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When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Understanding rent, how it is set and what to do if you can't pay

Your rent is set by your landlord, whether that’s the Housing Executive, a housing association or a private individual. Rents are usually lower for social housing tenants than for private tenants. Some private tenants may have their rent controlled because

You have to pay rent to your landlord, whether that’s the Housing Executive, a housing association or a private landlord.  When you’re offered a property you should be told how much the rent is and how much your rates and service charges are.  If you're not given this information, make sure you ask for it before agreeing to take on a property. 

Responsibility for rent

The person named on the tenancy agreement is responsible for paying rent.  If the rent isn’t paid, your landlord can take legal action against this person.

Calculating Housing Executive rent

The Housing Executive uses a set formula to work out how much rent it should charge for each of its properties.  Every property is given a number of points.  The number of points depends on:

  • the type of building
  • the age of the building
  • how many rooms the property has
  • the type of heating
  • whether the property has a garage

If the property is lacking certain amenities; like a proper water supply, mains electricity or a connection to the sewer mains; or if it’s a flat with communal hallways points are taken away from the total.
Every April, the Housing Executive sets a monetary value for a point.  Your rent is worked out by multiplying the total number of points your property has by this monetary value.   Your rent will be increased in April of each year and you’ll normally get a letter about this in February or March.

Calculating housing association rents

Many housing associations set their rents using the same process as the Housing Executive.  Housing associations don’t have to use this system though. They can set up their own system for charging rents.  Ask your housing association about their system if you want to know more.

Like the Housing Executive, housing associations increase rents in April of each year.

Calculating private tenancy rents

Landlords of private tenancies are usually free to charge whatever rent they want for a property.   The only time that rent can be restricted is if a property has failed a council fitness inspection or if a property is a protected tenancy

Your tenancy agreement should explain how and when you have to pay rent.  You will normally have to pay rent at the start of each month.  This can cause problems if you’re applying for housing benefit because housing benefit is always paid at the end of the month.  You may need to save up or apply for a loan from the Discretionary Finance Support Fund to cover your first month’s rent until your housing benefit claim is processed.

Paying Housing Executive and housing association rents

You can pay your rent

  • using a Paypoint service at a shop
  • online using your landlord's website or by phoning 0844 557 8321
  • through a Direct Debit or Standing Order or
  • in cash or by cheque at a Housing Executive accounts office or your housing association office.

If you’re having difficulty paying your rent you should get in touch with Housing Rights or another charity that provides free debt advice and counselling.  There are lots of charities that will help you for free so you should never pay a company to sort out your debts.

Missing a rent payment

If you’re a Housing Executive or a housing association tenant your landlord will contact you if you miss a payment of rent.  Your landlord will try to help you sort out your debt and may even refer you to an independent advice charity for help managing your money.

If you keep missing payments your landlord could try to evict you, but there are certain steps that the Housing Executive and housing associations have to take before they can take you to court to evict you.

Private tenants who are on a low income can apply for housing benefit and can request a Discretionary Housing Payment if housing benefit doesn’t cover their full rent.

Try to negotiate with your landlord if you miss a rent payment.  Let your landlord know that you’ll be late with the rent as soon as you can and explain what has happened.  Private landlords don’t have to negotiate with tenants who have fallen into rent arrears but many will be understanding, particularly if you can work out a repayment plan