The new Housing Loss Prevention Advice Service that went live this week could result in more landlords fighting – and potentially losing – expensive court battles.
There are fears that the threat of a £15,000 legal bill if they lose their possession claim hearing could be enough to dissuade some from taking legal action.
From 1st August, tenants facing eviction or repossession can get free early legal advice on housing, debt, and welfare benefits issues before appearing in court, as well as continuing to get advice and representation on the day of their hearing. It replaces the Housing Possession Court Duty Service which only offers ‘on the day’ emergency advice and advocacy.
Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Felicity Buchan, says: “I want to ensure we are giving households all the help and support they need to stay in their homes.
“That is why we are spending £1 billion through the Homelessness Prevention Grant which can be used to work with landlords to prevent evictions. At the same time our Renters (Reform) Bill will give tenants more security in their homes by abolishing Section-21 ‘no fault’ evictions.
“This new service allows us to go even further and ensure tenants are getting the right legal help and support – all part of our wider work to prevent homelessness before it occurs.”
But Paul Sowerbutts (pictured), head of legal action at Landlord Action, tells LandlordZONE that while it will mean more tenants get advice earlier, the likely and unintended consequence will be more tenants also getting full legal aid, so that landlords end up fighting more lengthy and costly court battles.
He says costs of at least £15,000 for a one-day trial are not uncommon. “This scheme makes it more likely for a case to go to a full day trial – tenants can cause more mischief and are at a significant advantage,” says Sowerbutts. “If they lose the case, they don’t have to pay costs.”
He adds that the upcoming reforms and this new scheme will make it more difficult to be a small landlord, although it should encourage a better relationship with tenants as landlords try to pre-empt problems.
One worried landlord tells LandlordZONE: “It seems very unfair as tenants don’t need to be means-tested to get help while we have to pay for representation, which is a lot for someone who only has one or two properties. The system is really weighted against landlords.”
Nathan Emerson (pictured), CEO of estate agency trade organisation Propertymark says: “We recognise the UK Government is seeking to support people facing hardship or eviction, however, there needs to be an equitable system in place which is responsive, fair and progressive for all parties involved.
“We encourage the government to work more closely with landlords and agents to provide support or at least take measures to reverse the primary causes which sees many landlords selling and having to potentially evict tenants from their homes in the first place.
“It is also vital to consider the flip side of the coin whereby many landlords are also dealing with increased costs making it challenging to operate.
“Any new system must prove fair, sensible and workable for landlords, agents and tenants equally. We welcome the idea of having procedures that address concerns, keep pace with fast moving legislation and bringing swift resolutions on an individual basis.”