Rent arrears policy
3.1 Rent is a priority debt and must be paid without exception. It is one of the most important bills a tenant has to pay.
3.2 It is the tenant’s responsibility to pay the rent in full, in advance and on time. This is clearly set out in the tenancy agreement.
3.3 The council expects tenants rent accounts to be in advance at all times during their payment cycle, e.g. if a tenant pays their rent monthly, they should be one month in advance, so that the rent account is never in debt. Where a rent account is in arrears only because payment patterns do not match the council’s weekly accounting periods, the council will work with tenants to enable them make extra payments to bring their account into advanced payment. This includes tenants in receipt of housing benefit or Universal Credit.
3.4 We will provide full information on how and when to pay rent when the tenancy agreement is signed. We also explain the consequences of not paying rent and what debt support services are offered locally. Where support issues are identified at a new tenancy sign-up, we will refer tenants for local support to either specialist council officers or Citizen Advice.
3.5 The council’s preferred method of payment is Direct Debit, but we will offer multiple payment methods for tenants to pay their rent. If rent is not paid, it becomes arrears. This is a debt that tenants owe to us as their landlord.
3.6 We take arrears very seriously, even when it is just a small amount. Arrears can put a tenant’s home at risk. Arrears also mean that we have less to spend on important services to tenants’ homes.
3.7 Rent statements will be provided/accessible to all tenants on a regular basis and at every stage of the arrears recovery process.
3.8 We encourage tenants to speak to their Income Officer at an early stage if they are experiencing difficulties with paying their rent.
Taking court action
3.9 We will take tenants to court to ensure that they pay us arrears that are owed after reasonable attempts have been made to engage with the tenant to settle the debt. This is a serious step and will result in the tenant having to pay for court costs. If bailiffs are involved, their costs will have to be paid by the tenant as well.
3.10 We will follow the steps laid out by the Civil Justice Commission’s Pre-Action Protocol when court action is being taken.
How we can help
3.11 We understand that times can sometimes be difficult. This makes it more important that payment of rent is prioritised by tenants. Once rent arrears start to build they can become difficult to repay.
3.12 We are willing to help tenants who are in arrears. It is essential that we contact the tenant as early as possible and that the tenants speak to us as soon as they are in difficulties.
3.13 We can signpost tenants to Citizen’s Advice Bureau. This is very important when tenants are trying to pay multiple debts.
3.14 We expect arrears to be paid in full, but will on a case by case basis come to an arrangement with tenants to repay arrears
3.15 There are many ways we can offer support. This includes advice on employment and training.
3.16 We will offer multiple options for tenants to pay their rent such as:
- Direct Debit
- Online payments
- Internet banking payments
- Telephone payments
- Standing order
- Pay Point (Used when making payments in newsagents, garages, etc)
- Council employees can pay through salary
3.17 Direct Debit is the council’s preferred method of payment.
3.18 We will contact tenants as soon as their rent account falls into arrears. We expect that tenants will work with us to sort out the debt. We expect that tenants will put things right at this early stage.
Low level or static debt
3.19 We take even small arrears seriously.
3.20 We will take firm action on low level debt. This is to protect our income and to protect the tenant falling into further arrears and financial difficulties.
3.21 This may also apply to small debts which may have been sitting on the rent account for a long time (static debt), even when they are not increasing.
3.22 We may serve notice and take legal action to recover money we are owed, where it is cost effective to do so.
3.23 We know that benefit payment problems can lead to arrears. It is important that tenants talk to us straight away if this is the case.
3.24 We may not start court proceedings where arrears are because of an outstanding benefit claim. This is only where a tenant can evidence that they have a genuine chance of getting benefits and has provided all the information required.
3.25 We expect tenants to be paying any rent due which is not covered by Housing Benefit.
3.26 Tenants in receipt of Universal credit are expected to make payments to cover the full weekly rental charge where they receive the benefit payments direct to themselves. Rent Arrears 2019
3.27 All tenants receiving benefits, are expected to be in advance with their rent payments, in the same way as tenants do not receive any benefits.
3.28 There is no standard definition of what is meant by the term ‘vulnerable’. We will try to identify potential vulnerabilities as early as possible to enable us to offer the right support. Examples may include tenants with disability, drug or alcohol dependencies, mental health or elderly.
3.29 We will work in partnership with tenants, voluntary organisations and other support providers to offer extra support and guidance. We can signpost to agencies that offer support that is tailored to tenants’ circumstances.
3.30 Equality Impact Assessments will be carried out to identify support needs through the arrears recovery process and services tailored to meet the needs of individuals where appropriate.
3.31 While we accept that vulnerable tenants may need additional support, we still expect rent to be paid on time and arrears repaid quickly.
3.32 Both tenants are ‘jointly and severally’ responsible for paying the full rent and for any rent arrears. This means that if one joint tenant does not pay, the other is fully liable.
3.33 This will still be the case where universal credit is only paid to one tenant, or where one joint tenant has left the property.
3.34 The council will train its staff in procedures to recover rent arrears. Continuous training will be available on legal updates, housing law, welfare benefit/reform updates, equality and diversity, safeguarding and any other relevant topic which will impact on collecting rental income.
3.35 Staff will provide tenants with welfare and housing benefits advice. They will also offer basic debt advice in order to support tenants to sustain their tenancy.
3.36 If tenants owe more than 4 weeks rent on their council home, where the garage tenancy agreement allows, we will seek to take action to recover their council rented garage. This is due to rent arrears being a priority debt and should take precedent over other rental charges.
3.37 Action to recover the garage will be taken (serving of a Notice to Quit) if the rent arrears on the council home remains outstanding, even if garage rent is up to date.