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Rent arrears. Get help if you can’t pay your rent

Rent arrears are priority debts.  If you have rent arrears on a property you live in, it’s important to contact the landlord or letting agency quickly to offer a way to repay what you owe. If you don’t do this, you’re at risk of eviction.

If you’re looking to rent with arrears on a previous property, you might find it difficult for a landlord to rent to you. There’s also the possibility that court action will be taken against you to recover what you owe.

Struggling to pay your rent could be a sign you need debt help

We can help if you’re in debt. You can get free and confidential debt advice online now. We’ll recommend the best way to deal with any debts you have, and also tell you about other organisations who can support you.

Also, if you’re eligible, you could get Breathing Space. This means your creditors won't be able to add interest or fees to your debts, or take enforcement action, for up to 60 days.

If you're struggling to rent a property, your landlord or letting agent may agree to you using a rent guarantor who would be responsible for paying any arrears.

Is there any way to protect myself from eviction if I’m behind on my rent?

If you’re behind on your rent, you may qualify for the Breathing Space scheme. This could give you up to 60 days’ respite from interest, fees, and court action.

If you qualify, your landlord cannot evict you for rent arrears during your Breathing Space. However, your landlord could still evict you for other reasons, like anti-social behaviour, or if they need the property to live in themselves.

Breathing Space is there to reduce stress while you deal with your debts, so it’s important that you seek debt advice during this time.

Once your Breathing Space is over, your landlord will have the power to start the eviction process again.

If you're worried you may be at threat from eviction, contact Shelter or consider getting free debt advice.

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What happens if you have rent arrears?

If you don’t deal with your arrears, your landlord or letting agency could take steps to evict you, but you do have the chance to avoid this happening.

If you haven’t contacted your landlord about your arrears you need to do this straight away. Contact them with a plan to repay what you owe. They’re not obliged to agree, but many will accept a reasonable offer. It can help to explain that you’re dealing with your money problems or give a reason why you’re not being able to pay the full amount immediately.

Because of the risk of eviction, rent arrears for a property you’re living in are always treated as priority payments.

How do you deal with rent arrears?

  1. Look at your budget and work out how much you can afford to pay
  2. Contact your landlord and tell them you’d like to make a new payment arrangement. Send them a copy of your budget to show you’re offering to pay the most you can manage
  3. If agreed, keep to this new payment arrangement

If you’re struggling to put together a budget or you’re worried you can’t afford to make repayments, get in touch with us for free and impartial debt advice.

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

document iconUse our sample letters to contact your creditors if you can’t afford to pay what you owe.

What happens if I can’t pay my rent arrears?

Your landlord can take steps to evict you.

Your rights as a tenant are complex and depend on where in the UK you live and the type of tenancy you have. If you’re worried about being evicted we strongly recommend you contact Shelter, or Housing Rights if you live in Northern Ireland.

Specialist help contact details

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, Housing Rights or call them on 028 9024 5640

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.

Can you get a CCJ for rent arrears?

Yes, but this doesn’t happen as often as for other types of debt.

If you do get a claim letter for a County Court judgment (CCJ), you have the opportunity to pay it off, or make a payment arrangement to avoid it being recorded on your credit history.

Read our guide to dealing with County Court judgments.

Can the council help with rent arrears?

The council’s housing department can advise you about applying for social housing or emergency accommodation, and help you deal with the risk of homelessness.

Find contact details for your local authority.

What should I do if housing benefit delays mean I can't pay my rent?

Your local council should process your housing benefit claim within 14 days. Contact the housing benefit department if you don’t get your payment. It helps to keep a copy of your original claim, to help them locate your record. If you claimed online you should have had an email receipt.

Make sure your landlord is aware and ask them to agree to a temporary payment arrangement.

I’m on Universal Credit and can’t pay my rent – what can I do?

Whether your Universal Credit payments have been delayed or you’re struggling to make all your essential payments, you should contact the Universal Credit helpline. They can advise on:

  • Changing how they make payments to you
  • Paying you an advance
  • Paying your rent directly to the landlord

Universal Credit helpline (free calls)

  • Telephone: 0800 328 5644
  • Textphone: 0800 328 1344
  • Telephone (Welsh language): 0800 012 1888

How do I deal with arrears for a previous property?

You should treat rent arrears from a previous property the same as you should do with other non-priority unsecured debts, unless the landlord has taken court action to recover the money you owe them.

Find out more about which debts to pay first.

However, these arrears may be shown on your credit file and may affect your ability to take out more credit. As your credit file is checked when you apply for a tenancy, you may find that landlords will refuse to rent to you while you have unpaid rent arrears.

Some local authorities won’t allow you to apply for council housing if you have rent arrears for a council house you’ve previously lived at. This means you may need to clear the arrears quickly if you want to get rehoused with them.

If you’re able to pay off the arrears, either by negotiating a payment arrangement or as part of a debt management plan, your payments will be noted on your credit file. This shows that you’re dealing with your debt problems.

I can’t pay my rent, how can you help me?

If you need help with your rent arrears or to work out how much you can afford to pay towards them, we’re here. Take two minutes to answer a few simple questions, so we can understand the best way to help you.

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