The Government’s recent decision to delay the abolition of Section 21 no-fault evictions was, at least in part, due to the current problems with the courts.
There are proposals for a new digitised system, but few in the lettings industry expect improvements to be delivered anytime soon. Legitimate possession claims are taking an age to trundle through the clogged system, while troublesome tenants exploit the situation and heap more misery on landlords.
The Ministry of Justice says that the average time for repossession cases is 29 weeks. This exceeds legal guidelines, but the problem is not confined to delays in securing court hearings. Recent issues in the court-appointed bailiff system have exacerbated the problem. Sim Sekhon, Group MD of Legal for Landlords, believes that few outside the industry are aware of the scale of the problem and the challenges landlords face.
The company’s Eviction Services team is currently processing around 220 cases every month. When we asked how landlords felt about waiting 29 weeks for a resolution, we heard a rather hollow laugh. It appears that the average time masks a huge variation. Sekhon told us, “Some courts are simply failing those with legitimate claims. Nobody should be expected to endure the distress and financial losses these delays are causing.
We asked for examples. Sekhon obliged, saying, “We learned about a case heard at Manchester County Court, involving a landlord currently resident in Singapore whose property is managed by a respected Manchester-based agent. The landlord has purchased flights to come over to the UK for the bailiff appointments on two occasions. Following rent arrears, a Section 8 Notice was issued 12 months ago.
“A possession order was granted, and a bailiff was appointed to attend in late March. The tenant bolted the doors and the 2bailiffs decided police presence was required. Another date was set for May.
The tenant applied for Breathing Space the day before the bailiffs were due. When this expired, the landlord applied for another bailiff appointment. It was set for September then cancelled because of the strike. The bailiffs were next due in October. The tenant applied to have the warrant suspended.
“The application was dismissed but it had prevented the bailiff’s action. Yet another bailiff appointment was made, this time for earlier this month. The tenant made another application to suspend the warrant, but they neither paid the court fee nor attended the hearing.
“The judge told the bailiff to go ahead. When they arrived at the property, the tenant advised they were in Breathing Space again. This current situation expires in mid-December.
“In a second case at Doncaster County Court, the eviction took 18 months, 2 weeks and 5 days. The original Section 8 notice was served in March 2022. The hearing date was set for August and then adjourned when the tenant claimed disrepair. They did not file any defence and a second hearing date was set for the end of October. Again, no defence was filed. The third hearing took place in
“February 2023 and possession was awarded. The process of appointing bailiffs commenced, and they were due to attend in early May, but the first tenant went into Breathing Space. A second appointment had to be cancelled as the second tenant went into Breathing Space. The third bailiff appointment in September 2023 finally secured the eviction.
“A third case involving Willesden County Court is expected to conclude in January 2024, taking a total of ten months – just to secure bailiff action. In this case, paperwork within the court was repeatedly misplaced.
“They couldn’t find a risk assessment. They lost the copy of the application for a bailiff on two occasions. Then they failed to pass the application to the bailiffs for four months. After that, they passed the file to Stratford Housing Centre – but couldn’t explain why. Following a complaint to the court, a bailiff appointment has finally been confirmed.
“Stratford Housing Centre is involved in a second case where a Section 8 notice was served in May 2022. It took five months for a hearing date to be set. Following a series of adjournments – at least one the result of the tenant’s stalling tactics – possession was awarded in October 2023. Now the wait for a confirmed bailiff appointment is underway. Already this case has taken over 18 months.
“The final example Sekhon described doesn’t have these extreme delays but does show a worrying reluctance of Romford County Court to support legitimate landlord claims. In this instance, the agent served notices in early June and a possession hearing was set for the end of the month.
“It was granted and applications were made to appoint a bailiff – a process delayed by errors in the possession order. Meanwhile, on two occasions, the tenant has applied to have the bailiff appointment suspended. The first time, the application was dismissed. The second, the tenant paid the arrears, and the judge promptly decided the bailiff appointment was no longer required and cancelled it. The landlord still does not have possession of his property.”
Sekhon added, “These may be some of the more extreme examples from our case book, but they illustrate fairly typical problems. The courts should protect the rights of all and respect valid claims, but in our experience, they are failing in their duty when it comes to landlords.”
“Digitisation has the potential to alleviate the pressure but it’s perhaps worth noting that The Law Society has surveyed its members and concluded that “The government’s digitisation of the courts is adding to the delays plaguing the civil court system and undermining people’s access to justice when they need it most.”