27 May, 2010
In November 2008, Lord Justice Jackson was appointed to chair a review of the costs involved in civil litigation. His report, which was published recently, contained a wide number of recommendations and observations about a number of areas of law. One such area was housing law and a number of suggestions were made as to how the sector could work more efficiently and in a more cost-effective manner.
Given that the findings of Lord Justice Jackson's report could have a significant impact upon the housing law sector, those involved in the operations of social landlords may wish to consider the recommendations in detail.
As noted by Lord Justice Jackson, housing claims are diverse in nature and there is no 'typical' claim. However, one of the areas examined by the report was claims for possession of residential property.
The report noted that the vast majority of possession cases were brought on the basis of rent arrears and that for some involved in the sector, the cost of bringing such a claim was an issue. The cost of commencing a 'standard' possession claim in the county court is £150 (or £100 if Possession Claim Online is used).
However, as the report noted, it is often the case that when such a claim is issued, the court will merely issue it, list a five minute hearing and draft a single order afterwards. This was said to have the unfortunate consequence of the costs being borne by a "cash-strapped" landlord or alternatively by a tenant who may be in financial difficulties anyway. One of the recommendations of the report was that all possession proceedings which are dealt with on the fast track should be the subject of fixed costs. Additionally, the report recommended that because the issue fee through Possession Claim Online is 50 per cent less than if a claim is issued 'manually', the maximum issue fee recoverable in a claim should be capped at an amount equivalent to the Possession Claim Online issue fee.
Prior to any legal proceedings being brought, the report suggests that, in order to deal with the growing number of defences based upon Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Rent Arrears Protocol should be amended so that a public authority landlord is required to write to the occupants of the property in question to inform them that a possession claim is being considered and inviting them to detail any personal circumstances or other details which should be taken into account during the decision making process.
Those involved in the social housing sector wait to see whether Lord Justice Jackson's recommendations will be implemented in the future. Social landlords should be aware of the proposals, how they would impact how they would operate and when they could be introduced.