Rent arrears debt

If you fail to stay on top of your rent payments you’ll fall into what’s known as rent arrears. Rent arrears are a priority debt – that means it’s one of the most important payments you’ll be responsible for. If you don’t stay on top of payments, you could fall victim to the eviction process. Understandably it’s important to act quickly if you find yourself struggling to pay your rent, whether that’s to a private landlord, housing association or local council.

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In this guide we'll discuss rent arrears in more detail, including how you can liaise with landlords, how to manage missed rent payments and the benefits you may be entitled to.

How do you deal with missed rent payments?

If you've fallen behind on your rent it means you owe money to your landlord. This could mean owing money to a private landlord, a housing association or your local council.

Covering the cost of rent is part of essential housing costs and part of the tenancy agreement, so it's vital you seek support if you're worried about making payments.

The first thing you should do is contact your landlord. While this may seem like a daunting prospect, it's important to try and establish a repayment plan as soon as possible. Showing that you're not only aware of the situation but also keen to come to an agreement may mean that there's a lesser chance that your landlord refuses any repayment plan you suggest.

Paying your rent arrears

If you're struggling with the cost of your rent it's important to take action as soon as possible to avoid further money problems and legal action.

As already mentioned, speaking to your landlord should be your first port of call - giving an explanation about why you've fallen behind on paying your rent.

If you're able to, you should pay your rent arrears in a lump sum and get a receipt from your landlord.

Otherwise, you could consider the following:

  • set up a repayment plan with your landlord
  • make a payment arrangement directly from your benefits
  • apply for a discretionary housing payment
  • ask for support from a homeless prevention fund

If setting up a repayment plan, it's important never to put more towards extra payments than you can afford. If you suggest more than you can afford to pay you could risk facing eviction.

Who is responsible for rent arrears?

Whether you're responsible for the rent arrears or not will depend on your living situation. In some instance you may not actually be responsible for repaying your landlord in full on your own.

If you live with someone else, such a flatmate or a partner and have signed a joint tenancy agreement then you'll not be expected to pay all the money on your own. However, you should be aware that if one of you doesn't pay in this instance the other will be responsible.

If you live with other people and signed a tenancy agreement on your own, you'll be responsible for any arrears even if you live with other people.

In situations where you have taken over someone else's tenancy, you will only be responsible for rent dur after your agreement as begun. That means you'll not typically be expected to pay the arrears for the previous tenant.

You should always receive details of your tenancy agreement in writing. This should include how much your rent is and how often you'll pay it. If you're not issued with this, it could mean you have an assured shorthold tenancy agreement.

What happens if you don’t pay your rent?

As we’ve already explained, you’ll be in arrears as soon as you’ve missed a payment and it’s important to act as soon as possible.

The first thing to do is to check if you’re responsible for the arrears. You may not be liable for the total amount if you live with someone else or if you took on someone else’s tenancy so it’s important to check this first.

You should also check how much you owe. This information should be included in your tenancy agreement, but you should also check your bank statements or any receipts you have in a rent book to show how much you typically pay. If you don’t have any of this, you can ask your landlord for a statement of how much rent you’ve paid.

Next, it’s important to work out how much you can afford to pay back and find out about any support that may be available to you.

Check if you’re eligible for any extra help with your income such as through Universal Credit and then review your budget. When you have an idea of what you’ll be able to pay each month, approach your landlord to discuss a repayment plan or next steps.

If you’re unable to repay what you owe, be sure to seek professional advice. Debt help professionals, like those at UK Debt Expert, will be able to help you find a solution to manage what you owe.

Can you face court action if you don't pay your rent?

Yes, if you don't pay your rent arrears you could face court action.

If you don't keep up with your rent payments your landlord may try to evict you - also known as seeking possession.

To do this, your landlord will need to follow strict procedures which will involve getting a court order.

It's important to be aware that a landlord can't evict you without going to court first and it's illegal if they try to do so.

The eviction process differs depending on then tenancy agreement and there are a number of stages before you can be evicted for rent arrears.

If you have an assured shorthold tenancy, you may be issued a section eight or section 21 notice - this means they'll have to follow rules to start the eviction process for rent arrears. If you're unsure about what type of tenancy you have, Shelter has a handy tool you can use.

Other stages to be aware of include:

  • if your landlord is a local housing association or local authority, they need to follow a rent arrears pre-action protocol which details what the landlord should do before they start court action.
  • you must be given a notice period to leave your home. This is also known as a notice of seeking possession, or a notice to quit.
  • if you don't leave by the end of the notice period, your landlord has the right to apply to the court for a possession order.
  • again, if you don't leave your home by the date stated on your order your landlord can take further court action and ask the court for a warrant of possession.
  • at this point you'd get a notice of eviction sent to you by bailiffs informing you of then the eviction will take place.

Understandably, the eviction process can seem daunting but it's important to seek advice if you're concerned about losing your home. Regardless of whether you rent privately or are a social housing tenant, you may be able to come to a repayment plan.

Can money be taken from other benefits to pay rent arrears?

If you claim benefits it's may be possible to pay arrears from your benefits payments.

Discussing this may encourage your landlord, particularly private landlords, to negotiate with you as they can be confident they'll get what they're owed with this payment plan.

If you you owe eight weeks of rent arrears you, or your landlord, can make a request to the DWP for your rent arrears to be paid directly from your benefits. You, or your landlord, can make this request if you get Housing Benefit or if your Universal Credit includes housing costs.

Rent arrears can also be paid to your landlord if you receive any of the following benefits:

  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • income-based Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA)
  • Income Support
  • Pension Credit

It's important to be aware that only a fixed amount will be taken from your benefit or Universal Credit.

If you're paying your rent with Universal Credit, you should be aware that between 10% and 20% of your payment will be given to your landlord.

If you receive other benefits, as mentioned above, 5% of those payments will go to your landlord. No more than £4.25 should be taken each week. You can pay more towards your debt if you feel able, however, must arrange this with your private landlord, housing association or local council's housing department.

Can I apply for a discretionary housing payment?

You may be able to apply for a discretionary housing payment (DHP) if you receive Housing Benefit or get Universal Credit.

Discretionary housing payments are a way local councils can offer financial help to people struggling to pay their debt.

Available to people living in England and Wales, the payment can help people with housing costs, including those affected by:

  • the benefit cap
  • removal of the spare room subsidy in the social rented sector
  • Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates

You may get a DHP payment to help with costs such as:

  • rent arrears
  • rent deposits
  • rent in advance if you need to move home.

It's important to be aware that discretionary housing payments don't cover council tax, even if you get Local Council Tax Support.

How can I apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment?

If you live in England and Wales you can apply for discretionary housing payments through your local council.

You should know that the application process can differ between local authorities.

The council will review your circumstances to determine whether you're eligible for the support payment. They'll decide:

  • whether to give you the payment
  • how much you'll receive
  • how long you'll receive the payment

The application for Discretionary Housing Payment differs in Scotland. You can find out more about the process, including how to apply here.

Get help from a homeless prevention fund

If you're concerned about rent arrears or facing the eviction process and are risk of becoming homeless, it's important to seek advice as soon as possible.

You should speak to your local council as soon as possible to find out what additional support is available.

Some councils have dedicated funds to help stop people from becoming homeless. This can also include helping people with rent arrears even if you've not been served an eviction notice period on your home.

You can find your local council's website on the Government website.

Apply for breathing space

If you're struggling to make your rent payment and are in arrears, you could apply for breathing space.

There are two types of breathing space: standard and mental health crisis.

No matter which you qualify for, the breathing space scheme can help if you've missed rent payments, giving you time to:

  • reduce your rent arrears
  • get debt advice and help with your finances
  • come up with a repayment plan

When you're on the scheme your landlord can't begin the eviction process or evict you for missed rent payments. Landlords also aren't able to start or continue court action to pursue all the arrears or charge interest or fees on the missed payments.

You can apply for standard breathing space once a year and it lasts 60 days. To enter the scheme you'll need to apply through a debt advisor and receive debt advice to help find a long term debt solution.

A mental health breathing space is a little different. You can have it more than once a year and there's no time limit, however, it typically ends 30 days after you stop receiving mental health crisis treatment. Unlike a standard breathing space, there's no requirement to work with a debt advice agency or show you have a long term plan for managing debt.

It's important to be aware that the breathing space scheme isn't the same as a payment holiday or break. That means that you should still make your normal rent payment if you're able to.

Get help if you can't afford to pay your rent arrears

If you're struggling to manage your budget to pay your rent, you may also find yourself juggling more debt.

When it comes to dealing with rent arrears it's important to remember that you're not alone.

If you're currently going through the eviction process, agencies such as Citizens Advice or Shelter can provide guidance. They can also help you make sure you're receiving all the benefits you're entitled to - especially if you're on a low income. This support can include making housing benefit claim, or help with any housing benefit or universal credit queries you may have.

However, if you find yourself struggling with debt, organisations like UK Debt Expert could help.

Our experts will help create a household budget based on you can currently afford to pay and discuss all debt solutions with you.

Key Takeaways

  • Rent arrears are a priority debt and can lead to eviction if not addressed promptly.
  • Contact your landlord to establish a repayment plan as the first step when facing missed rent payments.
  • Options for paying rent arrears include lump-sum payments, repayment plans, direct deductions from benefits, and seeking professional debt advice.
  • Responsibility for rent arrears depends on your living situation and the type of tenancy agreemen.
  • If you fail to pay rent arrears, court action may be taken, but landlords must follow legal procedures before eviction. Assistance and support are available to those in need.
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