A report welcomed by the Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, has highlighted the major problems faced by the courts service if it is to clear the backlog of eviction cases after the ban is lifted.
Published by the Civil Justice Council, it both warns of the additional delays landlords will face later this year in order to secure possession hearings, and suggests how the backlog could be cleared.
“Respondents reported that the backlog generated by the current stay in possession proceedings [will] pose an enormous challenge for the civil justice system,” it says.
Also, the report’s contributing experts who specialise in both housing law and the experience of vulnerable people say that remote hearings are unsuitable for possession cases.
The vast majority of vulnerable tenants have mental health and money issues and struggle with face-to-face court proceedings, never mind the challenges of accessing remote hearings, they say.
Although landlords will appreciate the problems faced by both legal teams and vulnerable tenants once the courts re-open, they may not like the report’s recommendations.
These are to temporarily relax the Section 8 mandatory ground for possession if tenants fail to pay their rent for eight weeks, and to strengthen the government’s proposed pre-action protocols to protect vulnerable tenants.
“This would require landlords and lenders to demonstrate that they have taken proactive steps to secure legal advice for tenants and generalist advice to assist with the resolution of any underlying issues with accessing welfare benefits,” says ARLA Propertymark.
“This would need to be funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government . An expansion in the availability of legal advice to meet demand would also be needed.”
In summary, until the Coronavirus crisis ends fully and the courts system returns to normal, rather than use remote viewings, it recommends that tenants are prevented from being evicted.