What to do about rent arears

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You will be in ‘arrears’ if you fall behind on your rent payments to your private landlord or letting agent.

 

If you have rent arrears on a property you live in, it is important to contact the landlord or letting agency quickly and offer a way to repay what you owe. If you do not do this, you are at risk of being evicted from your home.

 

You may/ may not be responsible for paying back all of the rent arrears.

If you are unsure about what kind of tenancy you have, use the tenancy checker tool to find out, via the following address:

https://england.shelter.org.uk/legal/security_of_tenure/tenancy_checker

 

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What happens if you have rent arrears?

If you have not contacted your landlord about your arrears, you need to do this straight away or risk eviction by your landlord or letting agency.

 

First of all, confirm how much you owe

Make sure the amount your landlord says you owe them matches your own records.

Your records include:

  • Bank statements;

  • Receipts (if you paid your rent in cash);

  • Rent book or rent card.

 

Note: Your landlord must give you a rent book or other record of your rent payments if you have a weekly tenancy.

 

You should ask your landlord for a statement of how much rent you have paid if you:

  • Have not kept a note of your rent payments;

  • Think your rent book or rent card is not clear;

  • Cannot find your rent book or rent card.

 

If your benefits are paid to your landlord

If you get any benefits paid directly to your landlord, check with your local council (https://www.gov.uk/find-local-council) or the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to find out how much your landlord has been paid.

 

Next, agree a way to repay your arrears

Contact your landlord and tell them about your situation. It may help if you tell your landlord or letting agency why you fell behind with your rent. Ask your landlord or letting agency if you can agree a plan to repay what you owe.

 

A repayment plan is an agreement between you and your landlord as to how you will clear your arrears. That may mean, for example, that you will make small regular payments towards your arrears over a longer period of time or that you will pay off your arrears on a certain date once your income has improved . You will still have to pay everything back - but it could be easier than paying the full amount in one go. Do not offer to pay more than you can realistically afford, however you could make the problem worse if you cannot keep up with your payments. You should therefore carefully consider whether the tenancy is still affordable for you. Use the budgeting tool to help you work out how much you can afford https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/debt-and-money/budgeting/budgeting/work-out-your-budget/

If your landlord agrees to a repayment plan, it is a good idea to write the plan down and sign it. Get your landlord to sign it too, if possible, so it is clear what you have both agreed to. Your landlord does not have to enter a repayment plan if it does not want to.

If you are in rent arrears, your landlord could try to evict you. The greater the arrears and the longer they have been outstanding, the easier this will be. They might let you stay if you can agree a repayment plan.

If your landlord will not agree to a repayment plan

If your landlord will not agree a repayment plan, try to save as much money as you can and make a note of what you suggested paying. This could help you if your landlord decides to take action, by showing that you are trying to repay what you can.

 

What happens if I cannot pay my rent arrears?

Your landlord can take steps to evict you.

Your rights as a tenant are complex and depend on where in the UK you live and the type of tenancy you have.

 

  • If you are worried about being evicted, we strongly recommend you contact Shelter  https://england.shelter.org.uk

  • Or contact your local authority if you are at risk of homelessness because of eviction. Their housing department will advise you about applying for social housing or emergency accommodation.  

 

Check if you can get benefits

You might be able to claim benefits to top up your income.

 

You can use the benefits calculator https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/benefits-introduction/what-benefits-can-i-get/ to find out what you can get.

 

If you can get benefits but you have not been claiming them, you might be able to get your claim backdated. This means you will get more money to pay towards your arrears.

 

If you are already getting benefits

If you’re getting Housing Benefit or Universal Credit, check that you are getting the right amount. You can use the benefits calculator from Turn2us to work out if you are getting the correct amount https://benefits-calculator.turn2us.org.uk/AboutYou

 

If you get Universal Credit or other benefits, you can ask for part of these payments to be paid towards your rent arrears.

 

Paying arrears using your benefits means you will not have to worry about making extra payments to your landlord yourself. It also means your landlord will get all the money you owe them - though it can take a long time, as you will usually only repay small amounts.

 

Tell the DWP that you want to use your benefits to pay your arrears. You will find the number for the DWP at the top of your benefits letter.

What should I do if housing benefit delays mean I cannot pay my rent?

Your local council should process your housing benefit claim within 14 days. Contact the housing benefit department if you do not get your payment. It helps to keep a copy of your original claim, to help them locate your record. If you claimed online, you should have had an email receipt.

 

Make sure your landlord is aware and ask them to agree to a temporary payment arrangement.

 

I’m on Universal Credit and can’t pay my rent – what can I do?

Whether your Universal Credit payments have been delayed or you are struggling to make all your essential payments, you should contact the Universal Credit helpline.

 

Universal credit helpline: (free calls)

  • Telephone: 0800 328 5644

  • Textphone: 0800 328 1344

 

They can advise on:

  • Changing how they make payments to you

  • Paying you an advance

  • Paying your rent directly to the landlord.

Check if you can get other help

You might be able to get a ‘discretionary housing payment’ (DHP) if you get Housing Benefit or Universal Credit and you cannot pay your rent. A discretionary housing payment is an extra payment from your local council.

 

How do I deal with arrears for a previous property?

Find out more about which debts to pay first: https://www.stepchange.org/debt-info/dealing-with-debt-problems/what-debts-to-pay-first.aspx 

However, these arrears may be shown on your credit file and may affect your ability to take out more credit. Your credit file is checked when you apply for a tenancy, you may find that landlords will refuse to rent to you while you have unpaid rent arrears. https://www.stepchange.org/debt-info/debt-collection/how-does-debt-affect-a-credit-file.aspx 

 

Some local authorities will not allow you to apply for council housing if you have rent arrears for a council house you have previously lived at. This means you may need to clear the arrears quickly if you want to get rehoused with them.

 

If you are able to pay off the arrears, either by negotiating a payment arrangement or as part of a debt management your payments will be noted on your credit file. This shows that you are dealing with your debt problems.

Due to COVID-19 there have been changes to eviction laws

Normally, your landlord would have to give you up to two months' notice before asking a court to evict you. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, this has been extended to six months in most cases.

 

  • If you were given notice of eviction between 26 March 2020 and 28 August 2020, you now have three months to leave the property before your landlord can ask a court to evict you.

  • If you are given notice after 29 August 2020, you now have six months to leave the property before your landlord can ask a court to evict you. However, you may have to leave sooner, depending on the reason for the eviction.

  • If you live in Wales and were given notice of eviction on or after 24 July 2020, you now have at least six months to leave the property before your landlord can ask a court to evict you. However, this is reduced to at least three months if you have been served a Section 8 notice for anti-social behaviour.

  • In Scotland, the ban on evictions has provisionally been extended until March 2021.

  • Note that if you refuse to leave your home after the notice period and your landlord asks the court to evict you, you may have to pay some legal fees.

©2020 by The University of Exeter Community Law Clinic.