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Rent arrears. What to do if you can't pay your rent

If you’ve fallen behind with your rent payments and have built up arrears it’s important to act quickly. You need to treat your rent as a priority because if you don't pay the arrears it could lead to you being evicted from your home.

If you haven’t contacted your landlord about your arrears you need to do this straight away. When you contact them, try to arrange an agreement that allows you to continue making your normal monthly payment plus an extra amount towards the arrears.

If you don’t deal with your arrears, your landlord could take steps to evict you from your home.

Explain to your landlord how much you can afford to pay towards the arrears and send them a copy of your budget to show you’re paying the most you can manage.

If your landlord refuses your offer of payment to the arrears, or if they don’t reply, it’s very important you make the extra payments anyway.

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Your rights as a tenant

There are several different types of tenancy, and your rights will differ depending on your tenancy. The process to evict you will also differ.

Your tenancy type may depend on:

  • When you moved into the property
  • Whether you have a private landlord or a social landlord (a local authority or housing association)
  • Whether you rent the whole property or just a part of it

In most cases, tenants of private landlords have less legal protection, and it can be harder to stop eviction.

Working out your tenancy type and what rights you and landlord have can be complicated. If you need help with this, you should seek advice from a specialist housing advice agency.

Most landlords will give you a written tenancy agreement. Even if you don’t have a tenancy agreement, you still have rights as a tenant and in most cases your landlord can’t evict you without a court’s permission.

Specialist housing advice

Housing advice can be complex, so we recommend contacting an advice agency that specialises in this subject.

  • In England or Scotland, contact Shelter or Shelter Scotland. They have a telephone helpline (0808 800 4444) and a website packed with useful information.
  • In Wales, contact Shelter Cymru on 0345 075 5005.
  • In Northern Ireland, Shelter NI can point you to useful organisations that can help you if you're struggling with rent arrears or eviction.

Contact your local authority if you're at risk of homelessness because of eviction. Their housing department will be able to advise you about applying for social housing or emergency accommodation.

How do I deal with rent arrears from a previous property?

In most cases, rent arrears from previous properties can be treated as a non-priority debt, unless the landlord has taken court action to recover the money.

This is because you can’t be evicted from a property because of rent arrears from a previous property – even if they’re both with the same landlord. You should always prioritise your current rent payments over arrears from a previous property.

But there are some cases where you may need to treat old rent arrears as a priority debt. For example, some local authorities won’t allow you to apply for council housing if you have outstanding arrears for a previous council house. This means you may need to clear the arrears quickly if you want to get rehoused.

Need debt help?

If you need help with your rent arrears or to work out how much you can afford to pay towards them, we can help. Use our online debt advice tool which can help you put together a budget and offer practical advice on dealing with your debts.

Or, if you'd prefer, you can also call us and talk to one of our advisors (free from all landlines and mobiles).

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