JUSTICE has convened a Working Party to take a fresh look at the systems in place for the resolution of housing disputes. We think that courts may not be the best starting point for the resolution of housing issues and that there are likely to be other, better ways to resolve these matters.
Housing disputes are not uncommon: in England, there were 28,790 landlord possession claims and 5,648 mortgage possession claims filed between October and December 2018. Meanwhile homelessness has risen by 165% since 2010 and local authorities owe an increasing number of homelessness obligations against a backdrop of diminishing resources. But the mechanisms for resolving these disputes are inadequate. Cases are split between the County Court and the First-tier Tribunal, with the result that some have two separate hearings on the same facts. The adversarial nature of formal proceedings may threaten any ongoing relationship between parties. Inequality of arms is an ongoing problem. And since legal aid is only available in a limited sense, some people only speak to a lawyer when the loss of their home is imminent, even though early legal advice might have prevented the matter reaching court at all.
There have been various attempts over the years to tackle specific problems in housing law dispute resolution. In 2008, the Law Commission published a report which examined the case for a specialist housing tribunal. More recently, the Civil Justice Council has been piloting the ‘cross-ticketing’ of judges, so that cases which would otherwise have to be heard by both the First-tier Tribunal and the County Court can be heard concurrently by a judge wearing ‘two hats’. In November 2018, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government issued a Call for Evidence to consider the case for a new Housing Court.
The Working Party
The Working Party will consider ways to promote access to justice through dispute resolution systems designed for the very people who experience a housing problem. The Working Party has convened three subgroups which will look to test ideas, gather evidence and create recommendations for reform of the housing disputes system. The subgroups are (a) Digitisation within housing disputes; (b) Current processes used to resolve housing disputes; and (c) User needs/alternative dispute resolution within housing disputes.
The members of the Working Party are:
- Chair – Andrew Arden QC (Former head of Arden Chambers)
- Professor Helen Carr (Professor at University of Kent, part-time First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) judge)
- Professor Martin Partington CBE (Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Bristol)
- Professor Caroline Hunter (Head of York Law School, part-time First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) judge)
- Judge Suzanne Burn (Deputy District Judge, retired District Judge)
- Justin Bates (Barrister at Landmark Chambers)
- Carlos Dabezies (Retired District Judge (civil and family)
- Judge Tim Powell (Regional Judge for London, First Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber)
- Alexandra Carr (Senior Associate, Howard Kennedy, JUSTICE board member)
- Nick Billingham (Partner, Devonshires)
- John Gallagher (Principal Solicitor, Shelter)
- Daniel Clarke (Barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, HLPA representative)
- Tessa Buchanan (Barrister at Garden Court Chambers, HLPA representative)
- Alana Evans (HMCTS observer)
- Alex Walters (Rapporteur)