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Things to check when you have rent arrears
Getting into rent arrears can be distressing. But don't ignore the situation. If you don't take action to deal with the arrears quickly, you could end up losing your home.
You will need to contact your landlord as soon as possible and try and make arrangements to pay back what you owe.
However, before you do this, you should check that you owe all the money your landlord says you do.
You might not be responsible for all the arrears if:
- you're not the tenant or someone else you live with owes the money
- your landlord has not recorded all your rent payments correctly
- you took over the tenancy from someone else and your landlord is trying to charge you for rent from before you took over the tenancy
- you're not getting all the Housing Benefit you should be.
Check through all the situations listed on this page to see whether you think any of them applies to you. If you think they do, you might need to get help before you contact your landlord to arrange to pay back the arrears.
You can get help with your rent arrears from a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those which can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
For more information about contacting your landlord, paying back the arrears and what happens if your landlord takes you to court, see Further help.
You should check that you're the only person responsible for paying back the arrears.
You're the only person on the tenancy agreement
If there's a written tenancy agreement which has your name on it, you will be responsible for both the rent and any arrears which have built up.
If you’re the only person named on the tenancy agreement, you’re called a sole tenant. As a sole tenant, you will be the only person responsible for the arrears.
If other people live with you but aren't named on the tenancy agreement, they will probably be your subtenants. This still means you're responsible for paying all the rent and getting the money from your subtenants. If your subtenants aren't paying you what they owe, you can tell them to leave. If you're in this situation, you may need to get advice.
If you live with other people, you should check to see what kind of tenancy you all have.
If you are up-to-date with your rent payments but someone else is not, you may still have to cover their payments. This will depend on whether you are all on one tenancy agreement or whether there are separate agreements between each of you and the landlord.
If you are all on the same tenancy or licence agreement, you are called joint tenants. Each of you will be responsible for the whole of the arrears. This is known as joint and several liability. It means that if one of the other people on the tenancy agreement isn't paying their share of the rent or leaves owing money, you will be expected to cover it.
You may be able to take legal action against the other person to get back the money they owe. If you're in this situation, you should get advice about this.
If you all have separate tenancy agreements, the landlord can't force you to pay arrears owed by any of the other people. If your landlord is trying to get you to pay rent owed by someone else who is on a separate agreement, you should get advice.
You may not be able to check whose name is on the tenancy agreement because there has never been a written agreement. However, if you agreed to pay a landlord rent, this usually counts as a tenancy agreement and you will have to pay back any rent you owe. But it may be harder to prove what you’ve agreed to pay the landlord and how much you owe them. It may also be harder to prove if someone else who lives in the same property as you owes the money and not you.
If you are renting from a private landlord and have a weekly tenancy, your landlord must provide a rent book or similar document. Your landlord is committing a criminal offence if they fail to do this. However, if you rent from a private landlord and have any other type of tenancy such as fixed-term or monthly, you don’t have the right to a rent book.
In England and Wales if, you have an assured shorthold tenancy which was created on or after 28 February 1997, you can ask your landlord to give you the basic terms of the agreement in writing. If you ask for this in writing, your landlord to must do what you ask within 28 days.
For more information about assured shorthold tenancies and other types of private tenancies, see Renting from a private landlord.
If there’s never been a written tenancy agreement between you and your landlord and you’re not sure how much rent you owe them, you should get help from an experienced housing adviser. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to help or put you in touch with someone who can. To get details of your nearest CAB, including those who can give email advice, click on nearest CAB.
If you’ve taken over the tenancy from someone else, you should check if you’re being charged for any rent owed from before you took over.
Taking over a tenancy from someone else is called succession. An example of succession is where you’ve always lived with your mother in a council flat and she was the only person named on the tenancy agreement. When she died, you took over the tenancy from her. In a situation like this, you are generally only responsible for any rent arrears that are owed after you took over the tenancy. However, special rules apply if a suspended possession order was in place when the tenant died. In these circumstances, you have to keep to the terms of that order.
For more information about possession orders, see You are taken to court for rent arrears.
If you're being charged for any rent arrears from before when you took over the tenancy, you should get help from an experienced housing adviser. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to help or put you in touch with someone who can. To get details of your nearest CAB, including those who can give email advice, click on nearest CAB.
Check that the amount the landlord says you owe agrees with your own records. Look at your bank statements, receipts, rent book or rent card. Check that all the rent payments you’ve made have been recorded and the amounts have been added up correctly.
Ask your landlord for a statement of your rent account if:
- you haven’t kept a record of your rent payments, or
- you haven’t got a rent book or rent card, or
- your rent book or rent card is unclear.
Check what’s included in the rent you’re paying. Your landlord is allowed to include things like water or service charges heating and lighting in the rent. If the rent you owe includes charges like these, you will have to pay them.
However, there are rules about how much a landlord can charge you for gas and electricity.
For more information about these, see Common problems with renting.
If you’re not getting Housing Benefit
If you’re not getting Housing Benefit, you should look into whether you can make a claim.
Housing Benefit is a benefit which helps you pay your rent if you’re on a low income. You may be able to get Housing Benefit if you’re getting certain benefits such as Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Pension Credit.
You may also be able to get Housing Benefit if you are working, either part-time or full-time, but on a low income.
You can find out whether you might be entitled to Housing Benefit and other benefits, by using the online Benefits Adviser tool on the GOV.UK website. Go to: www.gov.uk.
If you’re not claiming a benefit which you’re entitled to, you may be able to get backdated payments which could help with your rent arrears.
If you’re renting from a private landlord or a housing association, the local authority could give you some Housing Benefit to keep you going whilst they work out exactly how much you can get. This is called an interim payment or sometimes, payment on account.
For more information about Housing Benefit, see Help with your rent – Housing Benefit.
If you want to find out more about interim payments of Housing benefit, you should get expert advice. You can get advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau. To get details of your nearest CAB, including those who can give email advice, click on nearest CAB.
If you’re getting Housing Benefit, check that the amount you’re getting is right. If you don’t think it is, contact your Housing Benefit Office.
You should also contact the Housing Benefit Office if there’s been a delay in getting your Housing Benefit and this has caused the rent arrears.
If you’re the tenant of a social housing landlord such as a local authority or housing association, they should help you sort out any problems with your Housing Benefit.
For more information about this, see You are taken to court for rent arrears.
For more information about Housing Benefit, see Help with your rent – Housing Benefit.
Even if you’re not entitled to Housing Benefit, there may be other financial help you can get which you can put towards paying your rent.
For example, you may be able to get Working Tax Credit if you work or Child Tax Credit if you have children. There may be a grant you can apply for.
For more information about Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, see Benefits and tax credits for people in work.
For more information about other ways to increase your household income, see Budgeting.