Increasing numbers of people are worried about being able to pay the rent.
Citizens Advice has found that rent arrears across the country have gone up by more than £300million since the start of the pandemic. And by the end of 2021, all the extra protections brought in to help renters who had Covid-problems had ended.
Rent arrears are priority debts because if you don’t do anything about them, you are very likely to be evicted.
If you have rent arrears now, or you are worried that soon you won’t be able to pay the rent, you need to get good advice as soon as possible on your options. Doing this sooner rather later helps because:
- you may have more options than you think;
- some options will take time to work;
- your landlord may not be following the right procedures.
Possible options for tackling rent arrears
Token payments to consumer debts
If you have other debts, then paying the rent has to come first. You may have to make token £1 a month payments to loans, catalogus, cards and Buy Now Pay Later debts. If you have an overdraft, ask the bank to stop charges
Rent is a priority debt – all your consumer credit lenders will accept that it has to be paid first and they should freeze interest on your debts so they don’t carry on increasing.
If you have applied for Universal Credit (UC) but it isn’t yet being paid, you can ask for an advance payment.
With rent arrears you can also ask for the housing part of your UC to be paid directly to your landlord.
If your housing benefit has been stopped because of problems with some other benefit, don’t assume the other problems have to be fixed first. You may be able to get your housing benefit restarted straight away – phone up and find out.
Your local Citizens Advice can advise whether there is other help you can get:
- when your UC payment for housing costs or housing benefit doesn’t cover your full rent, you may be able to get a Discretionary Housing Payment from your local council;
- in winter 2021-22, councils have extra money to help people with food and heating costs – this may allow you to increase what you pay to the rent.
Pay as much rent as you can
It is almost always a good idea to pay as much rent as you can, even if you can’t pay the full amount. Landlords usually don’t want to evict tenants. By paying some money even if you can’t afford the full rent, you are showing that you are doing your best.
Keep the rent arrears down to under 8 weeks may make it harder for you to be evicted.
If you think it’s better not to pay anything because you are sure you will be evicted anyway, talk this through with a housing advisor first and see what they say. Even if you have children, you can’t assume the council will rehouse you – if you are evicted for rent arrears the council may decide you made yourself “intentionally homeless”.
When your situation improves and you can now pay the full rent again, you need to come to an arrangement with your landlord about paying your rent arrears. If you need help to talk to your landlord about this, go to your local Citizens Advice.
If your landlord has already gone to court and got a “suspended possession order”, you must make these payments a top priority, Iff you feel you can’t afford them, ask your local Citizens Advice for help.
The procedures before eviction
A landlord has to follow set procedures before you can be evicted. The exact procedures depend on the type of tenancy you have and, sometimes, how old your tenancy is. There may be three stages:
- a notice in the correct format (this depends on what type of tenancy you have) saying you should leave;
- going to court to ask for “possession”;
- going back to court to ask for you to be evicted.
If you are a lodger who rents renting a room in a place where your landlord lives, your landlord doesn’t have to go to court but still has to give you “reasonable notice” to leave.
It can be complicated for you to tell exactly what your landlord has to do, which is why talking to a housing adviser as soon as your landlord asks you to leave can really help. A mistake on a notice or a court form may mean that court proceedings can be challenged.
Where to get help
If you are at the early stages of worrying about paying the rent and you have other debts, any of the good places for debt advice will be able to help. For example National Debtline on 0808 808 4000. By tackling your other debts, you may never get a serious rent problem!
If the main reason you are having problems with your rent is because of benefits issues, go to your local Citizens Advice – find it here.
The Shelter Helpline 0808 800 4444 is one of the best places for housing advice in general (eg for problems with your landlord apart from rent arrears) and for answering your questions about court repossession action and evictions. They are also experts on housing benefit.
If you aren’t sure whether you have a bigger debt, benefit or housing problem, just pick one of these organisations, don’t delay!
It’s not too late!
If you have a court hearing or you are going to be evicted in the next few days – or even tomorrow – it is still worth calling the Shelter helpline! It is open at weekends and from 8 o’clock in the morning.
You should always attend any court hearing, even if you expect you will lose. It may be possible to ask for extra time or there may be a problem with the landlord’s procedures.
There is often a solicitor or an adviser you can see at the court before the hearing, so try to be at the court early and ask at the court desk if there is any help. Don’t forget to take any relevant papers, for example any benefit letters if these delays are the cause of your problem.