Rent arrears in social housing

Council and housing association landlords must follow the steps in a special pre-action protocol before starting court action to evict you for rent arrears.

When landlords must follow the pre-action protocol

All council and housing association landlords must follow the pre-action protocol for social landlords if they want to evict a secure council tenant, or an assured, assured shorthold or secure housing association tenant because of rent arrears.

A social housing landlord is not required to follow the pre-action protocol if you're a:

Pre-action protocol procedure if you are in rent arrears

When you first fall behind with your rent, your landlord should contact you as soon as possible to talk about:

  • the cause of your arrears
  • your financial circumstances
  • how any disability you may have affects you
  • your entitlement to benefits
  • how you plan to repay the arrears

After this, your landlord should send you a quarterly rent statement saying how much rent is due. The statement also says how much they have received.

For a joint tenancy, each of the tenants should be contacted separately to make sure that everyone is aware of the problem.

You must come to an agreement with your landlord on a plan for repaying your arrears.

Get help and advice with pre-action protocol procedures

Your landlord should try to make sure that you understand the information you've been given. They can do this, for example, by explaining it to you in more detail or providing an interpreter.

Ask for help if you have difficulty reading or understanding the information.

Get advice if you have further questions.

Use Shelter's directory to find face-to-face advice services in your local area.

Pre-action protocol procedure if you are vulnerable

A vulnerable person includes someone who is elderly, disabled, or suffering from mental illness.

If you are particularly vulnerable or are under 18 years old, your landlord may need to:

Pre-action protocol procedure if you claim benefits

If you are entitled to benefits your landlord may be able to arrange for your arrears to be deducted from your benefits.

Ask your landlord to help you apply for housing benefit and help with housing costs under universal credit.

Your landlord should also help you apply to the council for a discretionary housing payment (DHP). A DHP is a short-term payment to help people on housing benefit with rent problems. You don't have to repay a DHP.

Your landlord should not start eviction proceedings if:

  • you have applied for one of these benefits
  • it is likely that you are eligible for a payment
  • you can make up any arrears not covered by housing benefit, universal credit or a discretionary housing payment

Notice from your landlord

If you have rent arrears, your landlord must first send you a notice setting out:

  • the date that your landlord wants you to leave
  • reasons why you are being asked to leave, and
  • information on where you can get further advice, for example from a council's housing options department, or a local Shelter advice centre

After giving you this notice your landlord should make reasonable attempts to contact you to discuss your arrears. They must do this before beginning court proceedings.

Your landlord should postpone court action if you agree to pay your current rent and a reasonable amount towards your arrears and you stick to this arrangement.

If you don't repay your arrears or to come to an agreement to repay them, your landlord will probably continue with their court action

When a landlord starts court action

At least ten days before the court hearing for your case, your landlord must:

  • give you up-to-date rent statements
  • give you notice of the court date, and advise you that your home is at risk if you do not attend
  • tell the court what they know about any claim you have made for housing benefit or help with your housing costs under universal credit

Find out what happens if you are a council tenant or housing association tenant and eviction action has already been started against you.

Use Shelter's directory to find a local adviser if your landlord has already started court action against you.

If a landlord doesn't follow the pre-action protocol

Your landlord may be required to explain to the court how they have followed the protocol.

If they have not taken the required steps, the court can:

  • adjourn (postpone), strike out or dismiss your landlord's claim – this can only happen if your landlord is trying to evict you on 'discretionary' grounds
  • decide that your landlord must pay court costs – this can happen even if your landlord is given a court order to evict you

Get advice if you think your landlord has not followed the pre-action protocol.

Use Shelter's directory to find face-to-face advice services in your local area.

Fill out my online form.

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