Breathing Space: a scheme to help with debts

Breathing space is also called the debt respite scheme

Breathing space is a new scheme that could help if you're struggling with debt, including rent or mortgage arrears.

The scheme freezes payment demands and legal action by creditors while you get free quality debt advice.

Breathing space could also stop or delay eviction for rent arrears or mortgage repossession.

Types of breathing space

There are 2 types of breathing space:

  • standard 60 day breathing space

  • mental health crisis breathing space

Who can get breathing space

You could qualify if you're unable to meet any of the following debt repayments:

  • rent or mortgage arrears

  • payday loans

  • council tax arrears

  • benefit overpayments

  • gas and electricity arrears

  • store cards and credit cards

  • personal loans and overdrafts

A debt adviser will tell you if it's a good option and can put you on the scheme.

To qualify for the mental health crisis breathing space, a mental health professional must confirm you're receiving crisis treatment.

Who cannot get breathing space

If you've already had a standard breathing space in the last year, you can't get another one.

You can't get either type of breathing space if you have any of these in place:

  • debt relief order (DRO)

  • individual voluntary arrangement (IVA)

  • bankruptcy order

How to apply for a standard 60 day breathing space

Only a regulated debt adviser can put you on the breathing space scheme.

You'll need to:

  • provide details of your income, spending and debts

  • be prepared to work with a debt adviser on a longer term debt solution

You can get free regulated debt advice from the following charities:

Be wary of debt management companies that charge for their services. Some may use the words 'breathing space' in adverts or on websites but could be offering debt management plans that you pay for instead.

How to apply for a mental health crisis breathing space

You can apply yourself or someone can do this for you. For example, a carer, mental health professional, social worker or advocate.

All applications are looked at by debt advisers from the mental health charity Rethink.

You won't need to speak to the debt adviser yourself but they will need a form from a mental health professional before they can look at your application.

There are 2 steps:

1. A mental health professional must confirm your treatment

Only an approved mental health professional (AMHP) can complete the form.

This will be someone on your mental health crisis care team. They must confirm that you're receiving crisis treatment, either in hospital or at home.

The form and guidance for mental health professionals are on GOV.UK

2. Apply by email

Apply by email on the Mental Health & Money Advice website

How the debt adviser helps

First the adviser will look at your situation to see if you could meet your payments through help with budgeting or prioritising debts.

If you can't meet your debt repayments they could recommend breathing space as suitable option for you.

During a standard breathing space you're expected to work with your adviser to find a longer term debt solution and report any changes to them.

The adviser carries out a midway review to check that you're following their advice. They could cancel the breathing space if you don't stay in contact or provide the information they need.

With a mental health crisis breathing space you're not expected to stay in touch with your adviser. The adviser will have a named contact on your mental health care team to confirm you're still receiving treatment.

How long breathing space lasts

A standard breathing space lasts for 60 days.

A mental health crisis breathing space doesn't have a time limit. It usually ends 30 days after you stop receiving crisis treatment but you can apply again if you need to in the future.

Your adviser may be able to provide ongoing help when breathing space ends.

What happens to your debts

Breathing space is not a payment holiday.

You must pay your rent or mortgage and make payments to other debts if you can.

But if you can't pay, your creditors must:

  • stop asking for payments

  • freeze interest, fees and charges on the arrears

  • pause any enforcement action through the courts, debt collectors or bailiffs

You can use the breathing space to work out a longer term debt solution with your adviser.

What happens to your home

Landlords cannot give notice or evict you for rent arrears during breathing space. For example, they can't give you a section 8 notice on rent arrears grounds 8, 10 or 11.

Mortgage lenders cannot take legal steps to make you pay the arrears or repossess your home during breathing space. Your lender can send you statements and notices about what you owe.

You may be able to use the breathing space to reduce your rent or mortgage arrears or come up with an affordable repayment plan.

When the eviction process does not stop

Breathing space does not stop the section 21 eviction process for assured shorthold tenants. Most private renters and some housing association tenants have this type of tenancy.

Landlords can also give notice or take eviction action for other reasons during breathing space. For example, antisocial behaviour.

Contact a Shelter adviser if you get letters from the court.

Last updated: 6 May 2021

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