Hundreds of thousands of people struggle to pay their rent each year, perhaps because they’ve had a change in financial circumstances, or because their landlord has increased the amount they have to pay.

Covering rental costs is often a real concern for those approaching retirement, or who’ve recently stopped work. According to Interactive Investor’s Great British Retirement Survey, 30% of renters who haven’t yet retired said they weren’t sure their pensions would be enough to pay the rent.

Although struggling to pay your rent is hugely stressful, there are some steps you may be able to take to try and ease the pressure and find help.

Here we explain some options to explore if you are struggling to pay your rent, what assistance you might be able to get and where to go for help.

Before you get started

If you have missed your rent payments, also known as being in rent arrears, for eight weeks or more, it’s very important that you seek help immediately. If you are in this situation, you might face eviction and could be forced to leave within 14 days of receiving the eviction notice. To find help contact your local Citizens Advice who should be able to advise on what your next steps should be.

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Contact your landlord as soon as possible

While it may feel tough to admit that you are struggling to pay your rent, it’s best to be proactive if you find yourself in this situation, as ignoring your financial problems could lead to eviction. Contact your landlord as soon as you see an issue arising to let them know what is happening.

If you are able to pay part of your rent, then it’s a good idea to pay what you afford and then try to come to an arrangement for the remaining sum. There are a few things you could suggest, such as a temporary rent reduction, or developing a payment plan, such as spreading the cost of the rent arrears over a number of months. The charity, Shelter, has free email templates for requesting a rent reduction or for suggesting a payment plan that you can use to email your landlord.

If you live in social housing, then your local council or housing association might be able to offer you support if you are in financial difficulty.

Prioritise rent payments

Rent arrears are a priority debt, which essentially means that not paying it can have some serious consequences, such as losing the roof over your head.

If you have several outstanding debts, then it’s important to prioritise rent over other debt payments. However, if you have to pay more than one priority debt or if you are facing immediate action on any debts (for example, you are facing eviction or a court summons), you should contact your local Citizens Advice who should be able to advise you on what your next steps should be.

Other priority debts include:

  • Council tax arrears
  • Gas or electricity bills
  • Phone or internet bills
  • TV licence payments
  • Court fines
  • Overpaid tax credits
  • Payments for goods bought on hire purchase or conditional sale
  • Unpaid income tax, National Insurance or VAT
  • Unpaid child maintenance

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Check if you’re entitled to any government support

If your rent arrears have come about because your income has reduced then it could be worthwhile looking into whether you might be eligible for Universal Credit. This has a housing element that might help you with your rent payments. Have a look at our article Everything you need to know about Universal Credit for information on what you might get and how to apply.

If you already receive Universal Credit, but you still don’t have enough to help cover your rent, you might be able to apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP), which is an additional payment that some local councils issue to their residents if they need more help with their housing costs. DHP is often a limited fund held by local councils so the amount you might get and for how long will be determined by them. To apply for DHP, you will need to contact your local council.

If you receive other types of benefits such as Employee Support Allowance or Pension Credit, you might be able to get the DWP to pay some of this directly to your landlord to repay any arrears.

Work out your budget and your payment plan

Regardless of whether you can get government support or not, it’s a good idea to consider whether you are able to reduce your outgoings so you can pay as much as you can towards your rent.

It’s important to be honest with yourself about what you actually spend so you can create a budget that is as realistic as possible. Our articles Budgeting if your income has reduced and How to save money – 17 money saving tips can help you work out a monthly budget and reduce your outgoings.

There are also a number of online charities that have tools that can help you work out your monthly budget, including:

Once you’ve got a clear understanding of what you can afford to pay towards your rent each month, you can start looking at building a payment plan to pay your rent and any arrears you might owe. You can then use this to talk to your landlord about arranging an alternative payment plan.

If your budget shows that you can’t afford to pay your rent, then it is worth getting in touch with one of the charities or organisations above, as they should be able to help you negotiate debt repayment plans with your creditors on your behalf.

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What options should you try to avoid?

Working out how to get on top of your rent payments can feel overwhelming, and while it may seem like a quick fix to get a payday loan and worry about how to pay it back later on, it’s likely to make things worse, so it’s best to avoid taking this route if you are able to.

Whatever happens, don’t suffer in silence, as struggling with your rent payments on your own can take a real toll on your mental health. If you are finding it hard to cope, our article Are money worries affecting your mental health? explains where to go for help if you need someone to talk to.