31 January, 2019
The Government has recently consulted on the proposal to introduce a specialist housing court to try to tackle the problems frequently experienced by landlords and tenants bringing legal claims: delays, adjournments, lack of technical legal and procedural understanding, increasing numbers of litigants in person, lack of specialist knowledge amongst the Judiciary and lack of available advice.
The idea behind the proposals is that a dedicated housing court will help to create a simplified and more efficient structure and procedure, making it easier for landlords and tenants to navigate their claims, saving time, costs and inevitable frustration.
In response to the proposals however, many have advised that a dedicated Housing Court is not the solution, and that the answer lies in tackling deficiencies within the current civil court system itself.
Responses point to the lack of court resources, court closures, staff shortages, knowledgeable or specialist Judges, insufficient judicial time within busy listings, as well as the reluctance (or inability) of Parties to pay for legal advice. The Law Society has voiced that "such advice would ensure [Parties] understand the defences and counterclaims available, as well as the built-in safeguards within the legal process," which might otherwise be wrongly perceived as "delays."
Possible solutions to the problems include practical ways of ensuring technical and legal knowledge is shared and improved, increasing support, duty advisors and producing written guidance for litigants in person, including checklists for what to expect at court. One response also highlighted the utmost importance of continuing to ensure that tenants have the opportunity to obtain legal advice and defend claims, and that landlords must understand this right and not construe it as inconvenience.
Greater awareness of the background agencies involved indirectly in housing cases, and the ways in which they operate, is also key. Often time is required to allow for the administration of tenant's benefits, including moves to Universal Credit or for support services to be put into operation to assist tenants with any problems being complained of.
The Government is currently analysing the feedback it has received and further updates are awaited.
For more information contact Amy Chadwick in our Housing & Regeneration department via email or phone on 0113 386 2694. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.