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Rent arrears and housing benefit

Problems with your claim for housing benefit can lead to rent arrears. Find out what you can do if you are in this situation.

Waiting for housing benefit to be processed

If you have rent arrears because you are waiting for your housing benefit claim to be processed, don't assume that it has not been processed because there is a backlog. Your claim form may have got mislaid, so contact the council to make sure that they have your form and any additional information required to process your claim.

Try to find out approximately how much housing benefit you will be entitled to. The housing benefit department will probably not be able to tell you before they process your claim, but a housing officer at the council, an adviser at a Citizens Advice or a specialist benefit adviser may be able to estimate this for you. You may not be entitled to any housing benefit or you might get less benefit than you expect. If you wait until your claim is processed, you could be left with huge rent arrears that you have to pay back yourself.

Payments before your housing benefit is processed

If you have not received a payment within 14 days of handing in your form and providing all the information required, you are entitled to a stop gap payment while you are waiting for your claim to be processed. This is called a 'payment on account'.

You will not get a payment on account automatically and will have to ask for it. The amount you are paid may be less than the amount of rent you have to pay. Once your claim is assessed, any difference between your housing benefit entitlement and the amount of housing benefit paid on account will either be refunded or reclaimed from you.

Eviction and housing benefit

If your landlord takes you to court because of your rent arrears, the sheriff will have to take into account the delay in your housing benefit claim when deciding whether or not to evict you. This only applies if you are a:

You must be able to show:

  • that you have provided the council with all the necessary information to process your claim, and
  • that when your claim is processed, you expect the housing benefit payment to clear all or most of your arrears.

Overpayments of housing benefit

If you are getting housing benefit, you may at some point receive a letter from the council telling you that you have been overpaid benefit and that you have to pay it back. You might have to pay it back directly or the council might ask your landlord to pay it back from your rent account.

If you get a letter telling you that you have been overpaid benefit, contact an adviser at Shelter, Citizens Advice or other advice agency. You will find contact details in the Advice Services Directory. An adviser will be able to help you check if the council can ask you to pay the money back.

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The important points

  • If you have not received a payment within 14 days of handing in your form and the council has all the information it needs, you should ask for a 'payment on account', which is an advance on any housing benefit you will receive.
  • If your landlord takes you to court because of your rent arrears, the sheriff needs to take your housing benefit claim delay into account but only if you have a certain type of tenancy, the council has all the information and the payment should clear all or more of your arrears.

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