Courts could find themselves under pressure to list complicated cases brought by private landlords if housing possession proceedings resume next month, the Gazette has been told. However, Sally Denton, senior solicitor at Nottingham Law Centre, said tenants in such cases will need representation the most amid concern over plans that could result in vulnerable tenants being evicted without help from a duty solicitor.
Yesterday, the Gazette revealed that Brentford County Court is consulting on proposals to hear possession cases remotely when a 90-day suspension on all housing possession proceedings is lifted. The court’s ‘present thinking’ is that in the first instance, the court will arrange and conduct possession hearings by telephone or Skype. Court notices will point out that there will almost certainly be no duty solicitor scheme. Other London courts are believed to have issued similar letters.
Denton said Nottingham County Court is looking at ways to resume possession cases, including ways to operate the system so people can safely attend court in person and get help from the duty solicitor scheme.
Denton said courts will be under pressure to list private landlords’ cases quickly. But these cases ‘will be exactly the ones where you need legal representation more’. They are likely to be more complicated than cases involving local authority tenants, contain more mandatory grounds, and require a detailed look at technical aspects based on the validity of notices.
‘You need to have a proper opportunity to look at the paperwork,’ Denton said. ‘One of the things I have experienced from having to work from home is how difficult it is to advise people when you haven’t got all of the documents to hand. One of the things about the duty solicitor scheme, where it really works, is you have got the client, the person on the other side, everyone is there, you can see all of the information which you need to see, you can get to the bottom of what’s going on. It’s going to be difficult if you’re having a conversation remotely. A lot of cases get sorted out of court by having conversations with the opponent.’
On 4 May, the commons housing, communities and local government committee asked housing secretary Robert Jenrick when the government will decide whether to extend the moratorium on evictions to six months.
Jenrick said the ‘decision point’ is in June and will ‘depend on the medical advice we’re receiving on the passage of the virus and the lockdown measures that may or may not be in place at that time’.
In March the government said it was working with the judiciary to widen the pre-action protocol on possession proceedings to include private renters and strengthen its remit. Jenrick told the committee that the protocol ‘puts a duty upon the landlord to work in good faith with their tenant to see if there is a sensible way in which you can manage the situation before embarking upon possession proceedings’. In most cases, this would involve coming up with a repayment plan and will provide additional protection to tenants ‘even after the moratorium is lifted’.