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Dealing with rent arrears

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

You’ll be in ‘rent arrears’ if you fall behind with your rent payments to your private landlord or letting agent.

Although dealing with rent arrears can be tough, you should take action as quickly as possible. If you ignore your arrears, the problem will only get worse.

If you have other debts on top of rent arrears, it’s important that you repay them in the right order. You can call the Debt Adviceline on 0800 028 1881 to get expert help with repaying your debts.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if your landlord's trying to evict you for not paying rent.

Check who has to pay the rent arrears

You might not be responsible for paying back all of the rent arrears. It’s important to check before you pay your landlord any money.

If you live with someone else

If you signed a tenancy agreement with someone else when you moved in, you’ll have a ‘joint tenancy’. This could be, for example, your partner or flatmates. Together you’ll be responsible for paying all of the arrears. If one tenant doesn’t pay their arrears, you’ll have to pay for them.

If you live with other people but you all signed separate tenancy agreements, you’ll only need to pay the rent you agreed. Your rent payments will be written in your own tenancy agreement. This means you won’t be responsible for paying anyone else’s arrears.

Find out what kind of tenancy you have if you’re not sure.

If you took over someone else’s tenancy

You’re only responsible for paying rent from the date your tenancy started. You don’t need to pay arrears owed by the tenant before you.

If you took over someone else's tenancy - known as 'assignment' or 'succession' - you might be responsible for the previous tenant's rent arrears in some cases.

If your landlord asks you to pay someone else’s arrears and you don't think you're responsible, remind your landlord when you moved in. Explain the arrears aren't yours. It’s a good idea to have your tenancy agreement or statement of terms handy, so you can prove when your tenancy started.

Get help from your nearest Citizens Advice if you took over a tenancy from someone else.

If you don’t have a tenancy agreement

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if there's never been a written tenancy agreement.

Check you owe the right amount

Make sure the amount your landlord says you owe matches your own records.

Have a look at your:

  • bank statements
  • receipts (if you pay your rent in cash)
  • rent book or rent card (if you have one)

Your landlord must give you a rent book or other record of your rent payments if you have a weekly tenancy.

Check you’ve kept a record of all your rent payments, and that they add up correctly.

You should ask your landlord for a statement of how much rent you’ve paid if you:

  • haven’t kept a note of your rent payments
  • think your rent book or rent card isn’t clear
  • can’t find your rent book or rent card
Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you think you’ve overpaid your rent or benefits.

Agree a way to repay your arrears

Speak to your landlord and tell them your situation.

It might help to tell your landlord why you fell behind with your rent, for example if you were unemployed for a while.

See if you can agree to a repayment plan to pay off your rent arrears.

A repayment plan means you'll make smaller payments to your landlord over a longer period of time. You’ll still have to pay everything back - but it could be easier than paying the full amount in one go.

Don’t offer to pay more than you can realistically afford. You could make the problem worse if you can’t keep up with your payments.

You can work out how much you can afford using our budgeting tool.

You usually pay £600 a month in rent. Last month you missed your payment - and now your landlord is calling and emailing you for the money.

Instead of paying £600 back all at once, you could contact your landlord and ask them if you can pay them back in 6 monthly payments of £100.

You’d add this to your usual monthly rent of £600, so over the next 6 months you’d pay your landlord £700 a month. As long as you keep up with your repayments, you’ll be out of rent arrears after the 6th month.

If your landlord agrees to a repayment plan, it’s a good idea to write the plan down and sign it. Get your landlord to sign it too if possible, so it’s clear what you’ve both agreed to.

If you’re in rent arrears, your landlord could try to evict you. They might let you stay if you can agree a repayment plan.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you need help making a repayment plan.

If your landlord won’t agree to a repayment plan

If your landlord won’t accept smaller payments, save the money and make a note of how much you suggested paying. This could help you if your landlord decides to take action, by showing that you're trying to repay what you can.

Check if you can get benefits

You might be able to claim benefits to top up your income.

You can use our benefits calculator to find out what you can get.

If you can get benefits but you haven’t been claiming them, you might be able to get your claim backdated. This means you’ll get more money to pay towards your arrears.

If you’re already getting benefits

If you’re getting Housing Benefit, check that you’re getting the right amount. 

You might be able to use your Housing Benefit payments to help lower your rent arrears. You must have been in arrears for 8 weeks or more.

Paying arrears using your benefits means you won’t have to worry about making extra payments to your landlord yourself. It also means your landlord will get all the money you owe them - though it can take a long time, as you’ll usually only repay small amounts.

Tell the Social Security Agency that you want to use your benefits to pay your arrears. You’ll find the number for the Social Security Agency at the top of your benefits letter.

Your Housing Benefit must be paid directly to your landlord if you’re also getting any of these benefits:

  • Income Support
  • Pension Credit
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you need help using your benefits to pay arrears.

Check if you can get other help

You might be able to get a ‘discretionary housing payment’ (DHP) if you get Housing Benefit and you can’t pay your rent. A discretionary housing payment is an extra payment from your local council.

Read more information about getting help with renting costs.

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