Home Property Finance & InvestmentMortgages New housing advice service sparks concerns of delayed repossessions and rising costs

New housing advice service sparks concerns of delayed repossessions and rising costs

by LLP Finance Reporter
22nd Aug 23 3:22 pm

Since August 1st, a new Housing Loss Prevention Advice Service (HLPAS) has been in operation. It offers anyone at risk of losing their home free legal advice.

It’s not means tested and can be called upon from the moment that a landlord or mortgage lender issues a notice to repossess. Representation in court and advocacy are included in the list of services offered by registered providers.

While homelessness is a dreadful scourge, one consequence of the change is likely to be that landlords’ legitimate claims for repossession of their properties will take longer to complete, and therefore cost more. Backlogs in the courts that exist currently will worsen. That’s the view of Sim Sekhon, MD of LegalforLandlords who is also a landlord himself. He said, ‘Currently, it feels like the landlord’s interests are always the lowest priority. This change sounds worthy but, no doubt, it will delay the entire legal process.’

Sekhon is not the only one to register concern. Many landlords are struggling, out of pocket and suffering financial hardships as ‘difficult’ tenants exploit every concession and loophole of an unbalanced legal system. And coming at a time when many landlords are already considering leaving the sector, this move may be the proverbial final straw. It’s worth noting that the landlord is expected to stand all the losses and legal costs of a repossession case, even when he or she has behaved in an exemplary manner.

Sekhon went on to mention recent cases of councils in Brent and Harrow offering to pay rent arrears of tenants if landlords will halt eviction processes and agree a new twelve-month tenancy for the defaulting tenant. Landlords, he said, are being backed into a corner. Financially squeezed by significant rent arrears, they are being expected to tolerate the ongoing stress of continuing to house a tenant who has already shown themselves unable or unwilling to pay their agreed rent.

Providers of the HLPAS service are listed on the GOV.UK website and include housing charities, legal firms and Citizens Advice. They will be able to offer advice on housing, debt and welfare benefits, and provide in-court duty. There is, of course, the possibility that this so-called ‘early’ legal advice will prompt a review of debts and welfare benefits, which could ultimately ease the problem of rent arrears and provide the landlord with a satisfactory outcome.

It is early days for the new service, but already the Law Society of England and Wales has raised a concern: are there enough legal practitioners available to do the work? Sekhon says this issue is illustrative of the Housing Department’s lack of foresight. ‘When the existing system doesn’t work for landlords, it’s no surprise that many want to leave the sector. Repossession is their only option, but with the advent of HPLAS that becomes even harder. When is the government going to realise that it makes no sense to alienate landlords when you’re trying to fix a housing crisis?’

Landlords are being pressured from all sides and it has perhaps never been more important for them to be proactive in protecting their interests. Taking out Rent Protection insurance and obtaining guarantors can provide much needed reassurance in a rental market that seems increasingly unbalanced.

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