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How much rent arrears before the council evicts you?

by | Apr 1, 2023

Have you ever struggled to make ends meet and fallen behind on your rent payments? It’s a stressful situation that no tenant wants to be in and if you are in council housing you may wonder how long it is before you are evicted.

In fact, it happens more frequently than you might think as rent arrears are the most common cause of eviction but many tenants are unaware of their rights and options if they fall behind on a payment. 

In this article, we’ll look at how tenants can avoid eviction by serving a notice to quit and applying for financial assistance from housing associations and local governments and what the cut off point is before you have to find new housing. 

So, don’t put it off until it’s too late and continue reading to learn more about how to avoid eviction due to rent arrears if you live in council housing.

council rent arrears

How much rent arrears do you have until a council evicts you?

Under UK law, a council cannot evict a tenant until they have at least eight weeks of arrears as this is the number that must be hit until the council begins the process of taking a tenant to court.

This is a lot different to other types of eviction such as those as a result of rent arrears in residential property that is owned by private landlords. This is because the tenancy agreement for someone in council housing is different and may not necessarily be an AST.

If the rental payment from a tenant is made every month then this means the eviction process is started after two months of rent has not been paid. However, you may be able to negotiate with your council or housing association to set up a payment plan.

So, in general, your landlord who is a housing association or the council has to give you at least 8 weeks but it may be longer if you are able to negotiate.

What usually happens if you are in rent arrears?

If you fall behind on your housing payments, it’s critical to act quickly because your local authority may send you a notice requesting payment, and failure to respond could result in the council being more likely to evict you as soon as they can. 

If you’re struggling to make ends meet and can’t afford to pay your arrears, don’t panic or hide away, instead, contact the authority and explain your situation which may result in a mutual agreement that allows you to get back on track with your payments.

Fortunately, if your landlord is the local authority, they will likely be more lenient on you than if you have a private landlord as there is less of an incentive to evict a tenant as soon as possible because the landlord is the local government rather than an individual.

Don’t be afraid to be open about your situation and collaborate to find a reasonable way to repay what you owe.

As well as this, to prevent such a situation from taking place in the future, make sure to figure out how much you can realistically afford to pay before making any commitments.

Is it possible for the council to evict me for rent arrears?

To put a long story short, the council can in fact evict you for rent arrears as this is something that is seen as a breach in the covenant that is signed for between the tenant and landlord when they begin a tenancy.

Even though a council or a local authority or a housing association isn’t a single person, they still have the right to evict you and will use their staff to follow eviction laws and make sure any unpaying tenants are out of the property.

the council calculating which tenants have arrears

How does the council evict a tenant?

The council evicts a tenant if they are seen to be in breach of their tenancy agreement and this process often happens in four parts.

First, when you owe money to the local government, they will send you a letter requesting payment which makes the tenant aware that they are in rent arrears and the council is taking action to attempt to recover any funds. 

If a tenant agrees to pay at this stage then the process will be halted and a payment plan can also be set up here too which will get a tenant back on track with paying rent on time.

Nonetheless, if you do not pay by a certain date, they will threaten legal action and this should be made clear in the first notice that a tenant receives.

If the tenant hasn’t paid or made an agreement, court action will be initiated, and the tenant will be given forms to fill out which are known as pre-action protocol forms. 

If you require assistance, you can contact a registered charity for assistance in filling out the forms and defending yourself.

The hearing would be the next step, after which the judge would make a decision on whether the tenant. The judge may issue a suspended possession order, which allows you to continue living in the property as per the current tenancy agreement but with certain conditions to meet, or an outright possession order, which requires you to vacate the property.

If you do not comply with a suspended possession order or receive an outright possession order, the local authority may send bailiffs to evict you if you do not leave voluntarily by a certain date which should be provided.

What should you do if your landlord is evicting you?

If a council is evicting you and you want to stay in the property but can’t afford it. The first thing you should do is attempt to negotiate with the landlord. They may be willing to offer some sort of payment plan while you are able to save up some money.

However, in the long term it is probably best that you try to increase your income by finding ways to gain additional government benefits such as universal credit found here which will allow you to have a bit more cash flow.

What if you can’t pay your rent even after claiming housing benefits?

If you qualify for housing benefit, your rent will be paid in full, and you won’t have to worry about falling behind but this does not guarantee that they will not fall behind on rent because they may have to prioritise other bills.

If you find yourself in this situation, you should contact the housing association to see if they can provide any further financial assistance or your local government to see if they have a solution to help you pay your rent in instalments.

a person living in social housing with rent arrears

How to end a tenancy without being evicted

If you want to end a tenancy with the council but don’t want to avoid the eviction process then you can easily do it by issuing a notice to quit the tenancy within a reasonable timeframe and handing this in to the local authority.

You should also make sure you pay the rent on time until you leave the property as it is critical that you continue to pay your rent until the end of your tenancy.

If you are leaving the property and have paid all of the agreed-upon rent, request that your landlord write a letter confirming that your tenancy has ended and all outstanding debts have been settled as this will give you a good reference for a future tenancy.

If you do not pay your rent on time, your landlord may take you to court to recover the unpaid balance or they may also refuse to provide you with a reference or provide a negative reference, making it difficult for you to find new housing.

Can you be rehoused while you still have rent arrears?

If you owe money to a housing association, local authority, or landlord, finding new housing can be difficult. Before they can consider you for rehousing, you must speak with them and reach an agreement to repay the outstanding debts most of the time.

A council may put you to the bottom of the list during the wait for new housing if they found out that you have current rent arrears or they may not offer you housing at all.

What other reasons can the council evict a tenant for?

Besides having rent arrears, there are a range of other ways for a landlord to evict a tenant who is living in council owned property. They include the following:

  • Doing anti-social behaviour
  • Lying in the application for council housing
  • Being absent form the home
  • Neglect of the property
  • Using the property for illegal activity
  • Rent arrears
  • Any further breach of tenancy agreement

How is this any different to private landlords?

With private landlords, they have the right to evict you with a section 8 or a section 21 notice which is slightly different to if your landlord is a housing association or the council.

This means the laws and notices that must be given are all different and the local council will never issue a section 21 or 8 like this and will instead look to take a tenant to court using pre-action protocol which is where the procedure preceding court action is outlined as part of civil procedure rules.

This would give the landlord and tenant the right amount of time to prepare any evidence before they attend a hearing, either online or offline which would result in the tenancy either carrying on or being revoked.

tenants looking at their rent arrears

Section 8 and section 21

As mentioned above, a section 21 and section 8 are the only ways that a landlord that isn’t part of a housing association or the local council has to follow. Hence, they will issue this notice, but what exactly are they?

Section 8 notices are more serious as the tenant has to be at fault and they have to have breached the terms of the tenancy agreement. For example, having rent arrears or performing anti-social behaviour in the property.

On the other hand, section 21 doesn’t have to necessarily be at the fault of a tenant and a landlord can use it as part of an eviction even if the tenant hasn’t done anything wrong as long as they are both in a break clause of a tenancy agreement.

To summarise

To wrap up the topic of how much rent arrears a tenant can accumulate before the council steps up and serves a notice to quit within a reasonable timeframe, the council usually has to give around two months.

Tenants who are unable to pay their rent despite receiving housing benefits should contact their housing association or local government to see if they can provide financial assistance and it is critical to act quickly and seek assistance from the appropriate authorities or charities in order to avoid eviction due to rent arrears.

It is understandable that everyone will run into hard times financially at some point so there are organisations and charities set up that make things easier for you to make payments.

However, if not, tenants can end a council tenancy by serving a notice to quit within a reasonable timeframe and paying the rent on time until the end of the tenancy if they know they cannot afford to pay in the long term. 

On top of this, those tenants who are unable to pay their rent despite receiving housing benefits should contact their housing association or local government.

They can be provided with further financial assistance as it is likely that your housing benefit is too little or the rent they need to make each month is too much.

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Donnell Bailey

Property expert

Donnell is a property expert focusing on the property market, he looks at a combination of legislation, information from property managers, letting agents and market trends to produce information to help landlords.