Guide to Mutual Exchange 

A mutual exchange is when two (or more) people agree to swap their homes permanently. The swap can be with another tenant of your landlord, or someone from another council; or housing association.
You can move home by swapping your home with that of another tenant anywhere in the country. Due to the demand for social housing, It’s often the quickest and best way to get a bigger property or one in an area you want.
You can use websites such as Homeswapper to help you to find a potential exchange locally or in other areas of the country.
When you register on these sites you can say what sort of property you are looking for. You can then log in at any time and search for possible matches, or receive notifications when the system identifies possible matches.

What to do if you find a swap

If you do find someone you'd like to swap with, the next step is to contact your landlord. Most landlords have a form you will need to complete to ‘apply’ for the exchange, giving the details of the person whom you are exchanging with. If you have found a ‘multi-swap’ with 3 or more households it is a good idea to put all the details down so that the landlords understand clearly who is looking to move into which home.
Remember you cannot do a mutual exchange without your landlord's permission. If you exchange without permission, you will have no security of tenure and you may be evicted or forced to return to your original home. If you give or receive money or goods to persuade someone to exchange with you, you could be liable to eviction and/or receive a fine.

What happens next?

Once you have submitted application to swap, your landlord will need to inspect your property to ensure that it is safe and that they are happy with the condition of the property. If you have made alterations to your property these will need to be approved, and the person you are swapping with will need to confirm that they are happy to accept them. Your landlord won’t take on responsibility for the upkeep or maintenance of alterations you have made. Your landlord will also need to book safety tests for the gas and electricity supply.
Your landlord will also exchange tenant references with the landlord of the person you are swapping with. This is to ensure that both landlords are happy to accept the exchange and that neither you, nor your exchange partner has debts outstanding for example.
There are only a limited number of reasons for which a landlord can refuse an exchange application. These are set out in legislation. A good site to refer to for guidance on this is Shelter, but you can also get advice from your landlord or CAB.

If both (all) landlords approve the exchange then you will need to make an appointment with both your current landlord, and your new landlord, to complete the tenancy assignment paperwork granting your tenancy to the person you are swapping with, and accepting their tenancy (or another tenancy in a multi-swap). Do not arrange to move before you have done this.

What happens if the other landlord refuses the exchange?

Your landlord will be able to tell you that it cannot go ahead, but may not be able to tell you why (if they know) as this would breach data protection guidelines. Sometimes a landlord may refuse an exchange until they are satisfied with certain conditions, such as that the tenant carries out repairs to a property beforehand. If you are happy to wait for a particular property it may be approved if you resubmit the application after this. Talk to the other party in such a case. If you don’t want to wait you are under no obligation to do so.

How long does it take?

Your landlord should make a decision whether they are going to approve the exchange within 42 days. This does not mean that the whole process should be completed within this time. If you don’t get a decision until close to this time it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong or the exchange isn’t going ahead. Sometimes, especially with multi-swaps, it can be difficult to liaise with all landlords, so you may need to be patient. Ensure you allow plenty of time, especially if you need to move during school holidays for example.

What else do you need to know?

Since 2011 Housing Associations and some Local Authority Councils offer flexible or fixed term tenancies. If you are looking to exchange with someone who has one of these tenancies you may only be able to take on the remaining term (length of time left) of the tenancy. There is a complex way of working out which tenancies can be directly assigned and when you might be able to ‘keep’ assured or secure tenancy status. If you have any questions about the type of tenancy you must ensure that you are happy before signing any paperwork.

Safety tips

For your own safety when arranging to view an exchange or to show your home, it is always sensible to take some basic precautions.

If you are viewing a property:

  1. Plan your journey in advance and check bus or train times. If possible, order a taxi to come to the property you are viewing at a set time, or arrange for someone to collect you at a pre-arranged time
  2. Arrange your visit during daylight hours
  3. Take someone with you. if you can’t take a someone, leave the following details with a friend or in an obvious place in your own home
    • the address and telephone number of the property you are visiting
    • the name of the person you are meeting
    • the time of the viewing.
  4. Ask the person you are meeting if there will be anyone else there when you view the property. Don’t be ashamed to say that you are aware of your own personal safety and need to know as many details as possible so that you can tell someone of your whereabouts
  5. Don’t accept a lift before or after viewing a property - no matter how tempting the offer
  6. Take your mobile phone. Keep it switched on and in a safe place, out of view. If you don’t own one, see if you can borrow one
  7. Use your mobile phone to let someone know you have arrived. Phone a friend or relative to say "Hi, just to let you know I’ve arrived at .. and Mr (or Mrs).. is showing me around. I’ll meet you in 20 minutes, but give me a ring if I’m running late.
  8. Trust your instincts. If you have a funny feeling about something, leave straight away. Be prepared with an excuse to leave before attending the viewing (that you are feeling sick or the room sizes not big enough or too large for your needs. Be polite about the property you are viewing).