Managing debt to pay off rent arrears

If you have missed a rent payment, the money you owe to your landlord is called 'rent arrears'. This is a type of debt. Your landlord might be the council, a housing association or a private landlord.

Warning If you're struggling, seek help

If you are choosing between paying rent arrears and your essential needs, such as food, medication or electricity, talk to a debt adviser.

Rent arrears can lead to eviction

If you think you cannot pay your rent, seek help or talk to your landlord straight away and, if you can, before you get into arrears. Do not ignore letters from your housing officer or landlord about your rent. If you are worried, ask someone you trust to open letters with you.

Practical and emotional advice when in debt

Local authorities and housing associations

If you have a social landlord, such as a local authority or housing association, they will write to you when you miss a payment. They must try to agree a reasonable plan to help you pay off your rent arrears before taking steps to evict you.

Private landlords

Contact your private landlord as soon as possible to seek a solution. They may not contact you about your arrears or offer you any help. Do not wait for them to contact you. If you miss more than 8 weeks of rent, your landlord could take legal action to evict you from your home.

Why you might fall into arrears

There are many reasons why people find it hard to pay their rent. It often happens when you face:

  • losing your job or being made redundant
  • a change in your health needs, making it harder for you to work
  • the loss of a partner who lives with you and pays some of the rent
  • unexpected costs, such as your car breaking down
  • delays to your benefits

Universal Credit (UC) and rent arrears

Universal Credit has replaced 6 main means-tested benefits (based on income and savings) for most people. This includes Housing Benefit (HB).

When you move to Universal Credit, you may have to wait up to 5 weeks for your first payment.

Your Housing Benefit will continue for 2 weeks after you claim Universal Credit. This may leave a gap before your first payment of UC. You will still need to pay your rent during this time.

You can ask for an advance payment of Universal Credit to help with essential costs. This includes your rent.

This is a loan. It will be deducted at 15% of your award in most cases or 25% if you have earnings. If this causes you hardship, you can contact the Universal Credit Helpline and ask them to refer you to DWP Debt Management.

Paying off your rent arrears

Work out how much you owe

Make sure you know exactly how much you need to pay. Check your bank statements and keep a record of:

  • how much you have paid in rent since the start of your tenancy
  • how much you paid as a deposit
  • any Housing Benefit or Universal Credit payments to your landlord

This will help you to show your record as a paying tenant.

Making a repayment plan

Talk to your landlord or housing officer as soon as possible. This gives you more time to plan for repayment before another rent payment is due.

Write down your monthly income and spending, including any other debts you owe.

Show your landlord or housing officer how much you can afford to pay each month.

Ask your landlord to let you pay your arrears over an agreed period, preferably in writing. Show your landlord how much you can afford to pay.

For example, if you owe £600, you could pay an extra £50 on top of your normal rent for 12 months.

Make sure that you can afford any extra payment each month. You should not agree to anything that could push you further into debt.

Plan your budget

Help with making a repayment plan

There are many people and organisations who can help you to plan your repayment.

Most housing associations provide support and advice to tenants to help avoid rent arrears. Talk to your association immediately if you are having trouble paying your rent.

Ask your local authority (council) Housing Options Service for support. They can help anyone facing homelessness. This can take time but can include:

  • budgeting advice
  • help to complete benefits forms
  • advocacy (for example, attending court if you are facing eviction)

Contact Citizens Advice for help with debt and making a repayment plan.

Shelter provides free, expert housing advice online and by telephone.

If you pay your rent with Housing Benefit

Housing Benefit can be paid to you or directly to your landlord. If you have made a new claim for Housing Benefit, and there has been a delay in processing your claim, you could be in rent arrears. These delays are very common.

Contact your council and find out why there is a delay. Ask them to prioritise your claim. If the council takes longer than 2 weeks to decide your claim, you should receive an automatic payment to cover your rent. This is sometimes called a payment on account or interim payment.

If you do not receive this and have waited more than 2 weeks, contact your local council (GOV.UK).

Getting payment on account (Shelter)

If you are already receiving Universal Credit

You can ask for Universal Credit to be paid to your landlord to help you pay off your rent arrears. This may be helpful if you find it hard to manage money but it can take time to set this up.

Paying your landlord directly

If you are 2 months or more behind with rent, your landlord can ask for the housing element of your Universal Credit to be paid directly to them. This means that you would receive a smaller payment each month.

The greatest reduction for rent arrears is 20% and the least is 10%. This means that your normal Universal Credit payment could be reduced by 20% until you have paid off your arrears.

Your landlord may not know how Universal Credit works. Talk to your landlord about claiming:

  • deductions to pay off your arrears
  • a Landlord Managed Payment to pay your rent in future

Your landlord will need to apply to the Universal Credit service. You will need to explain why it will help you to have your Universal Credit paid directly to your landlord.

For example, if you have a mental health issue which means you are often anxious or stressed, you may find it harder to remember to pay priority bills.

Applying for a direct payment of rent as a landlord (GOV.UK)

Applying for Landlord Managed Payments (Residential Landlords Association)

Alternative payment arrangements

You can also request alternative payment arrangements to help you manage your finances.

When you are in rent arrears, you can apply to have your Universal Credit paid weekly or every 2 weeks. If you pay rent as a couple, you can split the payment with your partner. This means that you are not managing all of the money yourself.

Universal Credit (GOV.UK)

If you have not started Universal Credit, ask for these payment arrangements at your interview.

How to change the way Universal Credit is paid (Shelter)

Advance payments and Universal Credit

If you are in rent arrears because you are waiting for Universal Credit, you can apply for an advance payment. This applies if your Universal Credit includes a housing allowance. Advance payments are loans to people who cannot meet their immediate, essential needs. Rent is an essential need.

Hardship payments are paid over a short period of time. They are not a long-term solution to managing debt. You will have to pay back the loan through a reduction in your Universal Credit.

Talk to your work coach at your Universal Credit interview (Citizens Advice)

Advance payments are paid to you. They are not paid directly to your landlord.

Warning

Advance payments come out of your benefits

In most cases, you will have a 15% deduction from your benefits until you pay off the advance payments loan.

It's a 25% deduction if you have any earnings.

It's 40% for hardship payments (if you have been sanctioned).

Think carefully about whether you can afford to have reduced benefits in the future. Get advice if you are worried about getting into more debt. Debt advice is free.

How to apply for an advance payment

Talk to your work coach or use your online Universal Credit journal to apply for an advance payment. You will need to provide evidence of your rent arrears, such as a rent statement.

Online Universal Credit journal (GOV.UK)

Hardship payments (Turn2Us)

If your accommodation is important to your health needs, say why it would be difficult to move to cheaper accommodation. Keep a copy of your application and any supporting evidence.

If you receive other benefits

If you receive other income-related benefits, you may be able to use part of these to pay off your rent arrears. These payments are called Third Party Deductions. They are available for council or private tenants. You or your landlord can apply for these if you get:

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

A small amount can be taken off each of your benefits and paid directly to your landlord, if they agree.

You need to be sure that you can afford to reduce your other benefits to pay off your rent arrears. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will only consider third party deductions if you have taken reasonable steps to agree a repayment plan with your landlord.

Contact your Jobcentre Plus to apply for third party deductions (GOV.UK)

If you are in rent arrears, your rights depend on what's in your tenancy agreement. Check your tenancy agreement to find what you agreed to pay and for how long. If you cannot find it, ask your landlord or housing association for the basic terms of your agreement.

If you have never had a tenancy agreement, use the Citizens Advice tenancy checker.

There are legal protections for tenants who are facing eviction.

Housing associations and private landlords must give you notice and apply for a court order if they want to evict you for rent arrears. They have to provide evidence that you have failed to pay the correct rent.

Tenancy agreements (Citizens Advice)

If you are a joint tenant

If you have signed up to a tenancy agreement with a partner or with friends, you are a joint tenant.

Joint tenants are all responsible for paying the rent. If a tenant cannot pay their share of the rent, your landlord can ask the other tenants to make up the shortfall. You can be in rent arrears if another tenant has not paid their share, even if you have paid your part of the rent on time.

If you are in rent arrears because another tenant has not paid their rent in full:

  • check your tenancy agreement to find out who is listed as a tenant
  • find out whether the other tenants have a plan to repay the rent arrears
  • ask the other tenants to talk to your landlord as soon as possible.
  • offer help if you can. This does not have to be financial help. The other tenant may need someone to talk to or help to find debt advice

Warning

All tenants are liable for the debt if a joint tenant does not pay their rent arrears

This means you could all face eviction.

Your responsibilities as a joint tenant (Shelter)

Managing your debt

Rent arrears can often lead to further debt, if you borrow money or reduce your benefits to pay off your arrears. Once you have managed your debt in the short term, think about how you can reduce debt in the future.

Maximise your benefits

Make sure you are getting all the benefits you are entitled to. If your situation has changed, use a benefits calculator to check what you can apply for. You may be entitled to more benefits if:

  • your health situation has changed and is making it harder to do everyday activities
  • your income has been reduced
  • you have taken on caring responsibilities

Check your entitlements with the benefits calculator

Understand your budget

A simple budget calculator can help you keep track of how much you need to keep aside each month for:

  • priority bills, such as rent, council tax, utilities
  • regular, non-priority costs, such as your mobile phone or TV licence
  • travel costs
  • variable costs, such as how much you spend on food
  • unplanned costs, such as when your car breaks down
  • things that you'd like to save for, such as birthday presents or trips

A budget will set out how much money you have coming in (your income). This might include your salary, benefits payments or other savings. You can plan ahead for when your spending is higher to make sure you have enough income to pay your priority bills.

Plan your budget

Moving to cheaper accommodation

If you are often in arrears, you may need to move somewhere with a lower rent. This might be in a different area or a home with fewer rooms. If you are disabled, it can be difficult to find suitable accommodation. You may have a home that has been adapted to your needs or that is close to people who support you.

Moving could also have an impact on other costs, such as travel or council tax.

Make sure you check all costs before you decide to move.

Getting more suitable accommodation and moving house

Discretionary Housing Payments

A Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) can provide extra help with housing costs on top of your Housing Benefit or Universal Credit. You cannot use DHP to pay off rent arrears. Once you have paid off your arrears, you can use it if your benefits do not meet the cost of your rent.

How to apply for DHP (GOV.UK)

Last reviewed by Scope on: 18/11/2019

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