Council housing handbook

The tenancy agreement

Chapter 2: The tenancy agreement

Your tenancy agreement is a legal contract between you and us. It sets out the conditions we must both keep to. It is an important document so you should read it carefully and keep it safe. Type of tenancy. We will tell you, in writing, what type of tenancy you have.

  • an introductory tenancy
  • a secure tenancy

Introductory tenancy

If you have been on the housing register and this is your first home, you will be offered an introductory tenancy. Tenants, who have moved from a secure tenancy or have been an assured tenant of a housing association, will have a secure tenancy. See below: Secure tenancy 

An introductory tenancy runs for 12 months. After this time, if there haven’t been any problems with your behaviour or your rent payments, your tenancy will become a secure tenancy. As an introductory tenant, you do not have the right to:

  • buy your home
  • exchange your home with another tenant’s home
  • take in lodgers
  • sublet part of your home
  • make improvements to your home

Most people have no problems during their introductory tenancy, but if problems do arise, we will act quickly to resolve them.

Your Neighbourhood Housing Officer will try to find solutions to your problems so you can keep your home. We will of course rely on your co-operation.

If you have serious rent arrears or we hear about a problem with your behaviour we will investigate. In most instances this will resolve the matter however if the problem is serious, a warning letter will be sent. We will take action to evict you if you do not co-operate with us to improve the situation, or if the problem is very serious. We also have the right to extend your introductory tenancy by a further six months if we have concerns that there have been some breaches of the tenancy agreement. We must do this at least eight weeks before your tenancy is due to become secure and if this happens you have the right to appeal against this decision.

In the unlikely event of eviction proceedings whilst an introductory tenant, the process is relatively quick starting with a notice explaining that we intend to go to court to evict.

Tenants have 14 days to ask us to review their case. If you ask for a review, an independent panel of council officers (and sometimes councillors) will look at the case to make sure we have followed our procedures correctly.If the panel agrees with the eviction, there is no appeal against their decision.

A court order is then obtained to evict.

Secure tenancy

As a secure tenant, you can only be evicted if you break the conditions of your tenancy. As a secure tenant, your rights include.

  • the right to buy your home
  • the right to exchange your home with that of another tenant
  • the right to make improvements to your home
  • the right to be consulted about matters which affect you
  • the right to take in lodgers
  • the right for someone to take over your tenancy after your death (the right of succession)

We may change the conditions of your tenancy (for example, by increasing your rent), but we must give you notice of any change.

After we have given you notice, we will listen to your views and take them into account when we make a decision on the change.

Flexible tenancy

As a flexible tenant you will have be given a fixed term tenancy agreement of ten years if you have dependent children, and five years if you do not.

As a flexible tenant you broadly have the same rights as a secure tenant.

From March 2020, we no longer issue flexible tenancies. Any existing flexible tenancy will automatically become secure when the current fixed term ends.

Joint tenancy

Responsibilities

If two or more names appear on the rent card, you have a joint tenancy. Each person named (joint tenant) is responsible for making sure the rent is paid and the clauses in the tenancy agreement are followed. The council can take action against either or both joint tenants if the property is damaged, unauthorised alterations have been made to your home or anti-social behaviour takes place.

Adding a partner to the tenancy

If you currently have a tenancy in your own name and want to add someone to it, you should add them by contacting your Neighbourhood Housing Officer. You cannot have a joint tenancy with your children or siblings.

Relationship breakdown

A joint tenant can end the whole tenancy for all the joint tenants. When this happens, the council must tell the remaining tenant. The council also has the discretion whether to allow the remaining person(s) to have a new tenancy.

They may be asked to move to another property or not be housed at all.

A joint tenant cannot remove another person’s name from the tenancy agreement, or force the other joint tenant to leave the property, without either their agreement or a court order.

If you would like to end the tenancy but the other joint tenant(s) does not, you should discuss this with your Neighbourhood Housing Officer

The right of succession

When you die, your tenancy can pass to any of the following people:

  • your husband or wife (as long as they were living with you when you died and it is their only home)
  •  any remaining joint tenant
  •  a close relative who had lived in your home for at least 12 months when you died (if your tenancy started before 1 April 2012)
  •  your partner if you were living together as if you were married when you died

This right of succession only applies to your original tenancy, not to any tenancies that have already been passed on to someone by succession.

We may, however, grant a further tenancy to someone closely related to the tenant who has died. For further details contact your Neighbourhood Housing Officer.

Right to buy

A secure tenant has the right to buy when they have spent at least three years as a council or public sector tenant. You will only be able to purchase under the scheme if your house or flat is your only or principal home and is self-contained.

There are a number of factors to consider before purchasing your property and we strongly advise that you read further information before you decide to apply.

See the webpage: Right to buy your council home

See the government publication: Your right to buy your home: a guide

Want to move?

There are two ways secure tenants can change their property – through an exchange or through a transfer. See below: Exchanges and Transfers

Mutual exchanges

A mutual exchange is when two or more tenants wnat to exchange their properties. Mutual exchanges are an effective and often quicker way to move into a different council or housing association property within Swindon and throughout the country. You can only do this after you have been given written consent from the council.

You can register with HomeSwapper to help you find someone to exchange with. This is a free service to all tenants of registered providers who live in the Swindon Borough Council area.

You must meet certain conditions before an exchange can take place, including:

  • Your rent must be up to date
  • You must not have broken any of the conditions of your tenancy agreement
  • You must have our written permission for the exchange
  • You must have inspected the property you want to move into and it must be suitable for your needs
  • You must leave your home in good repair

When you have met all the conditions, you and the other tenant must sign an ‘Agreement for Assignment of Tenancy’, which makes the exchange legally binding.

More information: Exchanging your council home

Transfers

If your home is no longer suitable for your needs you can apply to move to another property.

You will need to make an application to go on our transfer list. See the webpage: Apply for council housing

We will assess your need to move and place you in the appropriate band on the housing register list.Those in the highest band and in application date order will be shortlisted first
for any property they bid for.

You can then access our choice-based lettings system to view and bid for available properties.

Please note: if the condition of your home does not meet an acceptable standard of cleanliness, or there is general disrepair, you will be suspended from bidding for a transfer on a property.

If you accept a home offered to you, we will give you specific details of what you must do. Here is some brief guidance:

  • You must move out of your present home within a set time
  • You must hand in your keys to your old home to Customer Services, who will give you a receipt
  • You must continue to pay rent until we receive the keys
  • If you have moved out, you will no longer receive Housing Benefit for your old address
  • You must leave your home clean and tidy and in a reasonable state of repair. If not, we may charge you for any work we have to do
  • You must make sure you put the property back to its original condition, if you have done any alterations without our permission or which we told you would have to be removed at the end of your tenancy. If not,we may charge you for any work we have to do

We may do some minor repairs to your new home after you have moved in.

Temporary absence

If you are going to be away from your home for more than six weeks, you are required to tell us.

Telling us may help you if anything happens while you are away. If you leave your home for a long period without telling us, we may decide that you have abandoned it and taken action to obtain possession.

If you are claiming benefits and you are going to be away, you should report a change in circumstances.

Reasons for repossessing your home

We can apply for a court order to repossess your home if:

  • You are behind with your rent
  • You have broken any condition of your tenancy agreement
  • You have caused a nuisance
  • You gave false information on your application for housing
  • Your home is bigger than you need after you took over the tenancy by succession
  • Your home is overcrowded
  • You have not left any temporary accommodation we provided
  • You no longer live in the property
  • We need to develop and improve the property
  • The accommodation has been adapted to meet a person’s special needs, and nobody in your household has these needs.

If we repossess your home because it has been adapted or so we can redevelop and improve it, we must offer you alternative accommodation and compensate you for having to move.

Before we go to court we must first give you notice that explains why we intend to repossess your home. The notice will tell you when we intend to go to court and we must apply for the court order in the 12 months after that date.

Please note: If you are evicted because you broke a condition of the tenancy agreement and make a claim as a homeless person, we may consider that you have made yourself homeless through your actions. This would mean we would not have a duty to re-house you and your family.

Paying the rent

It is your responsibility to pay the rent in advance in accordance with your conditions of tenancy. If you have a joint tenancy, both parties are equally responsible.

We are happy for you to pay weekly, fortnightly, four-weekly or monthly, but payments must be made in advance to ensure your account is never in arrears.

When you signed for your tenancy agreement, we gave you a rent information card to help you keep a track of your payments. The rent information card shows:

  • the amount of rent due
  • the rent week number 
  • the dates rent must be paid

Ways to pay:

Direct Debit

You can set up a Direct Debit to pay your rent direct from your bank account. You will need to fill in a form that you can get:

Online

Make a single payment through the website: Pay your rent

By phone

You can make an automated telephone payment by debit or credit card 24 hours a day on 0845 603 5058.

At a post office

You can make a payment at any post office using your payment card (you will receive this by post after signing for your tenancy) or by using the barcode printed on the front of a rent letter.

At a PayPoint outlet

You can make a cash payment at any shop or outlet displaying the ‘PayPoint’ sign. Again, you will need your payment card or the barcode printed on the front of a rent letter. You can find your nearest shop or outlet at the PayPoint website.

By smartphone

You can make a payment on your Apple or Android smartphone with the Allpay app. This is free to download from the Apple App Store or Google Play.

Service charges

As well as rent, some properties have additional charges to pay for other services.

  • Multi-storey flats – tenants living in multi-storey flats are charged for Neighbourhood Wardens' work in the block and shared facilities (for example, a lift and lighting)
  • Staircase lighting – tenants living in other flats/maisonettes are charged for lighting on the landings and stairs
  • Parking – homes with dedicated parking are charged for a parking space
  • TV connection – there is a charge for those homes that we provide this service for
  • Sheltered housing – if you live in a sheltered housing scheme, there is a charge for shared facilities such as the laundry and lounge
  • Supporting people charges – residents receiving the services of a Sheltered Housing Officer or Homeline alarm system will be charged for the staff and support that these services provide
  • Heating – covers costs of schemes with shared heating systems
  • Water – most tenants will pay charges direct to Thames Water. In some schemes (flats and sheltered housing), we will collect this charge.

Difficulty paying your rent

If you are having difficulty paying your rent or you think you will get into difficulty, get in touch with your Neighbourhood Housing Officer as soon as possible.

They will be able to give you help and so refer you to a specialist service which can provide additional support and advice,

Our webpage shows a list of independent organisations who offer advice on housing matters, including benefits and debt. See: Get advice about paying your rent

Universal Credit (housing element), Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support

Depending on your age, Universal Credit (housing element) or Housing Benefit helps people on a low income, or with no income, to pay their rent. Council Tax Support helps people on low incomes to pay their Council Tax bills.

If you are a new tenant, you must make any claim from the start of your tenancy, or your rent will not be covered. If you think you are entitled to Universal Credit or Housing Benefit, and also Council Tax Support, make sure you claim it as soon as possible. This is because claims cannot be backdated.

Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a newer benefit for people who are ‘working age’ and are on a low income or out of work. It is a benefit administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) through Job Centre Plus.

Universal Credit aims to make the welfare system simpler by replacing six existing benefits and tax credits with a single monthly payment. It includes support for the costs of housing, children and childcare, as well as support for disabled people and carers.

Universal Credit replaces:

  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Housing Benefit

When you claim, make sure you have details of your rent.

You can find further details about Universal Credit and making a claim at the Government website. See: Universal Credit

Housing Benefit

You could get Housing Benefit to help you pay your rent if you’re on a low income. However, with the introduction of Universal Credit, you can only make a new claim for Housing Benefit if you are of state pension age.

Housing Benefit will pay for part or all of your rent directly to Swindon Borough Council. How much you get depends on your income and circumstances. 

Remember: you must always tell our Housing Benefit team if your circumstances change. This may mean you may have to pay more or less rent.

To find out more and make an application, visit our Housing Benefit webage or telephone 0845 850 0962 (calls charged at local rate).

Council Tax Support

Council Tax Support is help towards your Council Tax bill. If you are the person who is liable for paying Council Tax and you are living on a low income, you can apply for Council Tax Support.

To find out more and make an application, visit our Council Tax Support webpage or telephone 0845 850 0962 (calls charged at local rate).

Subletting and taking in lodgers

You may be entitled to sublet part of your home if you get our written permission first. We don’t allow the subletting of the whole of your property and by doing this you may lose your tenancy, except in exceptional circumstances.

You have the right to take in lodgers or sublet part of your home as long as you keep to the terms of your tenancy agreement and obtain our prior written consent. Please note that in certain properties, such as sheltered accommodation, any lodgers have to meet our allocations criteria (i.e. over 60 or have a disability).

You must make sure that a lodger does not make your home overcrowded. (The number of people allowed to live in your home is shown on the rent information card.) If you receive benefits and you take in a lodger, you must report a change of circumstances.

Subletting means giving a tenancy to someone else and charging them rent. You must not sublet all of your property or you will be in breach of your obligations.

If you are still not sure, talk to your Neighbourhood Housing Officer.

Looking after your garden

You must keep your garden in a reasonably tidy condition.This includes making sure any bushes you have don’t overhang pavements or roads.

If your garden has a tree that the council didn't plant, you are responsible for making sure it does not interfere with the structure of your home.

If you have a disability or frailty that prevents you maintaining the grass or hedge, we may be able to help you for a small charge.

See also, details on looking after your garden.

Animals and pets

The rules about keeping animals and pets depend on the type of property you occupy and the tenancy agreement you signed when you moved in.  

For advice, please speak to your Neighbourhood Housing Officer.

Rubbish

You must store rubbish tidily and not put it out for collection until the day it is due to be collected.

You must place your rubbish where it can be easily picked up.

If we provide containers to store rubbish, such as in flats, you must put the rubbish into bags and put it in the bins or recycling boxes as appropriate.

You must not leave items such as old washing machines and sofas in gardens. Do not leave any items in landings, corridors and communal areas.

Working from home

You need our written permission to run a business from your home. Speak to your Neighbourhood Housing Officer and give details about what you are intending to do.

If you run a business from home without our written permission, you will be breaking your tenancy agreement.

Ending your tenancy

If you want to end your tenancy, you must do the following before you move out:

  • Give us at least four weeks’ notice in writing that you want to end your tenancy. The tenancy must end on a Monday. If you are a joint tenant and one tenant gives notice to end the tenancy, it will end the tenancy for all of you. If notice is given by a sole tenant or both joint tenants we may, at our discretion, allow a shorter notice or a notice ending on a different day.
  • Return all keys for the property (including shared entrance keys/fobs, shed keys, balcony keys and window keys) by 12 noon on the Monday the tenancy ends. You can return the keys to Customer Services reception. If you do not return the keys, we will continue to charge you rent and other charges until we receive the keys or, if sooner, we have arranged for a lock change. You agree to pay our reasonable costs of a lock change.
  • Make sure that everyone moves out of the property when the tenancy ends. This includes any pets.
  • Give us access to your home before leaving it. This allows us to inspect it and assess what work we need to do. We will make an appointment with you before we visit.
  • Remove all furniture. possessions and rubbish from the property. This includes carpets, laminated flooring and any other floor covering we did not supply (unless you have our permission in writing to leave it in the property). You agree that if you leave anything in the property, we may dispose of it as we see fit and you will pay our reasonable costs of removing any such items.

A tenancy termination form and further information is available on our webpage: Ending a tenancy

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