If you rent a council house and have fallen into rent arrears, you probably have a lot of questions and are worried you could lose your home. It is possible to be evicted, but you can avoid this happening too. 

There is support available for people who cannot afford to pay their rent due to low income, such as Housing Benefit.

Read on as we explain more and help you to understand the details when dealing with rent arrears. And speak with a registered charity like Shelter if you need help and advice!

How to claim housing benefit

If you are living in a council home and are unemployed, on a low income or claiming state benefits like Pension Credit, you can make a claim for housing benefit. Search online for a full list of people who qualify if you need help. This covers your full rent while you cannot afford to pay what you would normally owe. 

The money you receive will cover the full cost plus any related communal costs you have to pay, such as building lift maintenance fees. It does not cover your bills and it can be reduced if you have a spare bedroom. 

Find your best debt solution

This 4 question debt calculator will tell you if you’re eligible.

What is the total amount of your debt?

Shouldn’t I apply for Universal Credit instead?

The aforementioned benefit is being phased out by Universal Credit, meaning some people should apply for this instead. What benefits you should apply for may be different based on where you live. Make sure you apply correctly by speaking with your local DWP office. 

What if you still can’t pay your rent?

If you claim housing benefit, your full rent is paid for and there should be no chance of falling into arrears. 

But some people are not eligible for these payments due to one of many possible reasons. This doesn’t mean they won’t fall into arrears because they may prioritise other bills and essentials, such as heating, council tax and food. 

If this rings true, you should get in touch with the housing association to see if financial help is available, and speak with your local authority directly to see if they can offer a solution to pay your rent gradually.

What happens if you are in rent arrears?

If you are behind on housing payments, your local authority will send a notice and ask you to pay what is owed. You should take action if they write to you or risk court action and even being evicted. If you cannot afford to pay your arrears, it is advised to talk with the authority and explain your situation. 

The same applies to people who rent private accommodation. You should speak with your landlord to explain the circumstances and ask for a reasonable way to repay and continue living at the property. Work out how much you can afford to pay before making an agreement. 

Can the council evict me for rent arrears?

If you do not pay the rent for your council house, you could lose your home. Arrears is one of the most common reasons to be evicted, along with anti-social behaviour. 

Getting a tenant out is not a quick process and there may be opportunities to not lose your home. This doesn’t mean you won’t be responsible for paying what you owe. 

How many months rent arrears before eviction?

The process to evict you can only start once you have missed eight weeks of rent. If you are normally paying monthly and miss a payment, and then miss the next month’s payment date – i.e. one month and one day – the eviction process can start as you have already missed the eighth week’s payment in advance. 

Courts typically prioritise people causing anti-social behaviour or significant arrears before others, so the timeframe of an eviction can vary.

Contact your landlord or letting agency to see if there is an alternative way to pay what you owe. Normally there is an easier solution if you are open and honest – but never guaranteed! You could always dial a charity number for additional assistance. 

The 4 Stage Process

The process is almost identical whether you live in accommodation owned by a landlord, housing association or local authority. 

  1. Notice to pay

The local authority will write to you and ask you to pay the money you owe. If you agree to pay, the process will stop. The letter will threaten court action if you do not pay by a certain date.

  1. Possession proceedings

If you have not paid what you owe in full or come to an agreement by that date, court action begins. You will be sent forms to complete by the court. A registered charity can help you fill these in and defend yourself. 

  1. Hearing

At the hearing, the judge can decide to issue either a:

  1. Suspended possession order – meaning the tenant can continue to live as per the current housing tenancy but will lose it if you do not meet certain terms.
  2. Outright possession order – meaning the tenant must leave the housing tenancy when instructed.
  1. Enforcement

If you default on a suspended possession order or are given an outright possession order, the local authority could employ bailiffs to get you out if you do not voluntarily leave. 

You will still be responsible to pay the amount of debt you owe, but you can speak with a housing association to help find new accommodation. 

How far back can rent arrears be claimed?

A registered landlord or local authority can chase you for unpaid rent as far back as six years. 

Can I be rehoused with rent arrears?

It can be difficult to get rehoused if you have outstanding debts to a housing association, local authority or landlord. You may need to talk with them and agree to pay what you owe before being considered for rehousing. 

Need additional guidance?

If you need additional assistance dealing with these types of debts and potential eviction, it is best to speak with specialists who provide free advice, like Shelter. Other charities can provide advice, such as Step Change, National Debtline and Citizens Advice. Only call a registered charity number.

And we answer more common questions right here at MoneyNerd!

About the author

Scott Nelson

Scott Nelson is a financial services expert, with over 10 years’ experience in the industry, including 6 years in FCA regulated companies. Read more
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