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Assured shorthold tenancies and rent arrears

About assured shorthold tenancies and rent arrears

If you're the tenant of a private landlord and you have rent arrears, your landlord will probably try and evict you.

To do this, they will need to follow a procedure which involves getting a court order. They can't make you leave your home without getting a court order first, although in some cases you may want to leave before they do this.

If your landlord tries to force you to leave your home without getting a court order first, this is against the law.

Most tenants of private landlords are assured shorthold tenants.

If you have an assured shorthold tenancy, it can be quite easy for your landlord to evict you. They can usually use a procedure called the accelerated possession procedure.

This means your landlord can evict you without any reason, as long as they have given you two months notice. If you don't leave the property by the time the notice runs out, they will need to get a court order, but in most cases, the court will grant an order without there even needing to be a hearing. You will be told to leave the property no longer than 14 days after the order is granted.

If your landlord wants to evict you using the accelerated possession procedure, they need to give you the correct notice. There are also some limited circumstances where your landlord is not allowed to use the accelerated possession procedure at all.

In these circumstances, your landlord will need to use a longer procedure to evict you. Your landlord will need to give the court a reason why they want to evict you. There will probably be a court hearing where your landlord will have to prove it's reasonable to evict you and you will get the chance to put your case to the judge.

An example of when your landlord is not allowed to use the accelerated possession procedure is if they want to evict you before the end of a fixed-term assured shorthold tenancy.

Read this page to find out whether you're an assured shorthold tenant, what procedure your landlord has to use if they want to evict you and whether you can do anything to stop them.

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Are you an assured shorthold tenant?

You are likely be an assured shorthold tenant if:

  • your tenancy started on or after 28 February 1997, and
  • you pay rent to a private landlord, and
  • you don't share any accommodation with your landlord.

With most assured shorthold tenancies, you will sign up for a fixed number of months to begin with. This is often for a period of six months but it can be longer. After this period comes to an end, if you and your landlord want to extend the tenancy you may:

  • be asked to sign up for another fixed number of months
  • extend the tenancy on a rolling basis, from one week or one month to the next, without signing a new tenancy agreement.

If you have signed up for a fixed number of months which has not yet come to an end, this is known as a fixed-term assured shorthold tenancy.

If the fixed-term tenancy has come to an end but the tenancy has continued on a rolling basis, this is known as a periodic assured shorthold tenancy.

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When can your landlord use the accelerated possession procedure?

Your landlord can only use the accelerated possession procedure if:

  • you're an assured shorthold tenant
  • your fixed-term tenancy has come to an end
  • you have a periodic assured shorthold tenancy, although not within the first six months of the tenancy
  • you have a written tenancy agreement. If you originally had a written fixed-term agreement which has rolled over into a periodic tenancy, this still counts as having a written agreement
  • they have given you the correct notice to leave
  • they have put your tenancy deposit in an approved deposit protection scheme and given you information about this. This only applies if you paid a deposit on or after 6 April 2007. It doesn't apply if you paid a deposit before that date, unless your tenancy has been renewed since 6 April 2007.

For more information about tenant deposit schemes and when your landlord has to use one, see Tenancy deposits [Adobe Acrobat Document 46 KB].

Your landlord won't be able to use the accelerated possession procedure if:

  • you're not an assured shorthold tenant
  • they want to evict you before the end of a fixed-term assured shorthold tenancy
  • they don't issue you with the correct notice to leave your accommodation
  • you live in a house of multiple occupation for which a licence is needed but your landlord hasn't got one
  • they haven't put your tenancy deposit in an approved deposit protection scheme and they are required to do this by law.

If you think your landlord is trying to use the accelerated possession procedure when they're not supposed to, you may be able to stop the eviction from going ahead.  However, your landlord will probably be able to take other action to evict you.

For more information about houses of multiple occupation and when your landlord needs to get a license, see Shared accommodation in Renting from a private landlord.

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What is the accelerated possession procedure?

Will you get notice to leave

To use the accelerated procedure, your landlord must issue you with a written notice to leave. This is called a section 21 notice. The notice must be at least two months long, and say that possession is required.

If the amount of time between your rent payments is longer than two months, the notice your landlord gives you must be as long as the time between rent payments. For example, if you pay your rent every three months, the notice must be three months' long.

Once the notice period has run out, your landlord can apply to a court for an order to evict you. This order is called a possession order.

The court will send you papers, informing you that your landlord has applied for a possession order. Sometimes, this will be the first warning you get that your landlord wants to evict you. This can be the case where the section 21 notice was given to you at the beginning of your fixed-term tenancy. Your landlord might have done this because it would make it easier for them to evict you if they want to at the end of the tenancy. It is perfectly legal and doesn't mean they can't use the accelerated procedure to evict you.

Will you get a chance to defend the claim?

The court papers will include a form for you to fill in and return to the court. This is called a defence form. You can use this form to defend your landlord's claim for possession if you want to.

You can only defend a claim brought under the accelerated procedure if your landlord hasn't given you the proper notice or if they've used the procedure when they're not supposed to.

If you want to return the defence form, you must do this within 14 days of it being sent to you. However, it's not worth doing this unless you're sure you've got a really good legal reason for defending the claim. If you send back the defence form, the case could go to court. If you lose, you will have to pay court costs and you will still be evicted.

If you don't have a good legal reason for defending the claim, you should think seriously about moving out by the date the notice runs out. However, if you're going to be homeless, it may be very difficult to do this.

What if you're going to be homeless?

If you're going to be homeless, it's possible the council will have to rehouse you. If you think the council may have to rehouse you, you should not move out until the council has confirmed they are going to rehouse you in writing. This will stop them from finding you intentionally homeless.

The council does not have to rehouse everyone who is homeless. If you're going to be homeless but you don't think the council will have to rehouse you, you might want to ask the court to delay your eviction on the grounds of exceptional hardship.  You can do this by filling in the defence form.

You might need to get expert housing advice about whether you have a defence against your landlord's claim for possession. You might also need advice about whether the council has to rehouse you. You can get advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your local CAB, including those who can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Will there be a court hearing?

It's unlikely that there will be a court hearing. There will only be a chance of having a hearing if you return the defence form.

If you return the defence form, a judge will look at what you've put on the form and consider whether or not there needs to be a court hearing. They will only decide to have a hearing if your landlord has not followed the correct procedure, or if you say that your landlord has put wrong information on the claim form. If there is a hearing, it's a good idea to get advice from an expert housing adviser.

If you don't return the defence form, the judge will make a decision about whether to evict you based only on what your landlord has told the court.

If the judge decides your landlord has followed the correct procedure, they will grant a possession order. This will usually say you have to leave the property within 14 days. However, if you have nowhere else to go and the council does not have to rehouse you, you can ask for the eviction to be delayed.

Will you have to pay back the arrears?

If your landlord uses the accelerated possession procedure to evict you, this only means you have to leave the property, it doesn't mean you have to pay back the rent arrears you owe. However, your landlord might apply for a separate court order which forces you to pay back what you owe. This court order is called a Money Judgment.

For more information about money judgments, see You are taken to court for rent arrears.

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What if you don't leave by the date on the possession order

You don't have to leave the property by the date on the possession order, but it might be advisable for you to do so.

If you don't leave the property by the date on the order, your landlord can apply to the court for a warrant of possession and you will be evicted by bailiffs.

If you have nowhere else to go, you might want to think about asking the court to give you more time before you have to leave. You should do this on the defence form you are sent by the court before the possession order is granted.

A court does have the power to delay the eviction, but only for a maximum of six weeks (42 days) after the date on the possession order. You would have to prove that leaving by the date on the possession order would cause you exceptional hardship. It's up to the court to decide whether to allow you extra time before you have to leave. This can be decided with or without a court hearing, depending on how your landlord filled out their original application to the court (claim form) to have you evicted.

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Your landlord wants to evict you before the end of a fixed-term tenancy

With most assured shorthold tenancies, you sign up for a fixed number of months to begin with. This is often for a period of six months but it can be longer.

In many cases, if you get into rent arrears during this period, your landlord will just wait until the fixed-term has come to an end and then use the accelerated possession procedure to evict you. Your landlord can do this as long as they have given you at least two months notice in writing and followed the procedure correctly.

However, if your landlord wants to evict you before the fixed-term has come to an end, they can't use the accelerated possession procedure. Your landlord is more likely to want to evict you before the end of the fixed-term if you have a fixed-term lasting longer than six months.

In these circumstances, your landlord will need to use a longer procedure to evict you. They will need to give the court a reason why they want evict you. There will probably be a court hearing where your landlord will have to prove it's reasonable to evict you for rent arrears and you will get the chance to put your case to the judge. It's possible that you will be allowed to stay in the property if you can prove that you're able to keep up with the rent payments and pay back what you owe.

If your landlord is trying to evict you for rent arrears before the end of your fixed-term tenancy, you can find more information about what your landlord needs to do and what orders a judge can make in You are taken to court for rent arrears.

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What can you do to stop your landlord evicting you?

Talk to your landlord

If your landlord wants to evict you because of rent arrears, you could try contacting them to see if you can get them to change their mind.

This might be worth a try, particularly if you're in a position to pay back your arrears and keep up with your rent payments.

For more information about dealing with your landlord when you have rent arrears, see Paying off your rent arrears.

If you're an assured shorthold tenant with rent arrears, you may find it difficult to persuade your landlord not to evict you. You can get help to talk to your landlord from a Citizens Advice Bureau, or other advice agency. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those which can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Check your landlord has used the right procedure

If your landlord wants to evict you, it's important to check that they've given you the right notice and that they've used the right procedure.

If they haven't, you may be able to persuade a court not to grant them a possession order forcing you to leave the property.

If your landlord tries to use the accelerated possession procedure to evict you, the court might not grant possession if:

For more information about tenant deposit schemes and when your landlord has to use one, see Tenancy deposits [Adobe Acrobat Document 46 KB].

For more information about houses of multiple occupation and when your landlord needs to get a license, see Shared accommodation in Renting from a private landlord.

If you think one of these situations applies to you, you should let the court know about it. You can do this by filling in the defence form and sending it back to the court. If the court agrees that your landlord has not used the right procedure, they can strike out the case. There may need to be a court hearing to come to a decision about this.

Even if the case is struck out, your landlord may still be able to evict you. However, they may need to serve another notice and use a different possession procedure. This means they will have to give the court a reason why they want to evict you and persuade them that it's reasonable to do so.

For more about other possession procedures a landlord can use to evict you for rent arrears, see You are taken to court for rent arrears.

If you think your landlord is using the wrong procedure to try and evict you, or you're not sure, get help from an expert housing adviser. You can get help from a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those which can give email advice, click on nearest CAB.

Challenge the possession order

Under some circumstances, it may be possible to ask for a possession order to be set aside or to appeal against it.

You can ask for a possession order to be set aside if it was granted without a court hearing. The court will consider all the facts and can set aside the possession order if it is reasonable to do so.

You can appeal against a possession order if there was a court hearing but you think there are legal reasons why the order shouldn't have been made.

You can ask for a possession order made under the accelerated procedure to be changed (varied) to give you more time before you have to leave the property. You will still have to leave the property eventually. You can ask for a delay of up to six weeks from the date on the possession order, but only if:

  • you didn't return the defence form when the court sent it to you and you had a good reason for not doing so, and
  • it would cause you exceptional hardship to leave by the original date on the order. An example of exceptional hardship is if you have nowhere else to go.

There are very strict rules about whether you can ask for a possession order to be set aside, changed or appeal against it. If you want to do any of these things, it's best to get help from a specialist housing adviser. You can get help from a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those which can give email advice, click on nearest CAB.

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Further help

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Citizens Advice

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