As part of its ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the lettings market, the Government has released details of its mediation pilot scheme in England, the Housing Possession Mediation Service. From February 2021, tenants and landlords will now be able to access free, independent mediation from HM Courts and Tribunal Services rather than going through a potentially lengthy and expensive possession hearing process. If the mediation works, clearly, it's a win for everyone: the tenant, landlord and agent. So what should agents know?
How can this service help?
Any service that could help you avoid a protracted court case and legal costs are worth considering. But in order for mediation to work, both parties must go into it prepared to be open and flexible, willing to work with a mediator and open to answering questions about the situation and their behaviour within it. All sessions are completely confidential and, should the mediation fail, will not be passed onto the court.
How do tenants and landlords sign up for it?
Possession cases are listed for review before any related court hearing. At the review stage, tenants can access free legal advice from duty advisers – if they are interested in pursuing mediation at this stage, they should raise this with their adviser on the day of the review. Landlords who are interested can raise mediation with their representative (if they have one) or directly with the tenant on or before the review.
What should they expect?
Mediation is conducted remotely by phone. During the conversation, the mediator will explain how the session will work and check both parties are prepared. They will speak with both parties separately (and in confidence) so that neither side engages with the other. The purpose of the conversation is to help each party explore options to try and find a solution rather than forcing an agreement.
How long does the mediation process take?
Once both tenant and landlord have agreed to mediation, their details will be passed to the Society of Mediators, who will contact them by phone within two days of the review. The Society of Mediators aims to conduct mediation remotely within ten days of referral. If mediation is successful, the court will then be informed, and the case closed. While mediation may help avoid a full court hearing, it will not delay the ongoing court process. Both parties must continue to comply with all court directions because if the case does not resolve, it will continue to a full hearing.
How does the process resolve?
If housing possession mediation succeeds and both tenant and landlord are happy with the proposed solution, they will each sign an agreement, which will be put in front of a judge for approval. The agreement will explain what actions each party must take next. Either party can apply to the court to enforce the agreement if it is broken by the other party.
Where can they find out more information?
Details of the pilot scheme are available on the government website.
For more information about the mediation process and its benefits, watch Everything You Need to Know About Mediation, an on-demand webinar we held in November 2020 with mediation and redress specialists Sean Hooker, Head of Redress at the Property Redress Scheme (PRS) and Mike Morgan, Legal Division Manager with Hamilton Fraser.