Law News

Improve the Current System, Rather than Introducing a Housing Court, Law Society Urges

Rose Jinks - January 31, 2019

The Law Society has urged the Government to improve the current redress system in the private rental sector, rather than introducing a specialist housing court.

In a response to a Government consultation on the proposed new housing court, the Law Society stated that housing claims suffer from numerous procedural delays and system failures, but a separate court is not the solution to fixing them.

The organisation believes that it is wrong to radically change the system in favour of a “relatively small” number of private landlords demanding change.

Instead, the Law Society backed improvements to resourcing existing courts, and signposting parties to advice and information, to ensure that cases are dealt with in a timely and efficient manner.

Its response suggested that it was not clear what funds would be used to resource a specialist housing court, nor was it clear that a sufficient number of housing courts would be made available and accessible across England.

The Law Society said: “The case for a housing court has not been properly put and further evidence is needed as to why improvements within the current system will not suffice. Some private landlords do not understand the complexities of their case and are often reluctant to pay for legal advice. Such advice would ensure they understand the defences and counter-claims available to tenants, as well as the built-in safeguards within the legal process. However, without this knowledge, landlords often complain about perceived ‘delays’.”

The delays that exist around listings, orders, warrants and enforcements are “fundamentally due” to insufficient court staff, court closures and insufficient judicial time. The Law Society said that “extreme difficulties” remain in getting information from the court over the phone, and the Government would be better advised to look at how courts are coping with housing cases.

Extra support for court users should include a duty adviser for tenants, guidance for litigants in person (LiPs) and checklists for what they could expect at court, it added.

The increase in the number of LiPs has led to delays in the process, due to a lack of understanding and preparedness, with housing advice deserts created in some areas, where there are not enough solicitors.

In another response to the consultation, the Civil Justice Council (CJC) said that money would be better spent elsewhere, rather than on a court designed to provide a single path of redress for landlords and tenants.

If there was a need for judges to be more specialist, then the CJC believes that this could be resolved by a system of ticketing judges to deal with housing issues, as happens in family cases.

The Communities Secretary, James Brokenshire MP, has said that the housing court would help landlords and tenants access justice when they need it, and create a fairer housing market.

It was also announced recently that landlords will be required to become a part of a specialist redress scheme, or face fines of £5,000.