Rent Arrears - Social Housing
If you have rent arrears with a social housing landlord and do not take the necessary steps to resolve the situation by negotiating a solution with your landlord, you risk losing your home and it may prove difficult to find somewhere else to live. Your local authority may not rehouse you if they conclude you have made yourself intentionally homeless (because you have not paid your rent). You might also find it difficult to obtain credit or to borrow money in the future.
Contacting your housing officer
Your housing officer will normally contact you to discuss your rent arrears and to try to help you find a solution to repay the arrears and prevent them from escalating any further. It’s very important not to ignore their letters or phone calls, but to explain why you are experiencing difficulties. The sooner you discuss the situation, the easier it will be to put a plan of action together to help you.
You should ask your housing officer if you can pay off your arrears in smaller amounts in addition to your ongoing rent. You can obtain advice from a local advice or debt agency that will be able to assist you in drawing up a budget, showing what you can afford. It is important to take into account your income, your essential expenditure and what you have left is the amount you have available for your debts. Rent is a priority debt, as you risk eviction if you do not keep up your payments.
You may be entitled to housing benefit or the housing element of universal credit. Your housing officer should explore your eligibility with you and may be able to help you make a claim. You can also check your overall benefit entitlement using the Turn2us or Gov.uk websites. Visit www.turn2us.org.uk and www.gov.uk/benefits-calculators or explore your whole debt and benefit situation at your local advice agency. You should also look at our information regarding the bedroom tax and the benefit cap as your income may be reduced significantly if the benefit cap or bedroom tax applies to you.
Housing benefit overpayment
You may have been overpaid housing benefit and sometimes the local authority may add overpaid Housing Benefit to your rent arrears. If the local authority is your landlord, they cannot treat a Housing Benefit overpayment as rent arrears and you should not be evicted from your home for a Housing Benefit overpayment.
Court action and eviction
You cannot be evicted from your home without a court order. In social housing your landlord will send you a formal letter called ‘a notice of seeking possession’. This action is usually only taken when they have not been successful in negotiating a repayment with you. The notice will give you the date which court action may start. You should not receive a claim form from the court, starting action, before this date, which is usually four weeks after receiving the ‘a notice of seeking possession’.
Your landlord should follow the rent arrears pre-action protocol (see our factsheet for further details) which sets out how your landlord should behave in dealing with rent arrears, If they don’t the court has the power to strike out or adjourn the hearing.
Evidence for the Court
Before the date of the hearing, it will be beneficial to gather all of your evidence together to support your case. The following list may be helpful:
- Proof of your financial circumstances, for example, wage slips and your bank statements
- Written confirmation you are awaiting a benefit, for example housing benefit
- Receipts of payments you have made towards the arrears
- A copy of your Financial Statement or Budget sheet
The hearing at court will be held in private and the judge will listen to both sides and examine evidence that has been presented to the court. At the end of the hearing the judge will have made a decision and make an order informing you and the landlord. A copy of the order will also be posted to you within a few days.
There are various decisions a judge can make such as:
- Dismiss the case. For example if you are not responsible for the arrears
- Make a postponed possession order
- Make a suspended possession order
- Make an outright possession order
- Make a money judgment
Postponed possession order
This is an order allowing you to remain in your home , providing you comply with certain conditions. This will usually mean paying your rent and something towards your arrears. If you don’t keep up with your payments as per the conditions set out in the order your landlord can ask the court to evict you. This means making an application to the court for a possession date and once this has been obtained they can apply for a warrant of possession.
If your circumstances change, you may be able to make an application to the court to vary the conditions set out in the order.
Suspended possession order
This is similar to a postponed possession order, as you will be able to remain in your home providing you comply with the conditions set out in the order. The difference is that if the order is breached, your landlord will apply for the warrant of possession to evict you and you will not be informed in advance.
Outright possession order
If you have been unable to convince the court that you can afford to repay your arrears and manage your ongoing rent they may order that you have to leave your home. The order will set out a date by which you must leave. If you do not leave by that date your landlord will have to obtain a warrant of possession.
Your landlord may ask the court for a money judgment as well as a possession order. This is a county court judgment (CCJ) which you will have to pay back even if you leave the property. It also means that the landlord can obtain another order, for example to deduct money from your wages.