Let’s set aside the vexatious arguments around Brexit, Boris and our reportedly broken economy and focus for a few minutes on what I consider the main challenge of the Tory Government in recent months and years. One key problem is that Ministers often talk bullishly about reforming or improving supply within the housing market, but rarely deliver on it. Nevertheless, the more worrying aspect of the current Government is that too many MPs within the party’s ranks are obsessed with ‘small government’ and cutting red tape.
This appeals to those who personally and commercially resent anyone sticking noses into their daily lives – which is most of us really – but on the ground it is beginning to have serious consequences for letting agents.
System in trouble
I talked to Paul Shamplina, he of evictions specialist Landlord Action, who has serious misgivings about the way the Government is operating the courts system – and he’s joined by the mighty ranks of the Law Society and the UK’s solicitors’ trade organisations in this view. They have all been warning for some time that a lack of investment in the justice system overall is now coming home to roost in the County Courts, where discretionary evictions hearings are conducted. Not enough judges are being trained and hired, too few courts have the capacity to get bona fide evictions expedited and, in recent weeks, it’s clear the bailiff system is now in trouble.
Shamplina says the court system is on the brink of a severe bailiff crisis with a growing number of court appearances and warrants being put on ice or cancelled, leaving many landlords and letting agents high and dry. Some landlords are waiting six months, and sometimes 12 months, to evict tenants. The Ministry of Justice has said somewhat bizarrely that the bailiff shortage is being caused by many court-employed bailiffs not having enough personal protection equipment (which is a polite term for stab vests) and who have consequently been told to stand down until it’s delivered. This may be true, but there are plenty of people within the bailiff community who think the suspension of activity is more likely to be a result of low investment in the courts, who pay these bailiffs and provide their equipment.
Some landlords are waiting six months and sometimes 12 months, to evict tenants.
Several leading operators report County Court bailiffs managing their work schedules by only attending the serving of a warrant or an eviction for short periods of time – so if a tenant proves tricky the bailiffs just… bail.
This may all sounds like the ramblings of the muttering classes, but if the bailiff system grinds to a halt – which it is right now – it will mean more landlords and letting agencies being powerless to get rid of errant tenants who refuse to move on and continue to rack up rent arrears. It is also places the Government’s promised Renters (Reform) Bill under the spotlight – how can the Government abolish Section 21 notice ‘no fault’ evictions when the system that will have to pick up the slack as the new and improved Section 8 notices all go to court shudders to a halt.
This is what happens when a Government constantly relies on promised reforms and improvement of the housing sector, but then delivers it piecemeal or not tall all.
Two examples spring to mind. The much-heralded reform of our estate agency sector via ROPA and the promise to build more homes. The former has disappeared into some very long grass, while the latter has largely failed to materialise.
These things matter – for example the estate agency industry expended a lot of effort and debate over RoPA, not to mention the huge input and long hours of Lord Best, whom I told is not happy that Ministers have so far failed to come up with legislation to implement RoPA.
And letting agents and landlords not having confidence in a shaky evictions system, along with the changes coming down the line within the Renters (Reform) Bill, will do nothing to improve their lives nor increase supply into the private rented sector, which is much needed. As the almost monthly sky-rocketing rentdata proves.
I hope the next Government, whoever that might be, has the will power to overcome this foot dragging and get moving.