LEGAL EAGLE: Keeping a roof over your head in tough times

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Are you struggling to pay your rent? Are you worried about losing your home? Have you been given notice of eviction?

Times are tough, and every day I am contacted by people who are having sleepless nights worrying about how they will make their next rent payment.

There are many things that can cause housing worries – redundancy, unemployment, housing benefit and the bedroom tax all have an effect on whether you can afford to pay your rent.

Understandably, most people find it difficult to cope with housing worries and hope that things will just ‘sort themselves out’, but if you are worried about losing your home you need to take action straight away.

Whatever the cause of your problems, your Landlord usually has to follow a set procedure in order to lawfully evict you and most people cannot be evicted without a court order.

Your landlord will give you notice that they intend to go to court, and it is always best to tackle things head on as soon as you are contacted.

In my experience, most landlords will be willing to work with you if they know you are trying to resolve the problems rather than just ignoring them.

If your landlord is the local authority, get in touch with them to ask for help in resolving your financial issues. If you are struggling because of a recent change in circumstances, try to get advice from a professional about what benefits you are entitled to. If you have benefits applications pending, always make sure your landlord knows about this.

You can also seek budgeting and debt advice from charities such as Step Change and Citizens Advice Bureau – they can help you work out what you have to spend, and free up some more money to put towards your rent.

The worst thing you can do at any stage of your housing problem is bury your head and hope it will all go away. It won’t.

If your landlord does end up taking the matter to court, then seek specialist legal advice immediately. Court proceedings can be scary when you are facing them alone, and a specialist housing solicitor will be able to guide you in the right direction and help you secure the best possible outcome.

It’s always better to do this sooner rather than later, but if you have received a possession order or a warrant of eviction and don’t already have a solicitor, now is the time to get one.

Even when you have been given a date for your eviction, there may still be time to do something about it but only if you ask for help.

One last thing to note – there is still legal aid available for housing problems, so you may be able to get legal advice free of charge if you are on benefits or have a low income. If you are in any doubt, ring a solicitor and ask to be assessed for free legal aid.

l Paula Harris is Head of David Gray Solicitors’ Civil Team and a member of their Business Team which carries out work under the Law Society’s ‘Lawyers For Your Business’ scheme and assists many SMEs in all aspects of business work.

You can contact Paula for a no obligation chat via our website where you can Chat Live 24/7

For more information on David Gray Solicitors log on to www.davidgray.co.uk