Leading housing lawyer Simon Mullings is working with tenants’ groups on a five-point plan to make the evictions process fairer.
Mullings, co-chair of the Housing Law Practitioners Association (HLPA), says a worryingly low number of tenants facing eviction are not accessing free legal advice when their case is being reviewed by a judge under revised arrangements for possession proceedings.
Although the requirement for landlords to send the court an electronic copy of all the case documents – and confirm that these have been sent to the tenant – at least 14 days before the review is a positive innovation, Mullings suggests that duty advisers should be allowed to proactively contact tenants.
He told a conference organised by HLPA that one benefit of the mediation pilot being used in the process is that legal advice must first be given to a tenant.
Master of the Rolls
His announcement follows a recent Master of the Rolls report into possession hearings for evictions following the Covid court restrictions which warned of decreasing trust in the justice system without good availability of legal advice.
It said possession hearings were deemed unsuitable for remote determination by many, mainly because of the number of vulnerable tenants involved who were unlikely to be able to access the technology needed to take part, or to provide instructions to solicitors where they were represented.
Measures mandated by the pandemic had reduced the availability and accessibility of legal advice, with the impact of reduced advice disproportionately affecting those on low incomes.
It added: “Possession hearings, if conducted remotely, would threaten effective participation and undermine trust in the justice system.”
A working group is now looking into the ‘absurdly complicated’ process of evicting tenants and housing law in general.