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If you need advice when it comes to rent arrears, our guide can help you understand where you stand and your potential next steps.

What to do if you have rent arrears

  • First understand your budget and work out how much you can afford to pay back to your landlord

You can do this by using our budget guidance

  • Contact your landlord and tell them you’d like to set up a new payment arrangement

Send your landlord a copy of your budget to show you’re offering to pay the most you can manage

  • Are there any ways of receiving financial support?

While it isn’t always straightforward to receive financial support if you have rent arrears, you can contact your local council to see if they can provide support through the Tenant Grant Fund, which offers a one-off payment to help people following the coronavirus pandemic

The Turn2Us tool will also help you find other charities that could help, depending on your situation

If you’re struggling with debt repayments, you might be able to benefit from Breathing Space to give you space and time to work out how to deal with them. We can help you with this.

Understanding your tenancy agreement

When moving into a privately rented property, you have a number of rights and responsibilities, just like your landlord.

Your tenancy agreement gives you the right to live in a property as long as you pay rent and follow the rules. It also sets out the legal terms and conditions of your tenancy. It can be written down or a spoken agreement.

If you want to find out more about your tenancy agreement, you can contact your estate agent either by calling them directly, visiting their shop or sending them an email.

Understanding your rights as a tenant

Your tenancy agreement often defines these rights and responsibilities, so this should be your first port of call if you’re unsure.

  • You’re entitled to a property that’s safe and in a good state of repair
  • You’re protected from unfair rent and unfair eviction
  • You will have the right to live in the property undisturbed
  • At the end of your tenancy, you will receive your deposit given you meet the terms of your agreement
  • If you started your tenancy after 2007 and have an assured shorthold tenancy agreement, your deposit should also be protected by the landlord for the duration of the tenancy
  • You’ll be able to challenge any charges you interpret to be excessively high. You can do this by contacting your estate agent, who will contact the landlord on your behalf

Using a guarantor

A guarantor agrees to pay your rent if you don’t pay it. They will sign an agreement which confirms their responsibilities and when they must pay. Some landlords and agents ask for a guarantor before they’ll offer you a tenancy.

There is a legal requirement for a guarantor agreement to be in writing. The agreement sets out the guarantor’s legal obligations.

How to apply for Housing Benefit

Housing Benefit is money used to help towards paying rent and is usually now paid directly into a rent account for Local Authority tenants and a bank account for private or housing association tenants.

It’s means-tested, which means household income and savings are taken into account, and based on:

  • How much your rent is
  • Whether you live with another adult
  • If you have any savings
  • The number of rooms in your property

If you’re under pension age, you’d need to claim the Housing Element of Universal Credit. Help will only be available if you’re on a low income, are on benefits or if you’re unemployed.

If you’re over pension age and are on Pension Credit, you can apply to the Pension Service to claim Housing Benefit.

If you’re not receiving any other benefits, apply to your local authority for Housing Benefit.

Help with rent when on Universal Credit

Help is available if you and/or your partner are having to pay rent for your home.

This help is paid as part of the Universal Credit payment and will need to be paid to the landlord by you and/or your partner.

If you have rent-free weeks, these will be taken into account when calculating how much Housing Benefit you need within your Universal Credit.

Help with rent payments will also be restricted to the maximum Local Housing Allowance.

Eligible rent

For council and social housing rent

  • Eligible rent (actual rent + any service charges)
  • Whether you have a spare bedroom
  • Household income inc. benefits, pensions, savings
  • Age of people in the house or if anyone is disabled

For private rent

  • It’s the lower of your Local Housing Allowance (LHA) or actual rent

Further support

Help if you’re renting from a private landlord

Help if you’re renting from the Local Authority or a Housing Association

Help if you live in a property that you own

Check if you’re entitled to a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP)

These payments are designed to provide financial support to help with rent or housing costs.

If you currently receive a Housing Benefit or the housing element of Universal Credit, you can apply for a DHP.

To apply for this, ask your local council to look at your circumstances to assess whether you’re eligible. Then, find out how much they’ll provide and how long you’ll receive the DHP for.

What happens when you’re in arrears on your rent?

Section 8 Notice

Your landlord will serve you with a Section 8 Notice. You’ll get this if you’ve broken the terms of your tenancy agreement by either being at least two months in arrears with your rent, if you’ve caused a public nuisance to neighbours or if you’ve caused damage to the landlord’s property.

It’s only valid if your tenancy is an Assured or an Assured Shorthold Tenancy. Refer to your tenancy agreement to check which one yours is.

A Section 8 Notice will explain the grounds on which the landlord wants you out of the property, and it will state a date that your landlord expects you to leave the property by. If you don’t leave by that date, they’ll need to take you to Court for a Possession Order.

You’ll get a copy of the Possession Order and a form that allows you to challenge the eviction if you’ve paid the arrears off or if you feel that there’s a good reason why you shouldn’t be evicted.

You should always make the effort to attend the court hearing – this is your chance to tell the Judge your situation. There will be a Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme advisor at the Court who could help you to explain things on the day.

If you’re struggling with rent arrears, start by working out your budget and checking how much you can afford to pay back using a budget calculator. This is also something we can help you with.

If you can make an offer of payment towards the arrears on top of meeting your monthly rent payment, the Judge may agree to suspend the Possession Order, allowing you to stay in the property, providing you stick to the court agreement.

If you can’t afford to pay anything towards the arrears and are struggling to meet normal household living costs, then it’s possible the Judge will grant the Possession Order and you would usually be given 14 days to leave the property.

It’s worth noting that if you leave before the 14 days, your Local Authority may consider you to have made yourself intentionally homeless and it wouldn’t necessarily be a priority for them to help you with finding alternative accommodation.

If you receive a Section 21 Notice from your landlord

Section 21 Notice

This is usually issued when the landlord wants the property back to sell or move into themselves.

Must give the tenant a minimum of two months’ notice to vacate the property.

Doesn’t need to state the reason why they want the tenant out.

Used either when a fixed term tenancy comes to an end or during a tenancy that doesn’t have a fixed end date, such as a rolling tenancy.

Usually there won’t be a court hearing for a Section 21 Notice, but you can challenge the notice if the landlord hasn’t given you a minimum of two months’ notice, or if they haven’t protected your deposit properly

If you don’t leave the property by the date on the Section 21, the Court will issue what is known as an Outright Possession Order, giving you 14 days to leave the property.

With either a Section 8 or a Section 21 eviction, if you don’t leave a property by the date on the Possession Order, a Bailiff will issue you with a Notice of Eviction 14 days before they can turn up on your doorstep. Use this time to find alternative accommodation if you haven’t already found somewhere.


Your Local Council has to help tenants find a new home if they qualify for homeless help.

If they can’t find a new home, they’ll check if you qualify for emergency housing which could be a B&B or a hostel

You’ll be classed as a priority tenant if you’re:

  • Living with a child
  • Pregnant or living with someone who is
  • Homeless due to domestic abuse
  • Homeless due to fire/flood
  • Aged 16 or 17 and not living with family and where Social Services are unable to help
  • Aged 18 to 20 and have previously been living in care

The council may help with a deposit for privately rented re-housing and it’s possible that the only option the council may have is to find you accommodation in another area of the country.

Shelter can also support you. You can get in touch by visiting their website or calling on 0808 800 444.

Check what grants are out there to help

Use the Turn2us grant search tool to find out if you can get help – you won’t have to pay these back.

Please note BudgetSmart has been created to provide you with information but it’s important to always do your own research too. Whilst BudgetSmart contains links to third party websites we think you might find useful, PayPlan is not responsible for any external content or any actions you take when accessing these links/websites