If You Get Help with Your Rent in the UK, You Could Get Evicted

Have you always wanted a lovely English cottage by a river? So have a lot of English people, some of whom can’t afford to be so picky about their housing. Just more than one million tenants who rent from private landlords in the UK rely on some level of government benefits to pay part or all of their rent. They receive housing assistance because of disabilities, unemployment or other issues that make it hard for them to meet their expenses, and the government is about to change the way these benefits are administered.

In response, confused and upset landlords are threatening to refuse to accept tenants who receive the housing benefit.

Historically, the system paid out benefits to tenants directly, but if they missed two months of rent, the benefit would switch to the landlord, ensuring that people kept their homes. In addition, this policy kept landlords cooperative — many landlords are uneasy to rent to people on benefits due to social attitudes about poverty and benefits claimants. By confirming that they would receive their rent no matter what, the policy was designed to keep as many landlords as possible renting to tenants on benefits.

Under the new system, known as universal credit, the goal is to encourage people who receive government benefits to learn to manage their money effectively and appropriately. This is a concern in both the UK and U.S., where many low-income people have limited financial literacy, in no small part because they’ve never really had finances to manage. Without that literacy, upward mobility can be very difficult to achieve, and people can experience more financial hardship because they don’t know how to maximize the money they do have. Universal credit could be transformative for people on benefits, but it has landlords worried.

Why? Because they’re hearing the part about managing money independently, but they’re not hearing the other part of the story: as before, if tenants default on their rent for two months, the benefit will go straight to the landlord. Under universal credit, the first default will trigger a review and discussion, giving tenants an opportunity to figure out what went wrong and why. If there’s another, the benefits will revert. At maximum, landlords would be missing two months’ worth of rent, which might be a concern for a small landlord with only a few properties, but the landlords who are protesting are among the UK’s largest.

Landlords with hundreds and in some cases thousands of units are claiming that they’ll refuse to accept tenants who plan to pay their rent with benefits, out of concern that they’ll end up with high default rates and they’ll have trouble recovering the funds. That’s bad news for people on benefits, who already face housing discrimination and would find it even harder to seek accommodations if landlords follow through on their threats — especially if as many as 75% do it, as some promise.

The situation is even more complicated for tenants with young children, older people and people with disabilities, who may have specific housing needs that limit their opportunities even more. Someone who uses a wheelchair for mobility, for example, needs an accessible house and thus has fewer units available to her to look at. If all the accessible housing is controlled by people who won’t take her benefits, she could be facing homelessness, forced institutionalization, or a forced relocation to an unfamiliar place without friends, family and support network.

The controversy, and confusion, reflect the need to educate landlords about how the new administration of benefits will work, and what they can do to ensure their tenants remain on-track with the rent. Already, landlords Fergus and Judith Wilson have made waves in Britain by sending out 200 eviction notices to tenants on welfare — regardless of their status — and they’ve stated that they will not be accepting benefits claimants as tenants in the future.

Given the large number of properties they control, this decision will have serious ramifications for Britons who need a little extra help to get by, and the fact that it may encourage other landlords to do the same bodes even more ill.

Photo credit: Jason Ballard.


Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago

Having been on the landlord side of this issue I'm not so ready to throw brickbats just on the basis of this truncated article. Would need more info to comment.

Angela Roquemore
Angela Roquemore4 years ago


Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne R4 years ago

Thank you.

Pami W.
Pami W4 years ago

It's understandable large land owners who rent would stand to loose big money by defaulting tennants. The landlords should not loose 2 months rent from defaulting tennants. I think in the end the money should be paid directly to the landlord to ensure them that they will recieve their money.
Even a landlord with only a few places to rent could be put in jeporady financilly by a no paying tennant.

Magdalen B.
Magdalen B4 years ago

The way the weather has been lately, your lovely cottage by the river would be flooded.

JL A4 years ago

Yikes--these people with benefit eligibility don't need this kind of stress and uncertainty

Haleene Williams
Haleene Williams4 years ago

If you want to educate the poor, then start with it in the school, because most are tossed out from their homes and families without proper training on how to survive daily problems, and don’t have any idea what goes first, and what goes last. Kids are trained on possible job avenues for the future, and the skills they may need for them, but not on how to handle everyday problems.
The last two years of school should include this in both grade school and high school since many of the poor never finished high school.

Haleene Williams
Haleene Williams4 years ago

I live off of government help now in my older age and debilitating health (though I do pay my rent and other bills on time myself). The reasoning behind not keeping the landlords sure that the renters paid, is weak at best.
This is just one part of a low income person’s monthly budget. They still have a multitude of things they must budget for.
Those who don’t pay their rent “choose” to let the rent be the last thing on their priorities instead of the first, so if they are doing so, take it over for the “tax payer’s rights.”
It's not a matter of helping them budget, it is a matter of being sure the tax payers get what they pay for and the landlord gets what they bargained for because of the governments promise to spend their tax dollars wisely.
The landlords are taking risk for any renters, and when they can be assured of payment, then they should be, especially where their tax dollars are being paid already to help the renters.

Jelena Radovanovic
Past Member 4 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Barbara L.
Past Member 4 years ago

I have been very, very poor -- one meal a day poor -- and always paid my rent and utilities first because I knew that I always needed to do my utmost to keep a roof over my head.

Direct payment to landlords from the government agencies would ensure landlords were paid in a timely manner.