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Considering the case for a Housing Court: Citizens Advice response to MHCLG’s call for evidence

22 January 2019

Considering the case for a Housing Court: Citizens Advice response to MHCLG’s call for evidence

Citizens Advice welcomes the opportunity to respond to the government’s consultation ‘Considering the case for a Housing Court: call for evidence’ and provide feedback.

Courts don’t work for too many tenants. Any reform to the court system needs to work for claimants. We see issues ranging from access to justice, courts not being physically accessible, and court processes being difficult for people to navigate. Changes to legal aid have made this worse.

Reforms could leave existing barriers unresolved. In the context of the above problems experienced by our clients, we have a number of concerns about possible court reforms:

  • it’s unclear how a housing court would save time and impact claim timelines
  • the power imbalance between landlords and tenants could be made worse
  • it’s not clear if access to legal aid will - at the very least - be maintained, and
  • tenants will still lack the security necessary to enforce their rights.

Reforms to the court system must work for tenants. In the event that the government pursues a specialist housing court:

  • Existing levels of legal aid must be maintained for all cases to ensure that tenants are not at an even greater material disadvantage than at present compared to landlords.

  • A new housing court must limit and reduce physical barriers, as they prevent cases from being heard and forms from being submitted. Courts themselves must also be physically accessible for disabled tenants and landlords.

  • Cases should take place within a reasonable distance and unnecessary travel avoided wherever possible. Processes for submitting forms and evidence should also be straightforward.

In addition, any reform to the court system should be underpinned by structural changes that will enable tenants to enforce their rights.

  • Tenants need greater security of tenure. The creation of 3 year tenancies would be a start. However, government should review the ongoing need for Section 21, at the same time as reviewing Section 8, in order to give tenants the security they need to enforce their rights.

  • There needs to be more effective, preventative enforcement by local authorities on disrepair issues, coupled with a review of retaliatory eviction provisions. Preventative enforcement will reduce the demands currently placed on the court system and make it clearer where the systemic problems lie.

  • Public enforcement - such as the creation of an Ombudsman - would help tenants enforce their rights and complement people’s ability to take cases to court.