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Things to check when you have rent arrears

This advice applies to Scotland

This information applies to Scotland

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. If you have other debts you must get advice about how to pay them back as well as paying your rent and rent arrears. If you are able to keep paying your rent you may be able to apply for a debt payment programme to pay back your arrears and any other debts.

You will need to contact your landlord as soon as possible 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:

Check through all the situations listed on this page to see whether you think any of them apply 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 - where to get advice.

For more information about contacting your landlord, paying back the arrears and what happens if your landlord takes you to court, see Further help.

Are you responsible for the arrears?

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.

There is more than one tenant in the property

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 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. When you have a joint tenancy with a cohabiting or married partner or you are in a civil partnership the arrears will be jointly and severally liable. If there has been violence or abuse from one partner and money was not paid by one to the other a court or landlord may consider that this is an understandable reason for non-payment and agree to a flexible repayment scheme if the non-violent partner wants to stay. The rights about who can stay in the property can become complex and you must seek advice if you are in a violent relationship.

You can get help from a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

There's no written tenancy agreement

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. It may be hard 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 you will probably have an assured or short assured tenancy. By law a landlord must give an assured tenant a written tenancy agreement and also a rent book if the rent is paid weekly. It is possible that if you are a short assured tenant you might not have a written tenancy agreement but if you and the landlord have behaved as if you have a tenant landlord relationship you may be able to prove that an unwritten agreement exists.

For more information about assured and short assured 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 - where to get advice.

Did you take over the tenancy from someone else?

If you’ve taken over the tenancy from someone else, you should check you’re not 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 only responsible for any rent arrears that are owed after you took over the tenancy. You aren’t responsible for rent your mother owed when she was the tenant.

Is the amount you owe right?

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 service charges or 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.

Are you entitled to benefits or tax credits

Universal Credit is a benefit that is gradually being introduced in the United Kingdom. It will eventually replace all means-tested benefits. You may already be claiming Universal Credit because of where you live and the service offered in your area for Universal Credit. 

You can get some advice about tactics on debt and rent arrears if you receive Universal Credit.

If you still receive Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance or tax credits the information below still applies.

You can get also get advice at this difficult period of change from your local Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

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 an online benefits tool on the GOV.UK website at 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 registered social landlord, 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 - where to get advice.

If you’re getting Housing Benefit

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 local authority or a registered social housing landlord such as a housing association, they should help you sort out any problems with your Housing Benefit.

For more information about Housing Benefit, see Help with your rent – Housing Benefit.

Do you qualify for Tax Credits

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.

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, you can find out whether you might be entitled to other benefits by using an online benefits tool on the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk.

Further help

If you have rent arrears you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice. Shelter Scotland provide a free housing advice helpline on 0808 800 4444. There may be a Shelter Housing Aid Centre you can visit in your area. You can find more details, and get advice on-line, at http://scotland.shelter.org.uk.

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