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What Are Rent Arrears?

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If you have fallen behind on paying rent to your landlord, you will be in ‘rent arrears’. Keeping your rent payments up to date is important because you could lose your home if you don’t pay what you owe. You should treat rent payments as a ‘priority’ debt. But what are rent arrears and what should you do if you find yourself in this situation? Let’s break it down.

Check what you owe

Your tenancy agreement will set out how much rent is due each week or month, and when you need to pay it.

If your landlord says you are in rent arrears, check their figures match your own records.

Most tenants pay their rent using direct debit – so look at your bank statements to check payments have gone through. If you pay your rent in cash, make sure you get a receipt from your landlord for each payment.

Talk to your landlord

If you are behind on your rent or think you may fall into arrears soon, part of being a good tenant is being open and honest when things get difficult, so talk to your landlord as soon as possible. Explain why you’re behind with your rent, they may be able to set up an affordable repayment plan or offered reduced rent payments for a period of time.

If you find yourself in rent arrears, don’t ignore calls or letters from your landlord about the situation. Being upfront about the situation is a much better option.

Can I be evicted for rent arrears?

If you don’t pay your rent arrears, your landlord can take steps to evict you from your home. However, they can’t do this straight away and they must follow the correct legal process.

If you’re a private tenant on an assured shorthold tenancy (AST), your landlord can start eviction proceedings when you are eight weeks in arrears. The first thing your landlord will need to do is issue a ‘section 8 notice’. This means they are ‘seeking possession’ of the property and will be taking you to court to evict you. 

If by the court hearing, you are less than eight weeks in arrears, the court might not evict you. So, if you can pay off some of your arrears before the court hearing, it will help your case. You might be able to defend a section 8 notice if you explain to the court what you’re doing to pay off the rent arrears.

Your landlord might also issue a ‘section 21 notice’ to evict you. This is a lot more difficult for a tenant to defend, so you are likely to lose your home. However, this type of notice makes it more difficult for the landlord to pursue you for the rent you owe.

After issuing either notice to vacate, your landlord must follow the proper legal procedure before evicting you. You should seek legal advice if you don’t want to lose your home.

Can I get help with rent payments?

If you’re struggling to pay your rent and other bills due to being on a low income, you may be able to get help from the government.

You might be entitled to help towards your rent from either Universal Credit or Housing Benefit. How much you could get depends on whether you have a private landlord or rent from the council, how old you are, who you live with and your income.

You can use the benefits calculator to get an idea about whether you might be eligible for help.

Debt advisers at Citizens Advice or Step Change can help you look at your household budget and manage your money better.

Can a landlord pursue me for rent arrears after I have moved out?

If your landlord evicts you using a section 8 notice, he or she may also ask the court to make a judgement against you for rent arrears.

This could result in you getting a County Court Judgement (CCJ). An unpaid CCJ will have a negative effect on your credit record and is likely to affect your chances of being accepted for a rented property or any type of credit in the future. So if you receive a CCJ you should aim to settle it as soon as possible.

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Last Updated: March 28th, 2022