Housing claims suffer from numerous procedural delays and system failures – but a separate specialist court is not the solution to fixing them. That was the verdict from the Law Society this week as it joined those opposing government proposals for a housing court.
The Society, responding to a consultation on the issue, said it was wrong to radically change the system in favour of a ’relatively small’ number of private landlords demanding change. Instead the organisation backed improvements to resourcing existing courts and signposting parties to advice and information to ensure cases are dealt with in a timely and efficient manner.
The response suggested 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 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,’ said the Society. ‘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".’
What delays exist around listings, orders, warrants and enforcements, are ‘fundamentally due’ to insufficient court staff, court closures and insufficient judicial time. The Society said ‘extreme difficulties’ remain in getting information from the court over the phone, and the government would be better advised to look how courts are coping with housing cases.
Extra support for court users should include a duty adviser for tenants, guidance for litigants in person and checklists for what they could expect at court.
The increase in the number LiPs has led to delays in the process due to lack of understanding and preparedness, with housing advice deserts created in some areas where there are not enough solicitors, the Society said.
In another response, the Civil Justice Council, led by Sir Terence Etherton, said last week 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, the CJC response said, this could be resolved by a system of ‘ticketing’ judges to deal with housing issues, as happens in family cases.
Communities secretary James Brokenshire has said the housing court would help tenants and landlords access justice when they need it and create a fair housing market.