Breathing Space: help with rent or mortgage arrears

The Breathing Space scheme can help people struggling with debt, including rent or mortgage arrears.

It can freeze payment demands and legal action while you get free debt advice.

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

It is sometimes called the debt respite scheme.

You can have a:

  • standard 60 day breathing space

  • mental health crisis breathing space

A mental health crisis breathing space doesn't have a time limit. It usually ends 30 days after you stop getting mental health crisis treatment but you can apply again.

Your debt adviser may be able to give you ongoing help when breathing space ends.

How breathing space helps with arrears

If you're accepted onto the scheme and you're unable to pay your rent or mortgage arrears or payments to other debts, 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 and your debt adviser work on a longer term solution.

Breathing space is not a payment holiday. You must make any payments that you can afford.

How the scheme can delay eviction or repossession

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

Mortgage lenders can't take legal steps to repossess your home during breathing space. They can still send you statements and notices about what you owe.

You could use this time to reduce your arrears or come up with a repayment plan.

When the eviction process does not stop

Breathing space won't 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 an eviction notice or letters from the court.

Who qualifies

You could qualify if you can't meet any of the following debt repayments:

  • rent or mortgage arrears

  • gas and electricity arrears

  • personal loans and overdrafts

  • council tax arrears

  • payday loans

  • credit cards and store cards

  • benefit overpayments

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

For a mental health breathing space, a mental health professional must confirm you're receiving crisis treatment.

Who doesn't qualify

You cannot get a standard breathing space if you've had one in the last year.

You won't qualify if you have any of the following at the moment:

  • debt relief order (DRO)

  • individual voluntary arrangement (IVA)

  • bankruptcy order

If your DRO, IVA or bankruptcy order has been discharged, you can still get breathing space.

What to expect when you apply

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

Get free regulated debt advice from:

Watch out for debt management companies that charge for their services.

Some use the words 'breathing space' in adverts or on websites but are offering debt management plans that you pay for instead.

If you need a mental health crisis breathing space

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

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

First, someone from your mental health care team should:

  • fill in a debt respite form

  • confirm you are getting crisis treatment

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

Next, fill in a short breathing space referral form on the Mental Health and Money Advice website.

You can refer yourself or someone can do this for you. For example a friend or relative, social worker or a mental health professional.

How the debt adviser helps

The adviser will look at your situation to see if you could meet your payments through:

  • help with budgeting

  • prioritising debts

If you can't, they may recommend breathing space for you.

Support during a standard breathing space

You will need to work with your adviser to find a long term debt solution and report changes to them.

The adviser carries out a midway review. They can cancel the breathing space if you don't stay in contact or provide information they need.

Support during a mental health crisis breathing space

You are not expected to stay in touch with your adviser under a mental health crisis breathing space.

They will have a named contact on your mental health care team to confirm you're still receiving treatment.

If you can't get breathing space

You may still be able to get help to find a solution to rent or mortgage arrears and other debts from a regulated debt adviser at StepChange, National Debtline or Citizens Advice.

If you're at risk of eviction or repossession, you could get free legal help or representation.

Other help if you are struggling

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Last updated: 19 January 2022

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