When it comes to landlord-tenant disputes, tenants are often deemed to be at a disadvantage compared to their landlord, who often has more experience with tenancy matters and usually has greater access to legal advice.
Consequently the Government, in anticipating an unbalance, is offering funding for new schemes that will advise tenants who find themselves in difficulties.
There are two schemes currently available: The Housing Loss Prevention Advice Service (HLPS) for residential tenants, and The London Business Partnership Property Advice Programme for small-scale (SME) commercial tenants.
The former (HLPS) is a Government service now being offered to people (private residential tenants) facing eviction or repossession in England and Wales. It will enable tenants in distress to receive expert legal advice free of charge, as the Government website claims, “helping them to keep their homes and avoid lengthy, costly court proceedings.”
This advice, the Government says, will be available from the moment a written notice is received by a tenant or homeowner. This may be in the form of an email from a landlord or letter from a mortgage provider. Tenants will also be able to have legal representation in court, regardless of their financial circumstances.
What’s more, legal support for housing, debt and welfare benefit matters, will be made available to help with the wider issues individuals at risk of losing their home may face. It is part of an extra £10 million that the Government is providing for housing legal aid.
The similar scheme currently on offer, this time for small commercial business tenants, is the government funded Property Advice Service aimed at supporting SMEs with commercial property tenancy related problems, but only in London. The scheme is available in all London boroughs for 18 months, until March 2025.
This commercial property service will provide personal and online support and advice for small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), micro-businesses and sole traders who find themselves grappling with property related and tenancy issues they don’t fully understand: rent arrears, renegotiating new leases, energy efficiency issues, insurance and business rates relief schemes.
Naima Omasta-Milsom, co-founder and managing director of London Business Partnership, has said:
“SMEs are key to the economic prosperity and growth of London in terms of employment and wealth creation. However, when it comes to commercial property, many business owners often have to face many unexpected challenges which can, in some cases, cause a business to fail.
“Supported by the government’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund, the Property Advice Service is also bringing about a culture change among SME owners so the sector becomes more sustainable. We will do this by giving people the required practices to create conditions for success and improve business resilience.”
This programme is to be delivered by The London Business Partnership, international property consultants Gerald Eve, and the University of Law. The service, they say, “will enable SMEs to grow whilst safely and securely occupying commercial premises: offices, retail and other types of workspaces.”
Gerald Eve partner, Steve Hile has said:
“As experts in commercial property, we want to help SME owners understand their commitment before signing leases.
“All too often important legalities are overlooked, which can have a negative impact on business growth.
“Not only that, but we aim to arm entrepreneurs with the know-how to tackle mounting costs related to rent, Net Zero and energy.”
The London Business Partnership Property Advice Programme offers London based business owners the resources they need to successfully deal with business property issues: including: when negotiating a new lease; dealing with rent reviews; understanding business rates and what relief schemes are available; rent arrears and for those who are struggling to come to an arrangement with the landlord to clear these; for those threatened with evictions or advice with lease extensions, or for those who are confused about the new energy efficiency rating scheme.
The new free legal advice service to be offered to people facing eviction or repossession, the Government says, is “wrap-around care” and “is expected to help tens of thousands of families a year to keep their homes, improve their finances and gain access to support to improve their health and life prospects.”
There is a dedicated webpage for this services for anyone looking to access the free advice.
Justice Minister Lord Bellamy has said:
“Having access to the right legal advice at the earliest point possible is crucial for those who face losing their home, to ensure they have the support and help they need.
“We are creating this new service so that fewer people lose their home and can get help with their finances and resolve issues before they escalate.
“While many issues can be resolved with the help of free legal advice, government-funded legal representation will also be offered on the day of hearings for cases that do reach the courts.
“The Housing Loss Prevention Advice Service supports wider government work to reduce homelessness and improve the private rented sector for responsible renters and good faith landlords through the Renters’ (Reform) Bill.
“Changes under the Bill, which is going through Parliament, will abolish the use of “no-fault” evictions, empowering renters to challenge poor landlords without fear of losing their home.
Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Felicity Buchan, said:
“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.
“Funding legal support in the early stages of a housing dispute, also helps to reduce the volume of cases going through the courts, freeing up crucial judicial capacity as well as time and money for those involved.”
Rhys Moore, Executive Director of Public Impact at the National Housing Federation, said:
“It’s positive to see the government providing legal support for people facing eviction or repossession which is particularly important in light of the ongoing cost of living crisis.
“Access to advice and support as early as possible is crucial to helping people navigate the legal system at a time of immense stress and difficulty. Alongside this, we welcome the government’s commitment to end no fault evictions and improve security for people living in private rented homes.”
These schemes are designed to avoid the parties in dispute going to court and therefore taking up valuable court time. However, some disputes are difficult or impossible to resolve without a court judgement.
Getting involved in litigation is not something to be entered into lightly. It is expensive, time consuming and has a tendency to draw you into more and more expense. In many cases, once a legal action has been commenced, any counter claim means the case must been seen through to a conclusion – there is no backing out.
If the other party is supported by legal aid, with expert legal representation, you need to be absolutely sure of your position and back this up with solid evidence, because if you lose you could end up paying your own and the other party’s costs.