However, I would point out that the introduction of the Renters (Reform) Bill promised to create a fairer private rented sector for both tenants and landlords and removing it now would not do that. Section 21 will be abolished, but as I have said time and time again, doing so without the necessary provisions in place will not only be to the detriment of landlords, but will mostly impact tenants by squeezing the already diminishing pool of rental properties available and driving further rent rises.
The reality is that the Government has a year to make the necessary improvements, and with the latest figures from the Ministry of Justice (Period July to September 2023) showing that it takes on average 23 weeks from making a claim to the court being able to take possession of a property, there is a lot of work to be done.
The court system is the worst I have seen it in 30 years and landlords who simply want out of buy to let are calling me in disbelief that it is taking up to nine months from serving notice to regaining possession. I am grateful to Theresa Villiers for her efforts to bring these issues to the forefront of the government's attention during the debate following the King’s Speech.
Ultimately, there is a ‘wish list’ of what court reforms would ideally look like, and then there are the realistic and practical steps which must be taken in order to streamline the process, improve efficiency and crucially, accommodate the natural surge in cases which will happen when all evictions rely on Section 8.
Increasing the number of judges is fundamental and although we know 1000 more judges have already been appointed, consideration should be given to approaching retired judges to work part-time. Tapping into their wealth of experience would ease the burden on existing judges and provide a quick solution to helping clear the back-log of cases. Perhaps another option could be looking at whether, with adequate training, solicitors could become part-time district judges who qualify specifically to specialise in landlord and tenant disputes.
Either way, as well as needing more judges in the long-term, addressing the existing backlog must be a priority as trying to get through to the courts at present is proving almost impossible. They need more bodies and more administrative support.
I maintain that in the interim, whilst improvements are being made, the directive to judges must change.
In cases where landlords can prove financial hardship, judges at County Courts should start granting leave to transfer more eviction cases with serious arrears to the High Court to enable cases to be resolved in four to six weeks, not months and months. Some landlords have already waited more than six months to reach the point of eviction and are being financially crippled by the delays.
We know from years of experience that High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO) provide a viable and fast alternative service to using County Court bailiffs to evict tenants. I accept that the High Court cannot fix the problem in its entirety, nor can it be the long-term solution, but it could help with clearing the backlog of cases, which is essential before any further pressure is added to the court system.
Then there is the need to bolster bailiff support.
The number of bailiffs has been dwindling for many years and there is a historic lack of investment in the court system. We’ve spoken to bailiffs who are coving three or four courts, which is simply not manageable given the rising workload. This leaves landlords trapped, incurring even further losses from rent arrears for an extended period of time.
Adequate resources need to be allocated to encourage more bailiffs back to the sector. As well as increasing salaries, bailiff roles need to be restructured to focus more on case support and less on administrative tasks.
We already know that digitising the court system is on the agenda but more specifically I think this needs to include expanding online platforms for filing evidence, conducting more remote hearings (which would also benefit tenants) and extending the duration of hearings since cases are increasingly complex. The increase in future Section 8 cases necessitates an upgraded digital infrastructure for a smoother process.
Finally, mediation has been available for some time, but I think there needs to be a greater onus on this, introducing it at earlier stages may prevent cases escalating. There is an argument that once the relationship between landlord and tenant has broken down, mediation will not work. However, imposing penalties for parties failing to mediate or being unreasonably obstructive may incentivise cooperation and expedite case resolutions.
Reforming the UK courts is an essential prerequisite to the abolition of Section 21 notices. By enhancing judicial capacity, leveraging technology, introducing early mediation, and ensuring accountability, the courts can efficiently handle the expected surge in Section 8 cases while streamlining processes for fair and timely resolutions.
* Paul Shamplina is founder of Landlord Action, Chief Commercial Officer at Hamilton Fraser, and is on Channel 5's 'Nightmare Tenants, Slum Landlords' *
Want to comment on this story? If so...if any post is considered to victimise, harass, degrade or intimidate an individual or group of individuals on any basis, then the post may be deleted and the individual immediately banned from posting in future.