Failing to pay your rent or accommodation charges means Orwell staff must spend time that could be used to improve everyone’s home and quality of life. Paying your correct charges is important for us, for all our tenants and particularly for you. The best way to avoid arrears is to start as you mean to go on. Keeping your home should be a priority. Never put off paying the rent or accommodation charges to cover some other less important expense.
This section explains how and when you should pay, how to prevent arrears and what Orwell will do if you don’t.
When and how to pay your rent and other charges
- You must pay your rent and other accommodation charges in advance on the first day of each month.
- If you find it easier you can pay weekly or fortnightly but must always be a month ahead when you pay.
- At a very few supported housing schemes the charge is due weekly, and we will tell you if this applies to you.
- When you first move in, we shall ask you to pay for the month ahead, for any amount not likely to be covered by benefit.
It is much easier to get into arrears than to clear them. Paying your correct charges regularly and on time will avoid future hardship.
Financial Inclusion Initiatives
Financial Inclusion is about ensuring that everybody, from every walk of life, has access to appropriate financial services, enabling them to manage their money on a day- to-day basis, plan for the future, cope with financial pressure and deal effectively with financial distress. Please take time to read through the following services.
Most high street banks are able to provide ‘basic’ bank accounts, which you may apply for. These types of account should be available to the vast majority of people, without having to meet the usual criteria for credit and address history. A similar facility is also available via local Credit Unions who may also be able to help you budget your household income.
We can put residents in touch with local Credit Unions, to provide savings accounts. These accounts are available to all of Orwell’s tenants and could lead to affordable loans being made available, for a variety of purposes.
Local Credit Unions can make affordable loans available to account holders who save with them. The cost of a Credit Union loan is vastly less than the interest rates charged by ‘doorstep lenders’. Borrowing from people who knock on the door MUST be avoided.
Looking at your debts, prioritising them and putting them in order is one of the most important things that you can do, to ease as much financial pressure as possible. Arranging to see one of our associated debt management advisors will help you understand how to cope with unforeseen circumstances.
Understanding how you get charged for electric and/or gas and the rates that you pay are vital in keeping your fuel bills as low as possible. We can help you to do this in many ways.
Home Contents Insurance
Making sure your possessions are insured is vital, should you suffer from a break-in, flood or similar problem. The cost of having contents insurance is a lot cheaper than you may think and very easy to set up.
Furniture and White Goods
We can put you in touch with organisations which can supply furniture and kitchen appliances to you, sometimes at a fraction of the cost of the high street shops. We could also be able to arrange money for you, by way of a grant, to help you enjoy some newer and nicer items.
You may pay your charges in the following ways:
- Through your bank, building society or post office account.
- Standing Order – you control this and must remember to change it when the rent changes.
- Direct Debit – Orwell makes the changes having first advised you in writing (not available through some ‘basic’ accounts).
- Paying-in slip over the counter – ask Orwell for a book of slips with your rent account reference. If you use your bank’s own slip you must write your name and address clearly on the back or we will not know it is your payment.
- Giro payment in post offices (rural schemes only).
- Direct payment to Orwell by the Housing Benefit department – remember this does not always cover all your charges and you must make up any difference yourself.
- Universal Credit payments.
- Cheque in person or by post to the Ipswich or Lowestoft Offices. Remember to write your address on the back of a cheque.
- Cash to staff at the time of a home visit or at one of our offices. Please make sure you are given a receipt.
- Credit and debit card at any of our offices or over the telephone may be accepted for rent when you first sign up or to prevent imminent eviction, we do accept them for non-rent charges e.g. for repairs Orwell did that were your responsibility.
- If you are eligible for any other funding this will usually be paid directly to Orwell by the Council. This arrangement may change in future for some claimants – always check with staff.
What happens if you get behind with your rent or other charges?
- Orwell sends you a statement of account every 3 months and you can ask for one at any time. We also provide a statement of accounts with some arrears letters.
- You should pay any amount owing straight away, and ensure you are paying for the month ahead rather than at the end. If you disagree with the figures, contact your Housing Officer immediately.
- If your Housing Benefit has changed, or not yet been paid since you claimed, it is your responsibility to check it out and to pay on time any amounts not included or not likely to be included.
- If any overpaid Housing Benefit has been reclaimed by the Council through Orwell, this will put you in arrears. We will treat this in the same way as arrears you have caused directly.
- Orwell has a firm but fair policy for dealing with arrears. We monitor accounts regularly and will contact you as soon as you miss or reduce your regular payment or if Housing Benefit direct stops or reduces.
Preventing and Paying off arrears
- If you have, or believe you will have, difficulties paying your rent (or your wellbeing charge in sheltered or supported housing), or you are already in arrears, speak to staff straight away. You can contact us by telephone, or email or if you prefer, we can make an arrangement to visit you. We will:
- Explain again the methods of paying the charges.
- Check that you are claiming any benefit or tax credit you may qualify for and support you in making any necessary arrangements.
- Agree payments in reasonable instalments to reduce arrears and ask you to sign a repayment agreement.
- Arrange for any Housing Benefit to be paid direct to Orwell – if this isn’t already happening.
- Arrange for a small deduction to be taken from certain of your other benefits – this can be done after 4 weeks in some circumstances and 8 weeks in all cases.
- Try to arrange an appointment for you with a benefit or money adviser or provide you with information about getting specialist help – if it appears that you need such help to bring your financial situation under control.
- Your rent or accommodation charge is a priority debt and should be paid before other debts such as telephone, digital services, catalogue or credit card bills.
If you don’t pay your rent, you could lose your home.
Legal procedures to recover arrears
- There are several legal procedures we could use, if you fail to make, or to keep to, a reasonable repayment agreement until the arrears have been cleared. Most commonly for secure and full assured tenants we will:
- Serve a Notice of Seeking Possession – after warning you and when arrears have built up over 6 weeks
- The notice remains valid for 12 months. If you contact us straight away and tell us about any Housing Benefit changes or delays, make an agreement to pay or to make up any amounts previously agreed, we will take no further action unless you fail again.
- If no progress is made, we will warn you and if still no improvement will apply to the court for a hearing. We usually allow you 4 weeks after service of the notice to demonstrate your willingness to repay the arrears, although for some assured tenants we could apply for a hearing after only 2 weeks – check the date that we wrote in the notice.
- If you still do not resolve the problem – and Orwell will always consider any reasonable proposals you make – you will be invited to attend a Court hearing, and a Judge will consider your case.
- Usually the Court orders that so long as you regularly pay the rent, an agreed amount to clear the arrears and the costs of the hearing, no further action may be taken by Orwell.
- If your financial circumstances change and the order becomes too much for you to pay, you can apply to the Court to change the order.
- For Orwell’s fixed term tenants if you are in arrears during the probationary period it may be considered that you cannot sustain the tenancy and your tenancy agreement will not continue for the remaining term. Orwell will execute the break clause in your agreement and seek to end the tenancy.
- If you breach a repayment order or the court ends the tenancy Orwell can apply for eviction – a senior Orwell Officer who has not been involved in the case will decide whether we should do so.
- If we decide to evict, we will apply for a warrant that will be implemented by the court bailiff.
We may use the same procedure for starter and fixed term tenancies or other assured shorthold tenants, although there is also a legal procedure (known as the Section 21 procedure) that gives the landlord an absolute right to end the tenancy, usually without a hearing.
We will usually only use the Section 21 procedure in cases of rent arrears where we do not think there is any likelihood of the tenant paying the arrears.
We could also apply for a ‘money judgement order’ that requires you to pay the debt, without ending your tenancy. This could include requiring your employer to deduct the arrears repayment from your salary. Orwell rarely uses this type of legal action.
A Housing Association or Council may not consider helping you if they believe you are homeless due to your own actions.
- If you’re getting into arrears – don’t ignore the problem. Request a ‘Money Management Debt’ pack for additional advice and support.
- Contact your Housing Officer as soon as possible.
- Check your benefit entitlement.
- Make a budget plan to identify all income, costs, arrears and how much you can afford to pay.
- Don’t agree unaffordable repayment rates for any arrears.
- Seek advice from Citizens’ Advice Bureau or independent money advice centres. They can give you free, impartial advice and will help you prioritise your arrears and negotiate payments to creditors.