14. Appendix 4
Recovery of rent arrears
All tenancy agreements state that rent payments are due in advance. Rent is charged weekly to rent accounts and tenants can pay, in advance, at any frequency from weekly to monthly. Where rent is not paid when due the Council will take the following action:
If rent has not been paid a reminder letter will be sent requesting that payments are brought up to date.
If the full amount is not paid an arrangement can be made to pay the debt by instalments. If the debt is not settled or an instalment is missed a final reminder will be sent.
If the debt remains unpaid or is not reducing a final reminder is sent warning of further action. Accompanying this letter are details of housing benefit surgeries, Citizens Advice contact details and a debt advice leaflet giving contact details of a number of debt advice agencies that give free and independent advice.
Notice of Seeking Possession & Notice to quit
If the debt reaches 8 Weeks rent or more (4 weeks on a garage), a Notice will be served on tenants. A notice of Seeking Possession, Notice to Quit, introductory Notice or a Notice seeking Termination will be served, depending on the type of tenancy the tenant has. These Notices give a minimum period of twenty eight days for the debt to be paid or for a repayment programme to be agreed and maintained. After the period of notice and for a further period of 52 weeks the Council can commence steps to recover possession of the dwelling by making an application to the County Court.
County Court Hearing
At the hearing the Council will seek possession of the property, but this will normally be suspended or adjourned on terms depending on the size of the debt and the history of payment. The terms granted will be a reasonable amount in addition to the rent as it falls due. The Council will also be entitled to an order for costs, currently £394.50 and these costs will be awarded on the same terms as the repayment of rent arrears.
If the rent arrears are paid in full or at a low level the matter in Court can be adjourned generally or to the next available date or the proceedings withdrawn, but an order for costs will still be sought.
If rent arrears are substantial and the payment record is poor an outright order for possession can be sought.
If a tenant breaches the terms of an adjourned order an application will be made to the Court for the matter to be restored for hearing.
Warrant for Possession of Property
If a tenant breaches the terms of a suspended possession order a letter is sent advising of the amount of that breach, giving 7 days for the sum to be paid and requesting that future payments are paid when due. If the letter is ignored a further warning is given before a possession warrant is applied for. An application for a possession warrant will be made and this will incur a cost of £110 which, will be added to the tenant’s rent account. The County Court enforcement agent will then issue a date to the tenants when the warrant will be executed and their home repossessed. The tenant has the right to apply to have the warrant set aside and on receipt of such an application the Court will set a hearing date to hear the application. The District Judge will hear both parties and can decide to make a further suspended order on terms and give another opportunity for the tenant/s to remain in their home and pay the debt or the application can be dismissed, the warrant enforced and the tenant/s evicted.
Principles of court action
- Possession Action should not be taken if tenants have made and successfully maintained repayment arrangements, including direct deductions from the appropriate state benefit.
- If housing benefit or universal credit issues are outstanding, court action should be delayed.
- Court action should be the last resort when all other action has failed to result in repayment of arrears.
- Rental Team Officers should encourage tenants to seek advice, before they go to court, from advice agencies like the Citizens’ Advice and floating support agencies. They should also encourage tenants to attend the court hearing in person so they can discuss their financial situation.
- Personal contact should always be maintained through the legal process. Providing effective advice and support will help to ensure tenants are able to remain in their homes.
- The Court will provide tenants with information on how to apply to the Court to vary the terms of a suspended order or how to apply to set aside a repossession warrant.
- In cases of eviction, close liaison with the Housing Options Team is necessary where children or vulnerable people are involved.