The call for evidence sought views and opinions from a variety of organisations and individuals including the judiciary, landlords and tenants, to help the government to better understand and improve the experience of people using courts and tribunal services in property cases, including considering the case for a specialist Housing Court.
Summary of our response
We have been arguing for a specialist court for housing cases for a long while and in the run-up to the consultation and as part of the process we gathered evidence from our members. This evidence forms much of our response, with common themes and frustrations arising at the current system.
ARLA Propertymark members cite delays at every stage of the possession action process in the County Court from the landlord/agent claim process to possession by a County Court Bailiff. This is the product of:
- Poor Court administration
- Tenants playing the system
- Time taken to obtain a Possession Order
- Time taken for enforcement
- Inconsistent judgments
- The contradictory advice of Local Authorities
Our members are also dissatisfied with the County Court possession action process. They find the processes too complex, too confusing and too slow. Ultimately there is a lack of standards, and court users are frustrated by claims being thrown out of court due to technical flaws. Time taken for the possession action process comes at a substantial cost to the claimant, particularly where they have brought forward a case based on rent arrears.
Things fare much better when it comes to enforcement procedures in the High Court, which our members are generally happy with. Agents report that despite the associated costs to have Possession transferred to a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO), the timeliness and effectiveness of their evictions far outweigh money lost in rent arrears.
What do we want the future to look like?
We believe that a specialist Housing Court should be created to encompass existing housing litigation in the Crown Court and the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber). This will provide:
- Specialist Judges that can expedite cases and create a consistent standard of judgments.
- Improved costs as a Housing Court has the potential to decrease the number of stages in a process of a case and will be able to effectively allocate time for specific cases.
- Longer-term tenancies as agents and landlords will be provided with a clear route to possession thus, having an incentive to provide longer-term tenancies.
We argue that Section 21 claims should be digitised and brought online
As most Accelerated Possession Orders have decisions made on paper, to provide ease for court users and allow court staff to prioritise workload, users should be allowed to initiate a case online and receive online decisions. This could easily be incorporated into the existing systems of Possession Claim Online (PCOL).
Better guidance documents need to be created to guide court users through procedures. Guidance currently provided by the Government is insufficient, meaning that users have to obtain clear information from third parties. Members report that court staff can be particularly inaccessible to answer queries at more busy County Courts, so this must be improved.
We would also like to see Court users should have an automatic right to have their Possession Order enforced by an HCEO. Members report that by using an HCEO, the time take for the enforcement process is dramatically reduced.