sometimes expected to contribute towards utilities used during their stay for longer sits, but check in with the homeowner.
Interested in staying in a place with pets? Check out our quick guide to house sitting in London.
Be a guest with Couchsurfing
Most of us have had a night or two on a mate’s sofa, with varying degrees of comfort. But, Couchsurfing the community is like having mates with sofas all over the world. And sometimes (often) those sofas are actual beds.
The global community started in 2004 and now has over 12 million members in 200,000 cities, including London. It’s so big, it also has a dedicated Trust and Safety team, as a good reference system as well as some decent tips on safe travels. If you’re a solo traveller or small group looking for a bit of a guide to the local area, it’s a great, totally free option.
Getting started is easy, just set up a profile, check out hosts either online or in person at events and communicate online before you decide whether to surf their couch. Although it’s free, Couchsurfing recommends that guests show appreciation with small gestures like buying them some food or taking them out. And of course, be a considerate guest and respect the house rules.
Take up residence as a Property Guardian
Property Guardianship is a (relatively) cheap type of accommodation in London. Property guardians pay to occupy (rather than rent) unused residential and commercial properties from old pubs and office buildings to former schools and even, occasionally, Victorian mansions. According to figures published by the Mayor of London, there are between 5000 and 7000 property guardians across the UK, with the majority based in London.
Unlike tenants in private rental accommodation, guardians don’t pay rent, instead they pay a monthly licence fee. There are pros and cons to becoming a property guardian, the top pro being cost, with the average licence fee coming in at around £435.00. Cons include short notice periods, guardians are only given 28 days to leave the premises, you can’t have pets or dependents, and you might be sharing with a lot of people. But if you are interested in becoming a property guardian, make sure you’re up on the relevant rights and protections.
Properties must be:
- Wind and waterproof
- Not be derelict or abandoned
- Have basic water and electricity facilities
There are too many property guardian websites to list, but some of the main ones include Global Guardians, LOWE, and VPS.
Join a home exchange community
Staying in apartments rather than hostels or hotels is a great option for getting to know London. But, the likes of AirBnB, One Fine Stay et al aren’t always that cheap, and they’re certainly not free. But, you can cut down on the costs of staying in London by swapping your place either from elsewhere in the UK or abroad)
There are several ways to do this including random ads on Gumtree and home swap Facebook Groups. But the best (and probably safest) option is to register with a home exchange community.
One of the biggest in the world is Love Home Swap, which has homes in over 100 countries. You do a free two week trial, after which there are three levels of membership fees, ranging from £8.00–£12.00 per month. Finding swaps is easy, punch in what you’re looking for, and your home details (i.e 2 bed flat, London), number of days etc and the site will give you an estimate of what you could potentially save in accommodation costs by doing a home swap. The actual stay is free via the Classic Swap option. Home swappers have the opportunity to chat first and then if it’s a match, swap away.
Another major home-swap site is People Like Us, which also has a subscription model (free trial to browse around and then annual membership starts from US$95.00. It works in a similar way to Love Home Swap, but has a bit more of a community vibe.
Finally for longer term options, check out our article on London’s most affordable areas for renting.