From extra benefits to council grants – 7 ways to get help if you can't afford to pay your rent

ALMOST five million households in England struggle to pay bills due to "unaffordable" living costs, according to a new report.

Of those facing "affordability issues", two million are tenants in privately rented homes who are most at risk of "housing stress", research by the Affordable Housing Commission found.

Meanwhile, 1.3million social housing tenants also have trouble making ends meet.

It's important for tenants who suddenly find themselves unable to pay the rent not to ignore the problem as landlords have the right to evict them.

Whether it's through Housing Benefit, a grant from the council or cutting back your outgoings, here's how to get help when you have problems paying the rent:

1. Tell your landlord as soon as you can

You might be afraid to tell your landlord that you're going to be late with the rent but it's better to get the issue out into the open – they may able to give you extra time.

If you're in a council property, then your landlord is the local council or housing association that you pay your rent to.

What is the section 21 rule and what are your rights as a renter

THE law – known as Section 21 – means a landlord can ask you to move out with two months notice, without needing a particular reason.

  • The first step of every procedure is the section 21 notice – a letter of notification that the landlord must serve to the tenant, prior to the eviction. The notice to quit is purely informational and doesn’t carry any legal power.
  • If you’ve got a good relationship with your landlord, it might be worth asking them if you can stay in your home for longer. Send a letter to your landlord explaining your situation and keep a copy of any reply you get.
  • Your landlord can’t make you leave your home unless they’ve gone to court to get a possession order and a warrant for eviction.
  • You might be able to challenge your eviction and stay in your home.
  • A section 8 notice can require you to move sooner, but can only be served if the landlord has a reason, such as you breaking the terms of your tenancy.
  • New rules introduced in October 2015 have made it harder to evict you for reporting problems with the property.
  • If you’re asked to leave because you’ve asked for repairs then you should see advice immediately.
  • You can find more tips on how to challenge your eviction on Citizens Advice.

Private tenants will be able to get their landlord's details through the letting agent, or they can speak to the agency directly.

Explain why you're payment is going to be late and give them an idea of when you'll be able to make the payment.

Make sure you're clear that you're trying to sort it out and that it won't happen again.

2. Agree a payment plan with your landlord

If you're already in arrears, ask your landlord if you can spread the amount you owe across future rent payments so you don't have to pay it back in one large sum.

They don't have to agree to a repayment plan but it might be more favourable than going through the eviction process.

Don't offer more than you can afford or else you may find yourself unable to pay again in the future.

3. Check if you can get help with benefits

If you can't pay your rent because of a drop in income you may be entitled to claim benefits, such as Housing Benefit through Universal Credit.

The payment is there to help those who rent, are on a low income,  claiming benefits, or have savings of less than £16,000.

With Universal Credit, the Housing Benefit is paid into your bank account instead of directly to your landlord, except in certain circumstances.

You'll have to wait up to five weeks to get your first payment although you may be able to take out an advance loan to get you through this period.

Make sure that you can afford the repayments though as you'll need to pay it back. You can do this by dividing the amount you borrowed by 12 months in a year.

How to apply for housing benefit?

IN order to claim for housing benefit, either the traditional benefit or through Universal Credit, you will need the following information:

  • How much rent you pay
  • Whether anything else is included in the rent, such as water, gas or electricity charges
  • If you pay any service charges, including building maintenance or insurance
  • Your landlord or agent’s details
  • Two forms of identity

If you are making a claim just for housing benefit, you can do this through your local council.

All of these details are listed on the Government’s website.

If you’re applying for other benefits at the same time, such as employment and support allowance, income support or jobseeker’s allowance, you will need to apply through your local Jobcentre Plus office.

It will then send the details of your housing benefit claim to your local council.

You can contact Jobcentre Plus on 0800 023 4888 between Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm.

If you’re applying for Universal Credit you can do this online at the Government’s website.

You can apply for Housing Benefit through your local council. Find out if you're entitled to the benefit here on the Government website.

4. Get help from the Discretionary Housing Payments

Your local council will have a pot of money set aside to help renters already on benefits who are in trouble with housing costs.

It's called a Discretionary Housing Payment and you don't have to pay it back.

The council will asses your circumstances before deciding if you're entitled to the cash, how much you're able to get and for how long you'll receive the payment.

The payment can be used to help with rent shortfall as a result of welfare reforms or a deposit or rent in advance if you need to move.

It can't be used to cover an increase in rent or removal costs to help you move home.

5. Reduce your council tax

You can apply for a reduction in council tax to help cut down your outgoings to help you make your rent payments.

The scheme could reduce your bill by as much as 100 per cent, but it depends on your personal circumstances such as where you live and whether you have children living with you.

Each council runs its own scheme, so the details vary by area – contact your local council for more information.

If you're facing eviction

DON'T panic, you can't be evicted straight away as your landlord has to follow an eviction process which includes giving you written notice.

Even if your landlord is taking you to court, it's not too late to try and come to an agreement with them.

You can get free help and advice from charities such as Citizen's Advice, Shelter and StepChange.

6. Get help towards energy bills

You may also be entitled to help towards the cost of your energy bills, which may free up some cash so that you can make your rent payment.

If you're born on or before August 5 1953 then you might be able to claim the Winter Fuel payment. It's a one-off payment made annually to help you pay for heating during the colder months.

Cold Weather Payments help those on Universal Credit, JSA, pension credit or ESA pay for extra heating costs.

You'll get it every time the temperature drops below a specific measurement for a set period of time.

If you're in debt to your energy supplier, you may be able to get a grant from a charity to help you pay it off.

British Gas Energy Trust offers help to anyone, even if you're not a customers. Npower, Scottish Power, Ovo Energy, E.on Energy, and EDF Energy also have funds to help their own customers.

7. Cut back on your outgoings

Cutting back your spending can be difficult but it won't be as bad as being evicted from your home.

Have a look at your bank statements and check whether there are any unnecessary monthly expenses that you can ditch, like luxury TV packages.

Are you on the cheapest tariff for your monthly bills? For example, switching energy suppliers could save you £300 a year.

Switching to a 0 per cent credit card could also reduce your monthly payments.

If you're not sure how to budget, MoneyAdviceService has a free budgeting planner you can use to keep your finances in check.

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