Dealing with Rent Arrears

If you’re struggling with debt, having good financial knowledge can make a big difference and help you to make informed decisions. With this in mind, we wanted to create a guide all about dealing with rent arrears to emphasise the importance of not falling behind on your rent and what could happen if you do.

In this guide, we’ll cover:

This content is intended to be an impartial guide regarding rent arrears. Lowell Financial Ltd does not offer financial advice. You can find out more about the organisations you can contact in our guide on debt help and support.

What are rent arrears?

To put it simply, if you fall behind on your rent payments, the money that you owe is called ‘rent arrears’. You’ll be classed as being in arrears if you miss even one payment.

Rent arrears are a type of priority debt. This means they need to be paid off as soon as possible. If you’ve got multiple outstanding debts, you would focus on rent arrears before other non-priority debts such as credit cards, unsecured loans, and overdrafts. The reason for this is because of the serious consequences associated with not paying them, which in this case would be that you risk being evicted.

Can you move with rent arrears?

In most cases, it’s very difficult to try and move with rent arrears. This is because potential landlords will be made aware of the debt that you owe your current landlord once they do reference checks.

However, things may be different if you have a rent guarantor. In most cases, this would be a family member or friend. A guarantor is someone who agrees to be responsible for making sure payments are made. Your landlord will turn to the guarantor for the rent arrears if you don’t pay.

What happens if you don't pay rent in the UK?

As we mentioned, if you don’t pay rent, your landlord may take steps to try to have you evicted. This is called ‘seeking possession’. To do so, they’ll need to follow a certain procedure, which involves getting a court order. If they evict you without first taking you to court, this is against the law.

The exact rules around eviction for rent arrears can vary based on your particular landlord and tenancy agreement. Generally speaking, there are certain steps that need to be taken by a landlord before you can be evicted for rent arrears.

  • Serving a notice of seeking possession (NSP) – Sometimes referred to as a ‘notice to quit’, this is when your landlord gives you official notice to leave your home. A landlord is required to serve you an NSP before they can apply to the court for a possession order.
  • Applying for a court order – If you don’t leave the property by the final date specified in the NSP, your landlord can then apply for a court order. Once this happens, you’ll receive notification from the court letting you know that your landlord is taking you to court over the rent arrears.
  • Asking for a possession order – At court, your landlord can ask the judge for a possession order. This is a court instruction that includes a date by which you are required to leave the property.
  • Asking for a warrant of possession – If you still haven’t left the property by the date specified on the possession order, your landlord can then request a warrant of possession from the court. This is a legal document that allows the landlord to take possession of the rented property and have you evicted. At this stage, County Court bailiffs, also known as Enforcement Agents, also become involved. For more information on what bailiffs can and can’t do, you can read our guide on dealing with bailiffs.
  • Sending you a notice of eviction – This is a notice sent to you by the bailiffs with a date and time when they will arrive to evict you. You’ll be given at least 2 weeks’ notice of an eviction date. 

Social housing landlords (e.g., local authorities or housing associations) must also follow certain rent arrears pre-action protocol. Shelter England have an in-depth guide where you can find out more about the specific procedures.

Even if you’re taken to court, you might be allowed to continue with your tenancy if you can come to an agreement with your landlord. In most cases, you’ll have to come up with a payment plan to clear your rent arrears and not fall behind again for your landlord to agree to this. 

How to clear rent arrears

If you’re struggling with your financial situation and falling behind on rent, there is always a way out. Below we discuss some of the steps you could take to try and start clearing your rent arrears.

Get in touch with organisations for expert advice 

We understand that dealing with debt of any kind can be overwhelming, but you don’t need to face it alone. There are lots of different organisations which can help you figure out your finances.

For more information, we’ve got a whole section at the bottom of this guide going through some of the different organisations who can offer expert debt advice regarding rent arrears. 

Pull together a budget

It’s not always obvious, but the reason that you can’t afford to pay rent may be due to your finances being out of control. By using our budget calculator, you can get a simple overview of exactly where your money is going. From there, you can identify if there are any ways you can cut back on your spending.

We’ve also got another handy guide on how to start saving that includes other steps you can take to boost your finances.

Look into benefits and grants to clear rent arrears

If you’re struggling to find a way to get the money needed, you could look into benefits and grants to clear rent arrears.

There are some benefits available to support with rent arrears specifically. For example, both Universal Credit and Housing Benefit can help if you’re behind on your rent.

With Universal Credit, you can get advance and hardship payments if you can’t afford your rent. You could also apply for an Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA), with which you might be able to get your rent paid directly to your landlord or receive a Universal Credit payment twice a month instead of once. To find out more, you can read Citizens Advice’s guide on Universal Credit and rent arrears.

Housing Benefit is being replaced by Universal Credit. This means that you’ll only be able to make a new claim for Housing Benefit if you’ve reached State Pension age or are in supported, sheltered, or temporary housing. GOV UK have a guide on Housing Benefit which goes into more detail regarding eligibility, what it covers, and how to claim.

In England and Wales, there are also Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) that can help with rent or housing costs. For more information, check out GOV UK’s page on DHPs.

To find out if you’re claiming all the benefits you’re eligible for, be sure to use our benefits calculator, powered by entitled to. You can also read our guide on benefits and debt for useful information on the different types of benefits you might be able to claim.

Breathing Space can give you more time

If your circumstances have suddenly changed and you just need some time to get your finances in order, breathing space might be what you need.

Breathing Space, also known as the Debt Respite Scheme, is a government-backed scheme which provides you with temporary protection against your creditors, the people you owe money to.

You’ll still need to pay your rent as normal, but you won’t be contacted about arrears, and there won’t be any additional interest or fees charged during this time. For more information, you can read our guide on Breathing Space.

Work out exactly how much you owe

To find out exactly how much you owe, you can check directly with your landlord. If you’d rather not talk to them, you can also use previous bank statements or other records of rent payments to calculate what you’ve paid and what is left to pay.

There are also situations where you might not be liable for paying the full amount. This could include living with someone who has fallen into arrears where you don’t have a joint tenancy in place or taking over someone else’s tenancy and being asked to pay their arrears.

Get in touch with your landlord

Whilst it’s best to pay off your rent arrears before they start adding up, not everybody is in a position to do this. Reaching out when you’re struggling isn’t easy, but by doing so, you can explain your situation and might be able to come to an agreement with your landlord.

There are a few ways that this agreement might take form. For example, you could pay extra on top of your actual rent each month. Alternatively, there is the option of direct deductions, which involves taking money from your wages or the benefits you receive.

Can you get rent arrears written off?

In very particular cases, rent arrears could end up being written off. However, this is very rare.

Usually, you’ll continue to be liable for the amount owed until it is fully paid off. Sometimes, depending on your landlord, you may be able to negotiate and come to an agreement on how much you owe and the time in which you’ll pay it back. 

Can you get a CCJ for rent arrears?

Yes, it is possible to get a County Court Judgment (CCJ) for rent arrears.

For this to happen, your landlord will need to make a claim against you in the small claims court. Our CCJ guide goes through the process and how it could impact you. 

Where to find help with rent arrears

No matter your situation, there’s always a way out. Once you’re ready to take the first step and reach out, you’ll be able to get expert guidance that is based on your individual situation, whether that’s regarding your overall financial situation or rent arrears specifically.

When it comes to help with rent arrears, there are a number of trusted organisations who can advise you on your next steps. This includes:

To find out more about debt-related topics and how we work here at Lowell, we’ve got lots of other helpful guides in our Debt Guidance Hub.

If you’ve got an outstanding Lowell debt, we’re here to work with you no matter your situation. To figure out your next steps, please get in touch with our team. Or, if you prefer, you can manage your account independently through our payment portal.


First published: 24th June 2024