If you are renting and have been issued with a S.21 (eviction notice), you should seek advice from your local authority. Most local authorities will ask that a tenant/ occupier stay in the properly until bailiffs physically evict them, as at this point the you will become statutorily homeless and have a right to be given temporary accommodation by your local authority. If a tenant leaves before this time, they may be classed as ‘voluntarily homeless’ and not be entitled to support from their local authority.
If you have a court date for eviction/ repossession proceedings, they may be able to get representation and/ or advice from a number of agencies, including:
Local Law Centre – Local law centres provide legal representation to those who cannot afford a lawyer. You can search for one at http://www.lawcentres.org.uk/
Shelter – Housing and Homelessness advice charity. Provides in depth advice on most housing and homelessness issues, and often have representatives available at courts. Information available at http://england.shelter.org.uk/get_advice. Shelter Housing Advice Helpline – 0808 800 4444. Open 8am – 8pm Mon – Fri and 8am – 5pm weekends, 365 days a year.
Tenants on a low or nil income may be able to get help with their rent through Housing Benefit (and also may be eligible to get some help with their Council Tax through Council Tax Support – you can usually claim for this when you apply for Housing Benefit), which you apply for through your local authority.
To find your local authority, use the search tool available on the Gov.uk website here.
If you are renting from a private landlord, you will be subject to Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates, which is the maximum rental a local authority will pay for a household of your size. Any shortfall would need to be made up yourself. You can find out your LHA rate on the Gov.uk website here.
It is worth noting that people under 35 would only be eligible to receive the ‘shared accommodation rate’, which is based on the LHA rate for a room in shared accommodation, which may be significantly lower that your actual rent if you are under 35 and renting a whole property. If you are renting privately, housing benefit is usually paid to your account and not directly to your landlord.
Tenants in social housing will be subject to LHA rates from April 2017. Socially housed tenants are also subject to the under occupancy penalty (‘bedroom tax’), where your Housing Benefit is reduced for every spare bedroom you have. The bedroom tax does not apply once you reach state pension age. Housing Benefit is usually paid directly to the social landlord. Since June 2016, Housing Benefit can be backdated by a maximum of one month.
If making up a LHA shortfall or the bedroom tax is preventing you from paying your rent, you may be able to ask your Local Authority to provide you with a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP).
Local authorities have a set fund available each year that can be accessed by tenants who are having difficulties paying their rent, perhaps due to the impact of the bedroom tax or LHA rate, although other extenuating circumstances are taken into account. Local authorities only have limited funds to administer DHPs, which are renewed annually; once the fund is used up, no more DHPs can be paid.
Further information from Shelter, including an online tool to access your local authority’s DHP claim form, can be found here.
It is worth contacting your mortgage lender as soon as possible to advise them of a change in circumstance and to negotiate a new way of meeting your payments. If approached before arrears are incurred, lenders are often able to be flexible and may agree to a repayment holiday, a period of nil payment, switching to interest only or to add any arrears on to the total outstanding on your mortgage.
If you are facing repossession by your lender, you should seek specialist advice as soon as possible on your rights and responsibilities. Your lender should only pursue repossession as a last resort, and must consider all reasonable options that you propose to pay off your arrears.
You may be able to get free and confidential advice from Civil Legal Advice, dependent on your income. More information is available on the government's website here.
Shelter can also provide specialist advice on next steps. Their helpline is 0808 800 4444 and you may find their information on repossession at useful.
There is relatively limited support for homeowners who are having difficulty meeting their mortgage payment. It is worth checking whether you have mortgage protection insurance which will cover your mortgage payments for a period if your income drops. Some critical illness policies may help cover your mortgage payments if you become ill and your income drops.
If you have an underlying entitlement to an income-based benefit (such as Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance or Income Support), you may be eligible for Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI). This is a payment administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to assist those on low incomes with the interest portion of their mortgage. However, SMI only becomes payable 39 weeks after you become eligible for an income-based benefit. More information is available on the government's website here.
Homeowners can be eligible for help with their Council Tax through Council Tax Support, which needs to be applied for through your Local Authority.
Yes. Once Universal Credit (UC) is rolled out, housing costs (Housing Benefit or SMI) will be included in your monthly UC payment. Universal Credit is being rolled out to single claimants in a number of areas in England.
Your Local Authority and/ or Job Centre will advise when you need to start an application for UC as opposed to Housing benefit or an income-based earnings replacement or Tax Credit. Once UC is rolled out, housing cost payments will be paid directly to a claimant, and not to a landlord.
For more information on Universal Credit and housing costs including the effects of the benefits cap visit https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit
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