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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 More information.

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 Types of private tenancies.

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.

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 Problems with renting and energy bills.

Are you entitled to benefits

You might be able to claim benefits to top up your income. You might be able to get help to pay your rent, either from Universal Credit or Housing Benefit.

You can use a 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 or Universal Credit, check you’re getting the right amount. You can use a benefits calculator to check.

If you don’t think you're getting the right amount, you should contact the Department for Work and Pensions about Universal Credit or your council about Housing Benefit.

If you get Universal Credit or other benefits such as Jobseeker's Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance, you can ask for part of these payments to be paid towards your rent arrears.

Paying arrears from your benefits means you won't have to make extra payments to your landlord yourself. It also means that your landlord will get the money that you owe them - although it can take a long time, as you'll usually only repay small amounts.

Tell the DWP that you want to use your benefits to pay your arrears. You could phone the DWP on the phone number at the top of letters about your benefit. If you get UC, you can use your journal to ask your work coach or you can phone the UC helpline. 

Universal Credit helpline
Telephone: 0800 328 5644
Textphone: 0800 328 1344
Telephone (Welsh language): 0800 012 1888
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

Calls to these numbers are free. It’s best to call from the phone number you gave the DWP when you set up your Universal Credit account. You'll have a shorter wait and be put through to the same person who handled previous calls you've made.

Read more about getting help with rent arrears if you're on UC.

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

Check if you can get other help

You might be able to get a ‘discretionary housing payment’ (DHP) if you get Housing Benefit or Universal Credit 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.

Where to get advice

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. Shelter may also have local services in your area. You can find more details, and get advice on-line from the Shelter website.

More information

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