A pilot rental mediation scheme aimed at trying to resolve disputes between tenants and landlords in order to reduce the number of possession claims before the courts was barely used during its nine-month tenure, a recent government review has confirmed.
Prior to the introduction of the scheme, the government had estimated that up to 10,000 cases would be suitable for the scheme within its first six months, and that 3,000 of those cases would be successfully resolved.
However, statistics published at the end of February show in fact that only 22 cases were referred to the scheme in its nine-month pilot period. Nine of those cases were mediated, leading to only four successful resolutions between tenant and landlord, although in each of these cases, a substantive court hearing was still required.
The government’s review highlighted a number of areas as to why they believe the uptake on the scheme was not higher:
- The offer of mediation came too late in the process, often at a time when the relationship between the landlord and tenant had eroded and the parties had already incurred considerable time and expense in the possession process. Many tenants felt that the offer of mediation should be at an earlier stage, perhaps even before court proceedings have been issued.
- There was a general lack of awareness, particularly on the part of tenants, as to what was involved in the mediation process and indeed, in relation to possession proceedings generally. Tenants also confirmed that they had limited awareness of the duty advice scheme, whereby tenants may be able to obtain free advice at court on the day of their possession hearing.
- The Covid-19 pandemic and the various lockdown restrictions imposed by the government appear to have had an effect on the pilot scheme and how it was resourced, operated and monitored.
- The pandemic also affected the number of possession claims that were issued in the courts between January 2021 and October 2021 (when the rental mediation scheme was in force). Numbers of issued claims were significantly down on the same period pre-pandemic. This was also due to the measurements introduced by the government that meant landlords had to provide longer notice periods before commencing possession claims and other government funding provided to assist with housing costs, such as the furlough scheme and an uplift in Universal Credit.
- Poor communication amongst stakeholders. The review found that in some instances, duty advisers, court staff and indeed judges were unaware of the scheme and how it was to work within the wider possession proceedings.
The pilot scheme ended in October 2021 and the government has said it will use the review’s findings to determine how it can best encourage non-adversarial forms of dispute resolution, such as mediation, as part of the possession process, whilst trying to avoid the mistakes of the past.