NRLA chief executive, Ben Beadle, discusses the crisis facing the courts as Covid-19 restrictions are eased, and looks at what the Government must do to save the Private Rented Sector (PRS).

Emergency restrictions, introduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, are now being lifted.

The NRLA has successfully campaigned for swift change on exiting measures, following extensive talks with ministers and civil servants.

But, for those landlords who need to regain possession of their properties, the journey ahead is unlikely to be plain sailing.

Now there is a plan, we must switch the Government’s focus to the provision of a comprehensive financial support package for landlord and tenants affected by the pandemic, and to look at what needs to be done to tackle the significant backlog of cases blocking up the courts.

This is vital to maintain tenancies and ease the pressure on the already overburdened legal system, where average waiting times from claim to possession were more than a year (57 weeks) in the first quarter of 2021.

Financial support

It is clear we are facing a rent debt crisis. More than 800,000 of those living in the private rented sector in England and Wales have built arrears since lockdown measures started last year despite our research showing 82% of those were not in rent debt prior to lockdown.

With this in mind we have ramped up our campaign asking the Government for help.

Possession claims fell considerably during the pandemic, with the courts closed and landlords doing all they could to keep tenancies going. It is obvious to us at the NRLA that the best way to keep these figures down is to tackle the issue of arrears head on.

By offering ringfenced financial support, including interest free loans to allow tenants to pay off Covid-related arrears, the Government can help tenants remain in their homes and stem the number of cases going to court.

Both will go a long way to tackling the significant challenges faced by landlords and tenants as long-term recovery begins.

The backlog of court cases

Latest figures show almost 23,000 possession claims have been made since the courts closed in March 2020. However the same time frame only 8,600 possession orders have been issued. This leaves a substantial proportion of claims – more than 60% – still unheard.

Similarly when bailiff enforcement was allowed to take place, as of June 1, there were around 11,000 warrants, 70% of which are estimated to have pre-dated the pandemic.

The numbers will build further as new claims are submitted, making long delays commonplace, unless there’s a significant increase in the speed in which cases progress through the courts.

We believe the Government could implement a series of simple changes which could offer a more streamlined process. These include:

  • Getting rid of the additional ‘review’ hearings. These were introduced during the pandemic as a means of prioritising cases, but are now contributing to the delays
  • Making greater use of digital remote hearings over the phone or online for simple cases
  • Increasing the use of High Court Enforcement Officers to tackle the backlog of enforcement

There are also a number of technical administrative changes which could also make a difference when it comes to wait times.

Read more in a special report by James Wood, ‘The wait of justice 2021: how covid legislation affected possession’.

Resolution outside the courtroom

Landlords too can play their part and we would encourage them, where possible, to look outside the courtroom for solutions should they have issues with their tenancy.

Mediation and conciliation – while not guaranteed to work in every case – can be highly successful. If your tenant has fallen into arrears, working with them or via a mediation service to find a suitable payment plan can help you avoid court or, at worst, show you have made every effort to avoid it.

NRLA members can access a free mediation service provided by TDS  to this end.

These are challenging times, but there are positive steps that can be taken to help landlords and renters to maintain tenancies as we set off on the road to recovery.

For more information about the NRLA campaign lobbying for Government support for the sector click here.

For further information on the free and impartial mediation service available for landlords and tenants, visit TDS Resolution.

About the Author

Ben Beadle

NRLA Chief Executive

Ben Beadle - NRLA Chief Executive

Ben Beadle is chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA), the UK’s largest trade body for landlords.

A landlord himself since the age of 20, Ben started out as property manager before working his way up through the ranks at Tenancy Deposit Scheme. 

He was then Operations Director at property management business Touchstone before overseeing the merger of the National Residential Landlords Association (NLA) and Residential Landlords Association (RLA) to create the new trade body earlier this year.

His key aims as head of the organisation are to strengthen the voice of landlords in Westminster and Cardiff, to improve the reputation of landlords in the media and to support members through information, training, and accreditation.

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About TDS

Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) is a Government-approved scheme for the protection of tenancy deposits. TDS offers both Insured and free deposit protection and also provides fair adjudication for disputes that arise over the tenancy deposits that we protect.

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