Housing lawyers have called an emergency meeting to discuss an influential human rights group's work on resolving disputes amid growing concerns that the proposals could leave them out in the cold.
Justice is taking a 'fresh look' at systems in place for resolving housing disputes as it says courts may not be the best starting point for such issues and current mechanisms are inadequate.
While recommendations have yet to be published, the Gazette understands that some housing specialists are worried that lawyers will be excluded from any proposed process. The work will be discussed at an emergency Housing Law Practitioners Association meeting in London on Monday.
Justice has convened a working party, chaired by Andrew Arden QC. Members include barrister members of HLPA, the principal solicitor at homeless charity Shelter, academics, judges and a HM Courts & Tribunals Service 'observer'. Three sub-groups are looking at digitisation within housing disputes, current processes and user needs/alternative dispute resolution.
Justice told the Gazette that it could not provide specific recommendations but said the themes around the current system include removing gatekeeping around homelessness, and strengthening the requirements for parties to work together to seek solutions to housing problems at the pre-action stage.
Other themes are greater funding for early legal advice on a 'wraparound basis', harmonising the landscape, flexibility to allow 'pop-up courts' for possession and greater use of digital case files across administrative, court and tribunal decisions.
A distinct idea for piloting a housing dispute service (HDS) 'remains in contemplation' and the working party has been consulting with housing practitioners.
The Gazette was told: 'The idea is for a holistic, investigative and non-adversarial dispute process, where all matters in issue between parties to a housing relationship and those that underpin the housing problem (benefits, mental health etc) are investigated, identified and adjudicated upon by the service.
'Our tentative proposal is that the savings we anticipate will be derived from the service will be reinvested into publicly funded legal advice, with housing lawyers to advise parties through the HDS process at a sustainable rate of funding, which would have to be multiples of the current rate of funding for advice, to sustain quality, holistic housing advice.'
The working party's report will be published in February.