If you’re having problems with your rent arrears, also read our article What happens if you fall into rent arrears?
Hopefully everyone knows that rent is a priority. If you fall behind on payments and don’t make an arrangement to get back up to date it could ultimately mean eviction from your home.
Rent arrears is a growing problem. More than 10,000 people contacted us for help with rent arrears last year, an increase of 27% from 2010. On average, our clients in rent arrears are £760 behind on payments and £82 short of the amount needed to cover living expenses each month. The situation is worse for those in privately rented accommodation.
It looks as though the problem could be down to squeezed budgets: as the average rent has risen by 2.4%, the average budget surplus has fallen by 40%.
So if you’re behind on paying your rent what steps can you take to make sure you can afford it and get back up to date?
1. Firstly, draw up a budget
It’s important to work out exactly how much you can afford to pay. It’s never too early or too late to make an offer towards any arrears but sooner is always better.
No matter how little you can afford, send a copy of your budget and a brief explanation to your landlord and start making extra payments towards your arrears, on top of your usual rent payments. Make sure you keep copies of anything you send and keep proof of the payments you’ve made. This will help to show your willingness to pay if your landlord does take further action.
2. Remember that we call rent a ‘priority debt’ for a reason
Rent should be paid first, along with other priority bills, to make sure that you keep the roof over your head.
Often we hear from clients that have paid their unsecured debts before priorities as creditors can threaten scary action such as bailiffs. The reality is that although your landlord might not chase you as quickly, the consequence of not paying your rent is much higher than missing a credit card payment.
(What your creditor will probably not tell you is that bailiffs can only be instructed by a court and they come quite far down the debt collection process.)
3. Make sure you’re claiming your entitlements
Rent arrears can easily build up if you’re not claiming all the benefits available to you. For example, if you’re eligible for housing benefit it can reduce the amount you have to pay (and sometimes cover it completely).
Housing benefit can be paid directly to the landlord to help you with budgeting, as this can prevent you from spending the money on other things. If you receive Income Support, Pension Credits or Job Seekers Allowance, you can also have a standard amount deducted each week to pay towards rent arrears. Get in touch with us if you think you might be entitled to something as our specialist Welfare Benefits team can help you find out.
4. Check that your rent is a fair amount
If you rent from a private landlord (not housing association or council) and you think that your rent might be a little high it can be worth having a fair rent registered on the property. A rent officer from the rent service will decide on a fair rental price and it will be fixed at that rate. The landlord can’t increase the rent unless the rent officer agrees.
It’s best to check rents in the area for similar flats and houses before applying to the rent officer, as rent officers can increase as well as reduce it.
5. Make sure the arrears have been worked out properly
You can ask for a breakdown of your rent account from the landlord and make certain that all payments have been added to the account.
It’s worth checking for any overpayments of housing benefit if you live in a council house. This can sometimes be added as rent arrears on the account if your situation changes. If you’re a council house tenant, the council can’t treat housing benefit overpayments as rent arrears and they should be kept in a separate account. It’s slightly different if you rent privately as they can include an overpayment as arrears if the landlord has paid back the housing benefit on your behalf.
Ultimately, landlords have to follow a specific procedure before you can be evicted and you can’t be thrown out straight away, as long as you’re showing willingness to pay.
If you’re struggling with rent arrears or any other bills (priority or non-priority), contact us so that we can look at your situation and advise you on the solutions available.