How to deal with rent arrears

If you’ve missed any rent payments, you’ll be in rent arrears. Talk to your landlord as soon as possible, and check if you can get help to pay your rent.

Rent arrears is a debt you should prioritise, because you could be evicted if you do not pay it back. That means you should pay off your rent arrears before most other debts, like credit cards or payday loans.

If you’ve received an eviction notice, get advice from Shelter Scotland.

Step 1: talk to your landlord

Whether you rent from a private landlord, the council or a housing association, it's important to contact them as soon as possible. If you communicate openly and show you’re willing to pay back the debt, it’s more likely you’ll be able to stay in your home.

Tell them:

  • why you’ve fallen behind on rent

  • what steps you’re taking, such as applying for benefits or getting debt advice

  • when you think you'll be able to start paying back the arrears

Keep your landlord updated about your circumstances, and keep copies of any letters or emails you send.

Step 2: check if you can get help to pay rent

You could get Universal Credit or Housing Benefit to help pay your rent. Use the Turn2Us benefits calculator to check what you’re entitled to.

Benefits are usually paid to you, and you need to pay the rent to your landlord. If you have difficulty budgeting, you can ask for your housing costs to be paid directly to your landlord instead.

If you already get benefits, but they do not cover your full rent, apply for Discretionary Housing Payment from the council. The payments can sometimes be backdated to help pay off rent arrears. The council decides if you're eligible based on your circumstances.

Step 3: check if you can reduce other costs

Check if you can get any help with energy bills, and phone your energy provider to explain your circumstances. They may have grants available to help.

Ask the council if you’re eligible for a council tax reduction. You’ll still need to pay water and waste charges, and you should keep paying any council tax bills you get.

The Money Map tool from Citizen's Advice can help you find other ways to increase your income and reduce your costs.

Get help with money

A money and debt adviser can help you apply for benefits, make a budget, manage debts, and negotiate affordable repayments. Get free advice now:

Step 4: propose a plan to pay your rent arrears

You can negotiate with your landlord to pay back the rent you owe over a period of time. Use National Debtline's budgeting tool to work out how much you can afford.

Tell your landlord how much you can pay off each month, even if it’s only a small amount, and ask if they agree to your repayment plan. Get any agreements in writing so there are no misunderstandings later.

Use our letter template to propose a repayment plan.

Keep paying the amount you’ve proposed, even if your landlord does not agree. It may be easier to prevent eviction if you can show you’ve been making an effort to pay off the arrears.

If you still cannot afford your rent

You may have to look for more affordable housing. Ask the council for a housing options interview. They have a duty to help if you’re at risk of being evicted.

Applying for social housing

You can apply for a council or housing association home anywhere in Scotland.

If your home is unaffordable, you may get more points on the waiting list, which can help you get offered a home more quickly. When applying to the council or housing association, explain that you cannot afford your current rent.

If you’re suspended from the housing list

If you owe more than 1 month’s rent to your landlord, you may be suspended from council and housing association lists. This means you will not be offered a new home until the suspension is lifted.

If you’ve been making any repayments on your debt for at least 3 months, and you keep making repayments, you should no longer be suspended.

If you need help getting a suspension lifted, contact a Shelter Scotland adviser.

If you’re worried about eviction

There’s an eviction ban in place which could delay your eviction.

To see if it applies to you, check our advice on the eviction ban.

Your landlord cannot just throw you out for having rent arrears. They must follow a strict legal process and apply to a court or tribunal for an eviction order.

Keep paying your rent and any repayments you've agreed to. If your landlord applies for an eviction order, the court or tribunal will consider what steps you've taken to repay the arrears.

Check our guidance on eviction for rent arrears.

Last updated: 4 October 2022

Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.

This content applies to Scotland only.

Get advice if you're in England