Get help with your bills

Mortgage

If you are experiencing difficulties with paying your mortgage or are worried about debt, then don't ignore the problem. There is a lot of help available for you

If you're struggling to pay, you need to act quickly, even if the problem is only temporary. Mortgage arrears don't automatically lead to repossession but must be taken very seriously.

Keeping up with your mortgage payments should be your top financial priority. It may be possible to negotiate to reduce your monthly mortgage payments but this will depend on what sort of mortgage you have

Most lenders are committed to helping home owners who are struggling. If your lender doesn’t hear from you or doesn’t know why you haven’t made a payment, they are more likely to start legal action.

Pre-action protocol for mortgage possession

Lenders must take certain steps when borrowers fall into mortgage arrears. Repossession should be seen as a last resort. These steps are known as the Pre-action Protocol.

When the courts are deciding if a repossession should take place, they will take into account whether a lender has followed the pre action protocol, which includes steps such as;

  • has the lender provided you with information about the total amount of arrears, the outstanding balance on the mortgage, and details of any interest or charges that may be payable
  • has the lender taken steps to discuss the reason you're in arrears
  • has the lender recommended that you contact your local Council for advice
  • has the lender considered changing the date or method of payment
  • has the lender discussed any proposals you make for repayment of the arrears, giving reasons in writing within 10 days if your proposals are not accepted, and allowing you reasonable time to consider any proposal they make to you
  • has the lender given you 15 working days notice in writing of their intention to issue a claim for possession, if you don't keep any agreement you make

If you have problems paying your mortgage, it may be possible to increase your income to make your mortgage more affordable. It is important to maximise your income and ensure you are getting all the benefits you are entitled:

If you believe that you are at threat of homelessness, complete the online form via the self-referral portal. The housing advice team will then contact you directly. We can then refer you to the debt advice team. They will be able to advise you of your rights, and negotiate an affordable payment plan with your lender. They can also attend court with you if you have a possession hearing Debt Advice team page link

You may be entitled to a loan from the Department for Work and Pensions [DWP] to help with housing costs link

If you are claiming benefits you might be eligible to apply for Support for Mortgage Interest (paid as a loan).

Self help

  • think whether you can increase your income at all - Could you take in a lodger, for example?
  • list all your household expenditure to see if there's any spending you can reduce
  • check whether a better mortgage deal is on offer
  • consider asking your lender to extend the term of your loan or capitalise the amount owed. (you should get Independent Financial Advice before committing yourself to any offer)
  • prioritise your debts and get advice from a qualified Money Advisor
  • speak to all your creditors (like your mortgage lender) and make an offer of what is affordable to you to pay
  • check to see that you are receiving all the benefits you are entitled to

Further information

Rent

Not paying your rent could result in your losing your home.

Debts relating to your home should always be your top financial priority.

If you are struggling to pay your rent or are at risk of losing your home because you owe your landlord rent, you need to take action.

It is always a good idea to tell your landlord if you are having trouble paying the rent. Your landlord will notice that you haven't paid and is more likely to take action if you ignore the problem. Telling your landlord and offering a practical solution may prevent them from trying to evict you, as it shows that you are making an effort to deal with the situation.

If you believe you are at threat from being evicted from your home, please complete the online form via the self-referral portal. The housing advice team may then refer you to the debt advice team

You could also apply for Universal Credit or housing benefit.

Utility bills

If you are in arrears with your utility bills you need to contact your supplier straight away to arrange a payment plan to cover your ongoing costs and repay the arrears at an affordable rate.

Gas and electricity bills

These are priority debts because if they are not paid you could be disconnected. The utility companies will usually give you an option to repay the arrears over 12 or 18 months.

  • if this is unaffordable or you have defaulted on payment plans before, you may be given the option of having a prepayment meter installed
  • prepayment meters are set to deduct the arrears from any weekly payments made at an agreed rate
  • if you are unemployed or suffer from a disability the amount deducted can be minimal. If you have arrears of more than £50 and have dependents living with you, you can have the arrears and on-going charges deducted from your benefit. Therefore make sure you let your provider know what income you receive and if you have any health issues
  • if you are unemployed and receiving a qualifying benefit or suffer from health issues you may be entitled to have your tariff adjusted to a social tariff which is at reduced rate. Please ask your provider for details
  • many of the utility providers have Trust Funds which may provide a grant to clear your arrears. Ask your provider for details or look at the Turn 2 Us website
  • you can get help on how to do this from National Debtline

Credit cards, loans or catalogues

These debts are called non-priority debts, remember:

  • they do not take preference over payments towards your rent, mortgage, council tax, TV License or utilities such as gas electricity or water bills
  • but if left unpaid, it will affect your credit status and scoring
  • try to keep your creditors aware of your circumstances
  • recovery of goods could lead to a County court judgement (CCJ) or if a homeowner a charging order
  • compile a financial statement to see if any payments can be made, however minimal. Negotiate realistic repayment plans with your Creditors
  • if you are unable to pay anything, ask your creditors to hold action until your situation improves. You can also offer a token payment in the meantime for £1 per month. Sample letters and income and expenditure sheets can be downloaded from National Debtline
  • take further advice if considering a consolidation loan

Paying bank charges if overdrawn

  • if you are overdrawn or struggling to pay bank charges and are in receipt of housing benefit, you can ask your bank not to use that benefit to pay your debts or overdraft. This is called a First Right of Appropriation order
  • you will need to write to your bank 7 days before the payment is due. You need to make it clear to the bank that you will be receiving regular payments from Buckinghamshire Council or the DWP and this income should be used for rent payments only. State in the letter that you are exercising your first right of appropriation. Remember you will still have to pay any bank charges and costs associated with your overdraft.

Complete first right of appropriation letter

If your bank continues to use your benefits for bank charges then you can make a complaint to the Banking Ombudsman.