A government-funded national mediation service is due to begin that, it is claimed, will reduce the number of landlords and tenants fighting it out in court over evictions.
A tender has been out since late last year seeking a supplier able to provide the service, which will offer an online local court mediation service across the UK.
The multi-million pound contract is to last for six months as a pilot and, although expected to start next week, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson was only able to confirm to LandlordZONE that it would be ‘soon’ and that discussion between it and the housing ministry, which is involved in planning the initiative, ‘are ongoing’.
Their mediation service is designed to help landlords and tenants come to an out-of-court agreement between the initial exploratory hearing and their subsequent, ‘substantive’ possession hearing.
This, the government hopes, will help the courts reduce the volume of cases going through the full hearing process and help prioritise the most urgent and serious cases.
Organisations within the industry have been asked to tender but many have baulked at the short lead times required to organise a national service and the relatively low budget of £50 per mediation.
And one leading lawyer has registered her disquiet at the scheme. Diane Astin of Deighton Pierce Glynn (pictured) told the Legal Action Group website that the looming new mediation service “shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of possession proceedings and what happens at the hearing,” she said.
Astin said lawyers and advice agencies already strive to achieve settlement and that the money being expended on the new government service would be better spent on legal aid for tenants in arrears, so they get early advice and avoid the claims being issued in the first place.
Mike Morgan (pictured) of the Property Redress Scheme says: “While we were aware of the tender, we did not bid as we have invested in our early intervention resolution service, which is achieving effective payment plans and negotiated vacation of properties by tenants without the courts needing to be involved.
“We wish the successful bidder the very best and offer our expert help if needed.”
The new service is likely to be used in approximately a quarter of the possession cases that come to court each month.
Paul Shamplina of Landlord Action says the government’s mediation service may be ‘too little too late’ because many landlords who come to court with possession claims are already facing many months of rent arrears which in many cases began before the pandemic started.
Morgan adds: “Mediation is highly successful but only if it is undertaken at the earliest opportunity possible. The longer you leave it the less efficacious it is.”