Rent arrears

Rent arrears

Contents

It's your responsibility to pay your rent on time, whether you pay it all yourself or whether it's paid through Housing Benefit. There are a number of things you can do to prevent the loss of your home if you get into rent arrears.

Contact your landlord

When you get into arrears, it sometimes helps to contact your landlord to explain why you're having problems paying the rent. This could be, for example, because you've lost your job or you haven't received benefit payments you're entitled to. Ask for more time to pay or to pay a reduced rent for a period, while you sort out your problems. Keep a copy of all correspondence with your landlord as you might need to refer it to later. Don't delay - contact your landlord as soon as you start having difficulties.

Check the figures

Make sure that the figure stated by your landlord as being rent arrears is correct. Check whether your landlord has recorded all your payments, including any advance payments you might have made before you moved in. If you have a rent book, you can check the figures in that, otherwise, ask the landlord for a breakdown of the figures and check them against your own records.

Get financial help

If your circumstances have recently changed, you might have become entitled to welfare benefits that would help with your financial situation. You should find out whether you might be entitled to Income Support, Pension Credit, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker's allowance or Universal Credit. If you have arrears of rent and are receiving benefits, you can ask the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to take off a fixed weekly sum from your benefit to pay to the landlord directly. This is called a third party deduction.

Come to an agreement with your landlord

Try to agree with your landlord how to pay off what you owe in a way that you can afford. They might agree to let you repay the arrears in instalments, if you keep up with paying your normal rent.

If you're a council tenant, the local authority will have a rent collection policy. Get a copy of that before you try making a repayment agreement with them.

If you can't come to an informal arrangement with your landlord, you might end up being taken to court for the rent arrears.

Your landlord wants to evict you

In England & Wales, if your landlord wants to evict you for rent arrears, they have to follow prescribed rules to do this, depending on what sort of tenancy you have. Before they apply for an eviction order from court, they must first serve you with a notice to quit or notice seeking possession. If you get such a written notice from your landlord, you should get advice as soon as possible.

In Northern Ireland, if you are renting from a private landlord and refuse to leave, they must obtain an order for possession of the property to get you evicted. To do this the landlord must issue court proceedings and serve you with a copy of the documents. You will get an opportunity to attend the court and give the judge your views on the issue. If the landlord is successful in obtaining an order for possession, they will usually also get an order for costs against you. This could be quite a lot, so you'd want to avoid that.

If you're served with court proceedings you should get legal advice, or contact Housing Advice which is a charitable organisation that may be able to provide you with representation at any court hearing.

If you still refuse to leave after they've obtained a court order, the Enforcement of Judgments Office will evict you from the premises. Again, you should be aware that if the landlord has to proceed through the EJO to evict you, you may also be liable to pay the costs of this.

Council/housing association tenants

If you're a council or housing association tenant, your landlord must follow certain steps before starting court action to evict you, such as trying to agree with you to make affordable repayments and helping you to claim Housing Benefit. In some instances, your landlord isn't allowed to start court action for eviction if you have a housing benefit claim that hasn't been sorted out.

Court orders for rent arrears

In England and Wales

Once your landlord has a court order they can enforce payment of the judgment debt in several ways, such as:

  • Third party debt orders - this order forces a person that owes you a debt to pay that debt (to a maximum of the judgment debt) to the judgment creditor instead of to you. For example, a bank can in this way be forced to pay money from your bank account to the judgment creditor (for example, your landlord) to settle as much of the judgment debt (for example, your overdue rent) as there is money available in the bank account.
  • Attachment of earnings - here your employer has to deduct a proportion of money from your pay and pay it into court.
  • Warrants and writs of control - if the judgment creditor believes that you can't pay the judgment debt, or if you neglect to pay, they can ask the court to issue in the High Court a writ of control or in the County Court a warrant of control, which authorises an enforcement officer (High Court) or bailiff (County Court) to seize and sell your goods so that the net proceeds can be used to settle or reduce the judgment debt.

In Northern Ireland

Your landlord can apply to the EJO to recover any rent arears or costs that have been ordered against you by the court. The EJO will write to and meet with you to check how much you can pay towards the arrears and/or costs after considering your income and outgoings.

If you don't cooperate with the EJO they could get a bench warrant for your arrest. You should therefore reply immediately to letters from the EJO.

The EJO have several ways of recovering monies due on a court judgment:

  • Third party debt order - this order forces a person that owes you a debt to pay that debt (to a maximum of the judgment debt) to the judgment creditor instead of to you. For example, a bank can in this way be forced to pay money from your bank account to the judgment creditor (for example, your landlord) to settle as much of the judgment debt (for example, your overdue rent) as there is money available in the bank account.
  • Attachment of earnings - here your employer has to deduct a proportion of money from your pay and pay it into court.
  • Instalment order – this is used if you are self-employed. The EJO can ask that you repay the arrears in weekly or monthly instalments based on what your income is. You must inform the EJO if there are any changes in your income. Failure to pay an instalment order can result in imprisonment.
  • An order charging land- this is used if you own or have an interest in property. The EJO may register a charge on that property for the amount of the court order.
  • Seizure order – this is to seize goods up to the value of the court order. There are certain stipulations on items the EJO cannot seize, i.e. your clothes and essential household goods.

You're evicted because of rent arrears

If you are homeless because you've been evicted for rent arrears, you can ask the council or Northern Ireland Housing Executive or other social landlord for help. They may be able to re-house you in some circumstances, for example, if you have children or are pregnant.

Contact the people below for advice about homelessness: