Rent Arrears Debt Help & Advice

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September 08 2020

When you rent a home you are paying your landlord for the use of their property. You both agree that you can stay in the property for as long as you continue to pay the rent and the landlord will not ask you to leave without reasonable notice. In return, the landlord agrees to keep the property in a good state of repair.

Sometimes you cannot afford to pay and the stress of potentially losing your home or becoming homeless is overwhelming. Don’t panic. Although rent arrears shouldn’t be ignored there are ways to move forward and the information below will help you decide how best to proceed.

What happens if I can’t afford to pay my rent?

Debts fall into two categories: non-priority and priority debts. Non-priority debts don’t carry the risk of a tangible loss of property in the event of non payment. However, if you miss payments to a priority debt then you stand to potentially lose something important.

Non-priority debts are things such as credit cards or payday loans. Priority debts are those such as council tax, rent or mortgage arrears. If you are unsure what types of debt you have you should contact a fully regulated debt counsellor or insolvency practitioner to help identify them. You can use the AI chatbot on the DebtBuffer website to contact one.

If you don’t pay your rent you’ll begin to fall into rent arrears and you must deal with them quickly because they are a priority debt.

What happens if I don’t pay my rent?

If you don’t pay your full rent then you’ve broken the terms of your tenancy agreement and your landlord can begin steps to have you removed from the property by a mutual agreement or through court proceedings, following this, a bailiff enforced repossession and eviction.

However, your landlord cannot simply turn up and throw you out as soon as you have missed your first payment. Start by approaching your landlord with a personal budget showing all your essential living costs and making an offer to repay your rent arrears, plus other priority debts, as quickly as possible.

The most important thing to remember is that right up until the day of eviction it is not too late to take steps to deal with your rent arrears.

How long can you not pay rent before being evicted?

There are a variety of tenancy agreements in use in the UK, some unique to Scotland and Scottish law. The type of tenancy agreement you have determines how quickly your landlord can start eviction proceedings against you.

Eviction can also be started for reasons other than rent arrears. If your landlord has asked you to leave due to anti-social behaviour or simply because they want to move back into the property or sell it, then the procedure is different to rent arrears and you will need advice from a specialist housing organisation such as Shelter.

If you are behind with your rent it’s important to remember that with any type of tenancy you cannot be evicted for rent arrears without a court order. Your landlord may be acting illegally if they threaten to evict you without first going through the courts, or if they attempt to harass you to make you leave.

Eviction if you are a Council tenant or have been in your Housing Association property from before 1989.

Council tenants (and some kinds of Housing Association tenants who have been in their home from before 1989) have different kinds of tenancy agreements to private tenants. Landlords for these tenants are often known as social landlords.

Contact your landlord quickly to try to make an arrangement to repay if you are in rent arrears. Ask for a statement of your account to check that all your payments have been added and that the arrears have been calculated accurately. Still keep paying as much as you can afford in the meantime.

If you have a social landlord they must follow a specific pre-action protocol to get possession for rent arrears. They must contact you to try to make an arrangement to repay your arrears. If you qualify for any help from benefits they must help you claim and try to arrange for you arrears to come directly from those benefits. Plus they must not start repossession action if you’ve correctly applied for the benefit but are waiting for your claim to be processed. Councils (not housing associations though) cannot go to court for repossession if you keep up with an agreement to pay off your arrears on top of your ongoing rent. Failing to follow these steps could mean the court refuses their claim.

Eviction if your landlord is Private or you began you Housing Association tenancy after 1989.

If you started your tenancy after 1989 and your landlord is a private individual (or company) or a Housing Association then you are most likely to have an assured shorthold tenancy.

The procedure covered below applies to eviction for rent arrears for assured shorthold tenancies. If your landlord is asking you to leave for something other than rent arrears or you are not certain you have an assured shorthold tenancy then you should seek advice from a specialist housing advice organisation such as Shelter.

Don’t delay. Contact your landlord as soon as possible to try to make an arrangement to repay your arrears. Ask for a statement of your account to check that all your payments have been added and that the arrears have been calculated accurately because mistakes can happen. Obviously it is sensible to continue to pay as much as you can afford toward your ongoing rent and the arrears whilst waiting for this statement.

If you receive certain benefits you can ask for them to be paid directly to your landlord to give your landlord more reassurance they will receive their regular rent. Then you can use a personal budget to make an offer to repay your rent arrears as quickly as possible. Don’t forget to make arrangements to pay other priority debts alongside your rent too. It makes sense to keep a record of all your attempts to contact your landlord and receipts for any payment of your ongoing rent plus something toward the arrears so that if your landlord does go to court you can show you have not just ignored the problem.

A Housing Association must follow the same pre-action protocol for eviction mentioned for council tenants in the section above if they want to start repossession for rent arrears. Private landlords are not bound by the same protocol but they must write to you to warn you that they will go to court first. If they do go to court to evict you and the court can see they have ignored all your attempts to repay your arrears, the judge can often take that into consideration when deciding whether to let you stay or not. However, a judge cannot let you stay if you have an assured shorthold tenancy and your arrears are more than 8 weeks or 2 months.

The difference with assured shorthold tenancies is that your landlord can start or continue court action for ‘persistent or regular’ rent arrears even if you have bought the arrears back to zero by the time of a court hearing. It is not wise to ignore any court forms or miss your court date. Remember to take proof of all the payments you have made and attempts to make an agreement with the landlord with you to any hearing.

Also because assured shorthold tenancies are often for a fixed period of time, such as a year, your landlord can simply decide not to renew your tenancy at the end of that fixed period and a court cannot override that. Although again your landlord must give you sufficient written notice that they want you to leave.

Can I get help to pay off rent arrears?

The government offers those on low incomes help with paying their housing and living costs. You may qualify for this help but not realise and sometimes this help can be backdated slightly. If you visit www.entitledto.co.uk with details of your income and circumstances to hand you can check if you are likely to receive any benefits or help with your income. It also has information on how to claim that income. Any extra income you start receiving can be used toward rent arrears and other priority debts but bear in mind it can take time to process a claim so continue to tray and pay as much as you can afford in the meantime and let your landlord know what you are waiting to receive.

How much rent will Universal Credit pay?

If you qualify for help from Universal Credit they may not automatically pay all of your rent for you. They take into account your circumstances such as how many people are living in the house plus any other income you receive when calculating your payments. They also will not pay more than the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) for your area. The LHA should usually cover all of a council tenancy rent and most Housing association rents (if you don’t have any empty bedrooms in your home) but often private rental rates are higher so there is likely to still be a percentage of your rent you need to pay yourself, plus something towards your arrears if you still have some outstanding.

How can I move if I have rent arrears?

If you are a council or Housing Association tenant then you can apply to be moved to a smaller property to reduce your rent costs or even see if there is someone in a smaller property who would like to do an exchange with you but this is at the discretion of your landlord. You can explain to them how reducing your ongoing costs would help you free up more income to clear your arrears faster and hopefully they will agree.

Alternatively, you can give any landlord notice that you’ll be leaving your property whenever you like but if you have rent arrears outstanding your landlord will inform any future landlords and they may refuse you. Your landlord can continue to pursue you for the arrears after you leave however if you have a new home then arrears with previous landlords become non-priority debts.

Can I lose my deposit if I have rent arrears?

Yes your landlord can withhold some or all of your deposit towards rent arrears you have outstanding when you leave, plus other amounts towards repairing some types of damage. If you feel they are keeping too much you can dispute this with your tenancy deposit protection scheme.

Can you pay rent with a credit card?

Most landlords prefer a direct debit payment for ongoing rent but you could clear your arrears with a credit card. Remember this is just moving the debt from one place to another not making it disappear but credit card debts are non-priority debts and rent arrears are a priority debt.

Can I write off my rent arrears debt?

There are many options available for getting on top of your debts and some of those include writing off all or a large portion of your debt, even priority ones such as rent arrears. You can use the DebtBuffer site to help you write letters to buy time with your creditors and ask them to treat your circumstances fairly. Our AI chatbot will ask a series of questions to help you understand your debts and tell you which possible debt solutions are suitable for you giving you a clear understanding if there is a way to write off your debts, then put you in touch with someone who can help.

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