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Social housing rent arrears and managing your money

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last updated: 28 May 2016 report a problem

social housing rent arrears and managing your money

In this article

  • Managing rent arrears
  • When, if and how you might be evicted
  • Pointers on budgeting and how to prioritize your debts


Certain bills are considered ‘priority’ costs because the consequences of not paying them are serious. Rent is the main priority because you could lose your home if you don’t pay. Here you will find out more about which bills are a priority and why.

Rent arrears

If you have rent arrears or are struggling to pay your rent you need to take action. Don’t ignore the problem or you could be evicted. Bear in mind that the rules on eviction depend on the type of tenancy you have. For further information look at our TTV page on being evicted by the council (link required).

Firstly, check that the amount the council or housing association says you owe is correct.

  • Have all the payments you have made been recorded?
  • Has any rent you had to pay in advance been taken into account?
  • Has everything been added up correctly?

Consider also if you should be held responsible for paying the full amount that is owed, or if someone else should be paying part of it. Joint tenants are normally jointly and severally liable for rent payments, so if one joint tenant moves out, any others may become liable for their share.

How eviction procedures operate

When money is tight and demands for payment are mounting, paying your rent must always be your first priority – or you could risk losing your home.

Whatever your tenancy type, housing associations and councils should only evict their tenants as a last resort. Providing you don’t break the rules of your tenancy, you have the right to stay in your home for as long as stated in your tenancy agreement. If you are threatened with eviction for any reason, you should contact an independent adviser straight away.

Even if the bailiffs are about to come, it may be possible to stop or delay the eviction. For instance, you may be able to put things right by paying your arrears or settling a neighbour dispute, or perhaps the housing association/council may not have a good enough reason to evict you. The eviction procedure your housing association/council will have to follow depends on the type of tenancy you have.

People with demoted and starter tenancies can be evicted much more easily than assured and secure tenants since housing associations and councils don’t have to prove a legal reason for eviction in court – if they follow the correct procedure, the judge will have no choice but to order an eviction. This applies particularly if you are living in a hostel, temporary accommodation or supported housing. Your housing association or the council must give you at least two months’ written notice that it is going to ask the court to evict you, and explain the reasons why.

Contact an adviser as soon as you receive this notice. Do not wait. An adviser may be able to help you by:

  • Talking to the housing association on your behalf
  • Sorting out any problems with your housing benefit claim
  • Arranging help with personal problems
  • Helping you to settle a dispute with neighbours

You can also seek advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau or your local Shelter office.

 Council tax

You might be able to get your council tax reduced if you are on a low income or welfare benefits. If you live on your own, you’re entitled to a 25% discount on your council tax bill. You could also get a discount if you live with someone else who isn’t your partner and has a low income. Find out about council tax exemptions and discounts.

Make sure the council knows if you are an all-student household. Provided you fill in the forms and provide evidence of your student status, you shouldn’t have to pay any council tax at all. If your home is empty, or solely occupied by people under the age of 18, or you are severely mentally impaired, check if you are exempt from paying council tax.

Fuel bills and energy costs

Shop around for deals. Fuel is supplied by companies operating in competition with each other – you can choose to switch your supplier. Use the price comparison tool from Consumer Focus. Energy suppliers offer social tariffs with reduced rates for vulnerable or disadvantaged customers. They may be a useful option if you are over the age of 60 or claiming means-tested benefits.

TV licence

Most people need a TV licence to use a television, but there are some exceptions. You don’t have to pay if a member of your household is aged over 75, people who are blind or severely sight impaired can get a 50% reduction, and students can ask for a refund during the summer holiday period. If you have difficulty paying, you can choose to pay by instalments.

Water bills

There are two ways you can pay for water – either through water rates, or using a water meter. You can save money by using a water meter if you are a small household and don’t use much water. Once you have a water meter installed, you can’t change back to paying water rates. More information is available from Ofwat. You can usually pay for water rates in instalments – contact your water company for details.

  • If your metered water bills seem very high, check that there are no leaks on your system
  • A Watersure scheme may provide help with water arrears for vulnerable people, capping metered water bills

Where to get help with managing your money

Whether you need help with money saving ideas, advice on money matters or are looking for ways to budget better, you can use Shelter’s action planners to help you organise your money, understand where your money goes and how you can save.

Use the budget calculator to check your household budget, find out where your money goes, how best to deal with any shortfalls and see what help is available. Click here to use Shelter’s budget calculator.

In summary

  • Always consider your rent as a priority payment
  • Find ways to manage your money better
  • Use Shelter’s budget calculator and action planner to manage your money

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