Warning If you're struggling, seek help

You could get up to 60 days' respite from interest, fees and court action to reduce stress and give you time to deal with your debts.

Breathing Space, Debt Respite Scheme (StepChange)

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

You can also check if you’re eligible for cost of living payments.

Rent arrears and debt can be stressful, but there is help available.

Managing your mental health

Rent arrears can lead to eviction

It’s best to talk to your landlord as soon as possible if you think you cannot pay your rent.

If you’ve ignored letters from your landlord or housing officer, you could ask someone you trust to open the letters with you.

When you miss a rent payment

There are many reasons why people find it hard to pay rent. It can happen when:

  • you lose your job or are made redundant 
  • there’s a change in your health needs, making it harder for you to work
  • someone else can no longer contribute to the rent
  • there are unexpected costs, such as your car breaking down
  • you have delays to your benefits
  • you need to take unpaid leave from work because of care or bereavement 

Not all landlords will write to you if you miss a rent payment. Contact them as soon as you can to discuss the situation and see if they can help you.

If your landlord believes you have missed a rent payment, but you disagree:

  • check your bank or benefits statements
  • get advice from a debt or benefits adviser

Help and advice when you are in debt

Local authorities and housing associations

A local authority or housing association will write to you when you miss a rent 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

A private landlord may not always contact you about your rent arrears or offer you any help. Contact them as soon as possible to seek a solution.

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.

You could use or edit a letter template to agree a repayment plan with your landlord (Shelter)

Who is liable for the rent

Check your tenancy agreement to see who is listed as a tenant. Every tenant listed on the agreement will be liable to pay the rent and any rent arrears.

Ask your landlord for a copy if you cannot find your tenancy agreement.

If you’re a joint tenant

If you have signed a tenancy agreement with other people, 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:

  • 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)

If benefits pay your rent and a joint tenant's unpaid rent has caused rent arrears, ask the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to take this into account.

Ask for your benefit to reflect all the rent due, rather than your 50% share.

For example, you could explain that the other tenant has left the property and ask for a recalculation of your housing element. You might be entitled to more money for your rent.

You can do this by posting a message in your online journal.

Universal Credit (UC) and rent arrears

For most people, Universal Credit has replaced most means-tested benefits (which are based on income and savings). This includes Housing Benefit. 

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 can leave a gap before your first payment of Universal Credit.

You will still need to pay your rent during this time. You could get an advance payment to help you cover this gap.

Advance payments

Paying your landlord directly

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

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

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

For example, your rent is £400 a month.

You missed paying rent for 2 months and owe £800.

Your Universal Credit is £1,120 per month. Your landlord asks for the housing element to pay off your rent arrears.

This means you will only get £896 each month until you pay off your arrears.

Your landlord may not know how Universal Credit works. Talk to them 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 condition 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)

Alternative payment arrangements

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

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 the money yourself.

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

Advance payments

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. Advance payments are paid to you, not your landlord.

Advance payments are deducted at 15% of your award in most cases, or 25% if you have earnings.

For example, your Universal Credit is £960 a month.

You get an advance payment of £600. You do not have other earnings.

This means your Universal Credit is reduced to £816 until you pay off the arrears.

If this causes you hardship, you can contact the Universal Credit Helpline and ask them to refer you to DWP Debt Management.

Universal Credit Helpline

Advance payments 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)

Universal Credit advances before your first payment (Shelter)

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.

Think carefully about whether you can afford to have reduced benefits in the future.

Seek advice if you are worried about getting into more debt. Debt advice is free.

Help and advice when you are in debt

Applying 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

You can apply for a hardship payment if you cannot afford your rent, heating, food or hygiene needs because you have received a sanction.

Hardship payments (Turn2us)

Housing Benefit and rent arrears

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 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).

Other benefits and rent arrears

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 from your benefits can be 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 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 (GOV.UK)

Waiting on benefits decisions

If you’re waiting on a benefits decision or there’s been a mistake or complication with your claim, you should:

Provided you're entitled, your claim will be backdated. You could ask your landlord to wait until you get the backdated payment to pay them.

Discretionary Housing Payments

Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) 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. You can apply for a DHP through your local council if you get:

  • Housing Benefit
  • or the housing element of Universal Credit 

There is no set criteria for a DHP. The council will look at your circumstances to decide whether to give you a payment. A DHP is normally only for a short period, for example 6 months. If you still need help after your payments end, you can reapply.

How to apply for DHP (GOV.UK)

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.

Make 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.

Income and Expenditure (IE) Hub is a free online budgeting tool which supports you to create and manage your household budget. It will also show if you may be eligible for additional financial support or reductions to your bills.

Make a budget (Income and Expenditure Hub)

You can share your budget with your landlord to create a payment plan.

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.

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.

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

When you speak with your landlord, housing association or council, ask for information in a format that’s accessible to you.

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

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

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.

Help and advice when you are in debt

Maximise your benefits

Make sure you are getting all the benefits you are entitled to. Use a benefits calculator to check what you can apply for. You may be entitled to more benefits if:

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

Use the Turn2us benefits calculator to find out what you can claim.

Understand your budget

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

  • priority bills, such as rent and service charges, Council Tax, gas, electricity and water bills 
  • 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, like when your car breaks down
  • things 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.

Make a budget (Income and Expenditure Hub)

Moving to cheaper accommodation

If you are often in rent 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 your home has been adapted to your needs or is near people who support you, it can be difficult to find suitable accommodation.

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.

Moving could also affect other costs, such as travel or Council Tax.

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

Eviction and your rights

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 terms of your agreement.

Understand your tenancy rights (Shelter England)

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 must provide evidence that you have failed to pay the correct rent.

Tenancy agreements (Citizens Advice)

If your landlord is trying to force you from your home, contact:

Getting an eviction letter

In an eviction letter, your landlord will give you a date (called a notice period) that they want you to move from the property. This should be:

  • 28 days from the date of the letter if you pay rent weekly
  • 1 month from the date of the letter if you pay rent monthly

When you get a letter, check that the details are correct. For example, your name and the notice period. If there are any mistakes, tell the landlord. They will need to correct and re-send the letter, which gives you more time.

It can be distressing to get an eviction letter, but it’s best to stay in the property. The landlord will need to get a court order telling you to move out. You are only entitled to emergency accommodation through your council when you’re forced from your home. If you move out before getting a court order, you might not be entitled to it.

Emergency housing from the council (Shelter)

Finding new accommodation

If you wait in the property until the court order, your council must find emergency accommodation for you. They will need to try to find somewhere that’s accessible to you. For example, if you need adaptations or have an assistance animal.

Getting more suitable accommodation and moving house

You could also contact housing associations like Habinteg, which offers accessible, adaptable and affordable homes.

Warning Mental health support

Rent arrears, eviction and managing debt can be stressful. There are things you can do if they are affecting your mental health. These can include:

  • accessing mental health support
  • talking to a mental health charity about how you are feeling
  • talking to other disabled people on our online community

Managing mental health

Housing rights and mental health (Mind)

Where to get urgent help for mental health (NHS)

Last reviewed by Scope on: 14/11/2023

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