The government’s new evictions mediation service for landlords and tenants shouldn’t be seen as the whole solution to current court delays and backlogs, the Law Society has warned.
Instead, it says the £3 million allocated to a new mediation pilot would be better channelled into the Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme (HPCDS) and early legal advice, which ensures tenants have access to justice and support that can stop them being evicted.
The government launched the Housing Possession Mediation Scheme for landlords and tenants, provided by The Society of Mediators, last week.
This will last for between six and nine months and offer a free, dedicated service where clerks will engage with possession claims as they progress through court, and facilitate settlement without a substantive hearing, where possible.
The service is understood to be voluntary and both landlord and tenants must agree to take part in the mediation process.
However, The Law Society fears it could impact on the sustainability of legal aid and the duty scheme, which allows anyone in danger of eviction or having their property repossessed to get free legal advice and representation on the day of their hearing, regardless of their financial circumstances.
President David Greene says while mediation has an important place in dispute resolution, it can’t replace the usual routes of access to justice or take money from schemes.
He says: “Vulnerable and unrepresented tenants may feel pressured to undertake mediation and may be misrepresented, as mediators are not housing dispute specialists. The mediation pilot must go beyond simply clearing the backlog and move forward with the struggles of the housing sector at its core.”
Adds Greene: “Despite calls from across the housing sector to the Legal Aid Agency and the Ministry of Justice to ensure the continued availability of funded legal advice, investments have not been made.”
Visit the Housing Possession Mediation Scheme website.