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Dealing with rent arrears in private tenancies

This advice applies to England

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice immediately if:

  • you’ve not paid your rent for 8 weeks or more

  • your landlord is applying to court to have you evicted

  • you’ve received court papers

  • you're expecting bailiffs

If you’ve missed a rent payment, you’re in 'arrears'. This means you owe rent to your landlord.

Talk to your landlord (or lettings agent if you rent through an agency) straight away. You should do this even if you’re waiting for a benefit payment to come through. Pay what you can and ask them for more time to pay the rent back.

Don’t ignore the situation. Your landlord can start the eviction process straight away if you miss a payment and any of the following have happened:

  • you’ve been late with rent before

  • you’re already in arrears with your rent

  • the fixed term period of your tenancy has ended - if your tenancy is an assured shorthold tenancy

In these cases, the court will normally grant your landlord a ‘possession order’ very quickly and you’ll be told to leave within 14 days.

There are different rules if your landlord is a local authority or housing association.

Rent arrears are a ‘priority debt’. This means you need to pay them before debts like credit cards.

If you have more than one debt, you should read our 'get help with debt' guide - or talk to an adviser at your nearest Citizens Advice.      

Try to reach an agreement with your landlord

Ask your landlord if you can spread the amount you owe across future rent payments. This could be easier than having to pay the whole amount at once.

Your landlord doesn’t have to agree but they may prefer to negotiate with you, rather than go through the eviction process.

You’ll probably need to commit to paying a regular amount each week or month on top of your usual rent payments. This is known as a ‘repayment plan’. 

It's important you stick to your repayment plan, so it's a good idea to work out your budget before you contact your landlord. You can use our budgeting tool to do this.

Example

You normally pay £500 a month in rent, but last month you missed your payment and now your landlord is chasing you for the money.

Instead of paying what you owe in one amount, you could contact your landlord and suggest paying them back in 5 monthly instalments of £100.

You’d add this to your regular rent payment of £500, so for the next 5 months you’d pay your landlord £600 a month.

You should write your repayment plan down. Talk to a specialist adviser at Citizens Advice if you need help doing this. You and your landlord should sign the plan so it’s clear what you’ve both agreed to.   

If your landlord won’t agree to a repayment plan - or they don't reply

You should pay what you’ve offered anyway and keep a record of each payment (with a bank statement or receipt, for example).

If your landlord won’t accept your payments, or you can't contact them (because they're overseas for example), try to put the money to one side or keep it in a bank account.

You should keep a record of how much you’ve tried to pay and when you’ve tried to pay it. This might help you later if your landlord takes you to court.

Pay your arrears out of your benefits

If you get benefits, ask your landlord if they’ll let you pay using ‘third party deductions’ - these are regular payments that come out of benefits like Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Universal Credit.

You should talk to a specialist adviser at Citizens Advice if you’re thinking about using third party deductions. It can take a long time to pay off a debt this way and your landlord might want the money sooner.   

You can read more about paying bills using your benefits on GOV.UK.

If you’re struggling to pay bills it’s a good idea to check if you can get any benefits. Use our benefits checker tool to see what you can get.

If you’re threatened with eviction

Talk to a specialist adviser at Citizens Advice if you're being evicted for not paying rent.

Don’t worry - you can’t be evicted straight away. Your landlord has to follow the eviction process, which includes giving you written 'notice to quit'.

Even if your landlord’s taking you to court, it’s not too late to try to reach an agreement with them.

You can read more information about what happens if your landlord takes you to court for rent arrears.

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