Council and housing association tenants: eviction for rent arrears

What to do when you get letters from the court

Coronavirus update:

From 21 September the courts start to deal with evictions again.

There is a backlog of cases and the eviction process takes time.

You should get a letter from the court at every stage of the eviction process.

What letters from the court mean

Your council or housing association can apply to court for a possession order once the date in your notice has passed.

It doesn’t mean you will definitely lose your home but you need to take action now.

Get legal help with the court process and paperwork.

Keep talking to your landlord

Councils and housing associations should be supportive and compassionate if you're in financial hardship. Eviction should be a last resort.

Tell your landlord if you're struggling with rent payments, especially if this is because of coronavirus. For example, if you've lost your job, are furloughed, or on reduced hours.

Let them know if there's a reason you can’t currently pay your full rent. For example, if you're waiting for a benefit or redundancy payment.

You can still avoid court action and eviction if you agree a repayment plan with your council or housing association.

Documents you should get before a hearing

You will get several letters and forms from the court. Keep them together in a file.

This table shows the main documents you should get before a court hearing.

Letters receivedWhat this means
Claims and defence formsYour landlord has applied for a possession order
Reactivation noticeYour landlord has applied to restart the court process.
Notice of reviewThe court has scheduled a review date for your case.
Notice of possession hearingThe court has arranged a hearing for you to attend.

Check the claim form 

You will receive the following documents from the court:

  • N5 claim form 

  • N119 'particulars of claim'

Together, these forms give full details about:  

  • why your council or housing association are taking you to court

  • what they are asking the court to do – for example, order you to leave the property and pay the arrears

You’ll also get paperwork from your council or housing association that says how much rent they think you owe.

Read through all the paperwork carefully. Look for anything you disagree with, for example the amount of rent arrears. You can mention this on the defence form.

Fill in the defence form

The defence form is your first chance to tell the court why you shouldn’t be evicted. You’ll still have the opportunity to say this at the court hearing.

The form asks you to provide information about your income, expenses and debts. Try and be as accurate as you can.

You can usually get legal help to complete the defence form

Key questions on the defence form

Answer all the questions on the form. Here are some key ones to look out for.

Question 4 – If you disagree with the amount of rent arrears on the claim form, tick no. Write how much rent you think you owe, if any.

Question 6 - You may have a counterclaim if your landlord has failed to carry out repairs or your home is in such poor condition that it's unfit to live in. If a counterclaim is successful you get money back from your landlord which can offset your rent arrears. Speak to an adviser about this question if you think you may have a claim.

Questions 7 to 10 – Write down what you can afford to pay even if you haven’t agreed a repayment plan with your council or housing association. Make sure the information you provide about your income and expenses shows that you can afford that amount.

Question 29 – This question is important if you’re a secure tenant or your housing association is using grounds 10 or 11. This is where you can say why it would not be reasonable for the court to make a possession order. Make sure you include:

  • any special reason why you are in arrears – for example, illness or benefit problems

  • any reason why being evicted would cause you hardship - for example someone in the household with a disability

Continue on a separate piece of paper if you need to. Keep it brief and stick to the facts.

If you can't complete the form in time

You should send the completed defence form back to court within 2 weeks.

If you miss the deadline you can still send the form back.

If you can't complete the form or get help with it, court guidance says you could send a short statement to the court instead.

You should explain why you have rent arrears and how you can pay them back. 

For example: I missed 3 months' rent payments when I lost my job at the start of the coronavirus outbreak. I have now claimed universal credit and a discretionary housing payment. I can reduce my arrears in instalments. I would be homeless with my children if I was evicted.  

What a reactivation notice means

A reactivation notice means your landlord wants to restart the court process if it was on hold during the eviction ban. They should only do this as a last resort.

For example, if you've not agreed a repayment plan for arrears or where they are also seeking possession because of antisocial behaviour.

Your landlord must set out what they know about the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on you and your household.

They must include an updated rent account covering payments received and missed over the last 2 years.

They must also provide further information if they believe the court should prioritise your case for a review. For example, because of very high rent arrears or significant antisocial behaviour.

Get legal advice if you get a reactivation notice.

Notice of review

A notice of review tells you the date your case will be reviewed by a judge.

You don't need to attend in person.

Get legal advice before the review date.

If you're unable to do this, you can get legal help from a court duty adviser on the day.

The notice of review tells you how to do this.

Find out what happens on the review date.

Notice of possession hearing

A hearing will usually take place at your local county court 4 weeks after the review.

You should always attend or let the court know if there's a very good reason why you can't. For example, sudden and serious ill health.

Get legal advice before the possession hearing.

If you're unable to do this, you can get legal help from a court duty adviser on the day.

The notice of possession hearing tells you how to do this.

Last updated: 27 September 2020

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