13. Rent Arrears and Other Tenancy Related Debt
13.1 Landlords can impose a suspension where:
“There is or was any outstanding liability (for payment of rent or otherwise) in relation to a house which –
(i) is attributable to the person’s tenancy of the house, and
(ii) either –
(A) section 20(2A) would not be satisfied in respect of that debt, or
(B) in the case of a debt which is no longer outstanding, section 20(2A) would not have been satisfied at any time while that debt remained outstanding”.
13.2 This ground means that a social landlord may impose a suspension for rent arrears or other outstanding charges relating to a house. It may not, however, impose a suspension where the applicant is in rent arrears (or owes a landlord money for a reason relating to the property) in the following circumstances:
- that the rent arrears are not more than one twelfth of the annual rent (i.e. one month’s rent) or that
- the applicant:
(i) has agreed with the landlord an arrangement for paying the outstanding liability; and
(ii) has made payments in accordance with that arrangement for at least 3 months; and
(iii) is continuing to make such payments.
13.3 This ground also applies if the debt is no longer outstanding, but there has been tenancy- related debt that while it was outstanding never met these criteria. So in some circumstances it may be reasonable for a landlord to impose a suspension on an applicant or tenant if they have previously had significant unpaid rent arrears or service charges which are no longer outstanding – this is likely to be where a landlord has written the debt off. Landlords are not prevented from imposing a suspension in such cases either under section 20B at the time of application, or while a person is on a housing list (most probably as a transfer applicant) however landlords cannot suspend an applicant:
- because of non-housing debts;
- where previous arrears of rent or service charges have been paid;
- where the rent or service charge arrears amount to no more than a month’s rent or charges; or
- where the applicant has come to an arrangement with the landlord for paying arrears, has kept to the arrangement for at least three months and is continuing to make the payments.
13.4 Tenancy related debts can include such things as service charges, the cost of rechargeable repairs, the costs of clearing an abandoned house and storing furniture, and property management charges.
13.5 For applicants with tenancy debt it is important that any repayment agreement is realistic. The emphasis should be on the applicant’s willingness to address the debt and come to an agreement to do so. Landlords should base any agreement on its affordability to the applicant rather than the level of debt.
13.6 Landlords should be wary of adopting too rigid an approach to suspending applicants with arrears and should take the circumstances of why the arrear/debt has arisen in each individual case into account before imposing suspensions. In many cases landlords will already be working with tenants or applicants with rent arrears to help them manage the debt and make repayments.