Increasing numbers of people are worried about being able to pay the rent – research in March 2016 by Shelter, the housing charity, has found that a million people in Britain have visited their GP because of the stress and anxiety of affording the rent.
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;
- cuts to legal aid mean it is harder to arrange help for you at short notice.
Possible options for tackling rent arrears
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 and credit cards so you can pay more towards your rent.
If you have applied for housing benefit but it isn’t yet being paid, phone your council and ask if there is any other information they need. If you have provided everything and it isn’t paid within two weeks, you can ask for a payment on account.
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.
If your housing benefit doesn’t cover your full rent, you may be able to get a Discretionary Housing Payment.
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. Or even if you can only make a small token payment! 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. If you can keep the rent arrears down to under 8 weeks it may be harder for them to evict you.
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”.
If 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 gone to court and got a “suspended possession order”, you must make these payments a top priority – if you feel you can’t afford them, ask your local Citizens Advice for help.
The procedures before eviction
Your landlord has to follow set procedures before you can be evicted. The exact procedures the landlord has to follow are different depending on what 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 (renting a room in a place where your landlord lives) or in temporary accommodation, 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 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 benefit issues – perhaps your Housing Benefit has been stopped or cut, or there are problems with other benefits or tax credits: 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 think you are going to 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 letters from Housing Benefit if these delays are the cause of your problem.