A paltry nine cases were mediated in the government's pilot Rental Mediation Service - nowhere near the 3,000 cases it expected, it has been revealed.
The Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Minister of Justice had hoped that the pilot, which offered tenants and landlords a free '�anti adversarial' mediation service to prevent them going to court, would reduce the number of evictions taking place.
But the scheme, which was operated by The Society of Mediators and lasted nine months ending in October 2021, is revealed to have received very low levels of referral.
An official review of the scheme pinpoints several reasons for this low take-up, the key one being that mediation was offered too late in the evictions process, by which time landlords and tenants are often in conflict and taking entrenched positions.
Mike Morgan (pictured), whose organisation the PRS currently operates its own tenancy mediation service in partnership with the NRLA, says offering parties help early on in the process is the key to success.
'Our service can be offered even before a landlord serves notice to a tenant,'� he says.
'And we ensure that the process is quick and effective, takes place as early as possible, appears impartial to both sides and is seen to offer expert advice and support.
"Mediation is not only useful for seeking possession as an alternative to using the courts. Early intervention can also reach an agreed rent repayment plan, avoiding future arrears, and preserving the landlord tenant-relationship."
The official review makes similar points, highlighting how tenants tend to be disengaged with the process once an eviction notice has been served.
It says: 'Attempts at earlier dispute resolution should seek to preserve goodwill between tenants and landlords, follow a process that is fair and balanced between the parties, and take account of the broader contextual challenges that tenants face '� such as poverty, mental health, accessing benefits for example '� which are better able to be resolved before a court claim is made'�.
The report is not entirely critical, pointing out that when resolution is used appropriately, the chances of reaching an agreement were '�relatively good'.
But overall the report said the Government's mediation service faced significant headwinds.
Those involved in the process suggested that mediation did not always deliver an agreement that aligned with legal requirements, or that there was a lack of awareness of mediation and what it could offer, while some duty advisers were reluctant to refer clients because they were not fully aware of how the process would work. Others believed an allotted hour was not enough time to carry out mediation properly.
Mediation expert Julie Ford (pictured) tells LandlordZONE: 'The key points highlighted in the pilot simply reinforce what we have always said: mediation provides positive outcomes when it is engaged in as early into a dispute as possible, ideally before notice is even served.'�
She adds: 'I agree that there is little or no awareness about mediation and the empowering outcomes it can achieve. Maybe a public campaign is the answer.'�