Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has launched a new government-backed mediation service that acts as a go-between for landlords with tenants in possession cases.
The free service aims to resolve buy to let problems without a face-to-face court hearing.
The goal is to keep tenants in their homes once the ban on bailiff-led evictions is lifted on May 31.
The secretary first announced the planned housing possession mediation service in February as part of a government package of measures to ease pressure on the courts arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. The mediation pilot is available in England and Wales.
Landlords do not have to go to mediation if the tenant asks and nothing adverse is noted if a landlord fails to come to an agreement if a case goes to mediation.
Tenants cannot use mediation as an eviction delaying tactic.
When mediation is offered
If a landlord goes to court to gain possession of a rented home, the case is listed for review before a hearing.
At this stage, the tenant can access free, legal advice and try to resolve any issues with the landlord.
If both parties agree, the case is referred to a mediator.
Tenants can ask for the case to go to mediation on the day of review at the court.
Landlords open to mediation should let the court know on or before the review day.
How mediation works
A case should go to mediation with 10 days of a referral.
First contact should be from a mediator within two days of the case review at court.
Mediators are trained, neutral advisers without any ties to the court. Their job is to identify the issues that have led to the possession proceedings and to try to resolve them.
If the mediation is agreed by both parties, the case is closed, but if no agreement is reached, the court hearing will go ahead.
The government promises that while the service will help in some cases, the referral will not delay the possession proceedings and it’s not compulsory for landlords to agree to mediation.
Mediation does not need a face-to-face meeting and will be conducted over the phone in England and Wales.
During the negotiation, landlords and tenants do not speak to each other, only to the mediator and neither side can here the other’s discussions with the mediator.
Even if a case goes to mediation, landlords and tenants do not have to agree a settlement.
The government says to get the best from mediation, landlords should:
- Be open and flexible
- Be willing to work with the mediator to find a resolution
- Be clear with what you want to say
- Be able to answer any questions
- Have a quiet, private space where you won’t be disturbed
- Be available at the start of the session and throughout
What happens after mediation?
If an agreement is reached, both sides sign a form outlining the terms. This form is given to a judge for approval.
If the agreement is broken, either side can return to court to ask for enforcement action.
Should no agreement be reached, the case goes to court as normal, but the judge is not told about any mediation attempt or anything discussed during the call.
What lawyers say about housing possession mediation
The Law Society argues that the £3 million price of setting up a housing possession mediation service would be better spent on offering more legal advice to tenants threatened with eviction under the Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme (HPCDS)
“Mediation should not be the whole solution to the current court delays and backlogs. Any remedy to these issues must focus on ensuring all tenants have access to courts, court services and specialist legal advice,” said a spokesman.
“The mediation pilot must therefore be approached with caution and be more explicit about what it intends to do to help the public achieve justice. It must go beyond simply clearing the backlog and move forward with the struggles of the housing sector at its core.”
The spokesman also explained the already offers free legal advice on the day of a hearing to tenants
Who are the mediators and what do they do?
Housing mediators are full-trained, professionals belonging to the Society of Mediators. Many are lawyers.
They are independent and impartial with no links to the courts service.
During the mediation call, the mediator will:
- Explain how the session will work and check the parties are prepared
- Be impartial and will treat both parties with equal confidentiality
- Speak to each party separately – you do not talk directly to the other side
- Be neutral and helps each party explore options to try and reach agreement
- Not try to force you to find a settlement
Can landlords still evict tenants?
Nothing has changed in the eviction process for landlords.
Proceedings can still be issued as normal and the ban on bailiff-led evictions lifts on May 31.
Ministers hope the mediation service will take some pressure off the courts when the ban on evictions ends, but in the case of rent arrears, there seems little room for movement to settle a debt.
However, the reasoning behind the announcement for eviction mediation could in preparation for the long-awaited legislation scrapping Section 21 evictions at some point.