Dealing with rent arrears

This advice applies to Wales. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland

If you're behind on your rent you’ll be in ‘arrears’. This is a kind of debt when you owe rent to your landlord. Your landlord could be a private landlord, a housing association or your council. You’ll be in arrears as soon as you’ve missed a payment.

You should deal with arrears as fast as you can. You’ll probably be evicted if you don't pay. Even if you can't pay all the money, paying back some money over time might stop you from being evicted.

Get breathing space if you need more time

If you need more time to work out how to deal with your arrears, the government-backed breathing space scheme could help. You can get breathing space at any point.

If you’re eligible, you could get 60 days of breathing space where your landlord can’t:

  • contact you about arrears

  • make you pay arrears

  • add interest and charges to your arrears

You’ll still have to pay your rent as normal. If you get into further arrears after you start your breathing space, your landlord can still contact you about those. You’ll usually only be able to get breathing space once every 12 months.

To get breathing space you’ll need to talk to a debt adviser.

Check if you’re responsible for paying

You might not be responsible for paying all the rent arrears if:

  • you live with someone else

  • you took over someone else's rental agreement

Check what you owe before you pay your landlord any money.

If you live with someone else

If you signed a rental agreement with someone else when you moved in you'll have a ‘joint occupation contract' or a 'joint licence agreement'. For example, this could be with your partner or flatmates. You’ll be responsible for paying all the arrears together. If someone you live with doesn’t pay their arrears, you and anyone else on the agreement will probably have to pay for them.

If you don't have a joint rental agreement, everyone you live with will have signed separate rental agreements. You'll only need to pay the rent you agreed to. Your rent payments should be in your own rental agreement. This means you won’t be responsible for paying anyone else’s arrears.

Check what kind of rental agreement you have if you live with other people.

If you took over someone else’s rental agreement

You’re only responsible for paying rent from the date your rental agreement started. You don’t usually need to pay arrears owed by the person who was renting before you.

If your landlord asks you to pay a previous person’s arrears, remind your landlord when you moved in. Explain the arrears aren't yours. You can show them your rental agreement to prove when you should pay rent from.

If your landlord still wants you to pay the previous person’s arrears, talk to an adviser.

Check how much you owe

Check your bank statements and any other written records of your rent payments. For example you may have receipts or a rent book.

If you don't have a clear record of all your rent payments, ask your landlord for a statement of how much rent you’ve paid.

Add up what you have paid and see what you still need to pay. Make sure the amount your landlord says you owe is right - if it isn't, tell your landlord.

If your benefits are paid to your landlord

Find out how much your landlord has been paid. 

Check any letters you have with details of your benefits payments.

If you get Housing Benefit, ask your council - find your local council on GOV.UK. If you get Universal Credit, contact the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) - find the number for the DWP at the top of your benefits letter.

Check what you can afford to pay back

First check if you can get extra help with your income, for example check if you can claim benefits. Then look at your household budget.

Even if you don't have enough to pay all the arrears, check if you can pay some of the money each month.

Check what benefits you can get

Lots of people miss out on benefits they’re entitled to - so it’s worth checking what you can get. Claiming benefits might also help you get other financial help like cost of living payments. Check what benefits you can get.

If you’re already getting Housing Benefit or Universal Credit, check you’re getting the right amount. You can use the benefits calculator on the Turn2us website.

Check if you can get help with your energy costs

If you’re struggling to pay your energy costs, you might be able to get help - for example a fuel voucher or a grant from your energy supplier.

Check if you can get help to pay your energy bills.

Work out your budget

Working out your budget can help you understand:

  • what money you've got coming in and going out

  • where you might be able to cut costs

You can work out your budget using a budgeting tool.

You can show your budget  to your landlord so they can see how much you can afford to pay back each month.

Paying back your rent arrears

It’s important to keep paying your rent so you don’t get into more debt.

Speak to your landlord as soon as you can. Explain why you've got behind with your rent.

If you can pay off the arrears in one payment, pay as soon as you can. Make sure you get a receipt from your landlord in writing.

If you need more time to pay, you could:

  • make a repayment plan with your landlord

  • pay your arrears directly from your benefits

  • ask for a discretionary housing payment

  • ask for help from a homelessness prevention fund

Making a repayment plan

A repayment plan is when you pay your landlord extra money on top of each rent payment. The extra money goes to pay off your arrears over time.

Don’t offer to pay more than you can afford. If you can’t keep up with your payments you'll probably be evicted. 

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

Talk to an adviser if you need help making a repayment plan.

Your landlord doesn’t have to agree to a repayment plan. If they don’t agree they may try to evict you. It’s a good idea to pay as much of your arrears as you can - this could help you in court if your landlord tries to evict you.

Paying arrears from your benefits

You might be able to pay your arrears out of your benefit payments. This might help you negotiate with your landlord - they can be confident they will get all their money.

You can ask for arrears to be paid from your benefits if you get Housing Benefit or the housing costs part of Universal Credit. You usually need to owe at least 8 weeks rent to qualify.

Tell the DWP that you want to use your benefits to pay your arrears. You’ll find the number for the DWP at the top of your benefits letter. They will take an amount out of each benefits payment and send it to your landlord, then pay you the rest as normal.

The money paid to your landlord can come out of the following benefits:

  • Universal Credit

  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)

  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

  • Income Support

  • Pension Credit

If you get Universal Credit, between 10% and 20% of your payment will be given to your landlord.

If you get benefits other than Universal Credit, 5% of those payments will go to your landlord. No more than £4.55 should be taken each week - you can check how much can be deducted from your benefit payments on GOV.UK.

Talk to an adviser if you need help using your benefits to pay arrears.

Ask for a discretionary housing payment

If you get Housing Benefit or Universal Credit, you might be able to get a discretionary housing payment (DHP). A DHP is extra money from your local council to help pay your rent - you don’t need to pay it back. 

To get a DHP you need to be getting Housing Benefit or the housing costs part of Universal Credit. The amount of Housing Benefit or housing part of Universal Credit you currently get has to be less than your rent.

You can ask your local council for a DHP claim form - find your local council on GOV.UK. Keep a copy of your completed form for your records. Talk to an adviser if you need help filling in a DHP claim form.

Your council doesn’t have to give you a DHP - it depends on your circumstances.

Get help from a homelessness prevention fund

Your local council might have a fund to help stop people from becoming homeless. This can include helping people with rent arrears - you don’t have to be at immediate risk of eviction.

Ask your council if they can help to pay some of your arrears. You’ll need to ask your council for an application form. Find your local council on GOV.UK. Talk to an adviser if you need help with the application form.

Get help if you can’t afford to pay back your rent arrears

You might be able to get extra money from a charity to help. Some of these charitable grants are open to everyone. Others might be available based on your situation, for example:

  • if you have a disability or health condition

  • your age

  • your previous or current job

You can check what help you can get from local and national charities on the Turn2us website. You’ll need to know your postcode.

You might be able to get other help to pay the arrears. This will depend on your circumstances, so you should talk to an adviser.

If you’ve got a spare room

You could get a lodger to help with costs. A lodger is someone who pays you rent to live in a spare room in your home. You can also ask them to help out with bills.

Getting a lodger could affect your benefits - it’s important to check if you’ll be better off or not. You might need to get permission from your landlord.

Check if you would be better off taking in a lodger.

If you live in a council or housing association home, your benefits will be reduced for having a spare room - this is known as the ‘bedroom tax’. You can ask to be moved to a house with fewer bedrooms to save money on your rent. Check if you can move to a home with fewer bedrooms.

If your landlord tries to evict you

Try to pay as much of the arrears as you can afford - this might help you if you go to court. The more you owe the more likely the court is to evict you. 

Your landlord might try to evict you even if you pay back all the money you owe.

If you have an occupation contract, you can get help if your landlord tries to evict you for rent arrears.

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