A specialist Housing Court – a call for evidence

The Government has recently published a call for evidence discussing the possibility of establishing a specialist Housing Court

The Government has recently published a call for evidence discussing the possibility of establishing a specialist Housing Court with the objective of providing “faster and more effective justice in the event of property disputes”.

Why is a specialist Housing Court being suggested?

The call for evidence is published on the back of qualitative research produced by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government into the progress, timescales and outcomes of housing cases in the County Court.

The research found that possession claims can take an average of 43 weeks from issuing proceedings to regaining possession of the property. A significant portion of that time relates to the enforcement of the possession order, with statistics showing that it can take up to 10 weeks to enforce and gain possession. Owing to those timeframes, there is a significant concern amongst Landlord’s that the timeframe for recovery of possession is too lengthy, especially given that the decision to seek possession of a property will, invariably, have followed a period where the Tenant has been in breach of the tenancy agreement. For example, a Tenant must be in rent arrears for 2 months, where the tenancy agreement provides for weekly payments, in order for the Landlord to serve a Section 8 notice relying on ground 8. As a matter proceeds the arrears are usually increasing which adds to the Landlord’s frustration with the timescales of the Court and leads to the perception that the process is slow and drawn out.

Statistics on the timescales for non-possession proceedings are sparse. However the consensus of parties interviewed for the qualitative research seems to be that the process can take between 6 months and 12 months. Unlike possession proceedings, non-possession proceedings are handled in the same way as any other litigation in the County Court and can therefore take a significant amount of time.

Complex disrepair issues

Disrepair cases were identified as being particularly complex, requiring expert input and often large amounts of disclosure which increases the costs of legal proceedings. As a result some contributors to the qualitative research felt that disrepair cases could go before the First Tier Tribunal, reducing the cost by taking advantage of the expert surveyor on the panel. Additionally, it was noted that many tenants feel there are major barriers to bringing an action against a Landlord including a comparative lack of knowledge and understanding of the legal options available and a lack of available legal advice given the constraints placed on Legal Aid. As a result a claim for disrepair is most frequently used by a Tenant as a counter claim to possession proceedings being brought by a Landlord.

Call for evidence

The call for evidence asks for parties to:

  1. Identify problems with the current procedure for obtaining a possession order;
  2. Identify problems enforcing possession orders;
  3. Consider their experience with the County Court and First Tier Tribunal;
  4. Consider a range of possible reforms.

Part 4 of the call for evidence identifies the range of reforms which the Government are considering, namely;

  1. Establishing a new specialist Housing Court.
  2. Making changes to the existing courts and property tribunals.
  3. Making changes to the enforcement process in the County Court.
  4. Do nothing but provide more guidance.

The consultation closes at 11:45pm on 22 January 2019. The call for evidence can be found HERE. We urge all parties with a vested interest in resolving property disputes to make their views known by providing a response to the consultation prior to the deadline.

For further information about Weightmans LLP or to discuss any of the issues in this update, please contact Sian Evans, Partner on 0151 242 6821, or sian.evans@weightmans.com.

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