Are we facing an evictions crisis?

Imagine knowing that you are going to lose your home but not knowing when the bailiffs will come knocking.

One look at this harrowing video of Angela being evicted by bailiffs tells you that there’s nothing easy about being evicted. But knowing when the bailiff will turn up is better than having no idea when they will show, and sitting there just waiting. Knowing when you will be evicted could give you time to get someone to look after the kids so they don’t have to witness the bailiffs taking their things away.

That’s why we were concerned by reports that rules were being flouted, meaning that some tenants were getting no warning about when the bailiffs would show up. Thankfully, a clarification has now been issued by the courts to help clear things up, and further action is planned.  But why was this happening in the first place?

Bailiffs only get involved in an eviction once they are instructed by a court that it will go ahead. At that point, if your case is going through the county court (which is where most evictions cases are heard, as reported about here) the bailiff has to give you a notice saying when they will come round. But recently Shelter and other legal commentators realised that eviction cases usually dealt with at the county courts were being transferred to the High Court – which meant High Court enforcement were getting involved. Unlike county court bailiffs, High Court enforcement officers aren’t required to give any notice of when they’re going to show. Once they’ve got the nod from the court they can, quite literally, turn up on the doorstep.

Evictions through the High Courts may be attractive to landlords who want to speed up an eviction and not wait for a county court bailiff appointment. The concern was that landlords were not following due process when getting their cases escalated to the High Court – perhaps to take advantage of these speedier evictions. Arguably, private landlords can’t be blamed for seeking the path of least resistance when evicting their tenants – but that doesn’t mean they can break the rules.

This episode prompts some uncomfortable questions about eviction practices and whether the system is able to cope with the number of eviction cases. Courts are the latest victim of public sector cuts and the future for many courts is entirely bleak. Lots will close down entirely, putting even more pressure on the remaining courts. If they find themselves operating at capacity, it will become increasingly difficult to get access to justice. This will be frustrating for tenants and landlords alike.

We’re smack bang in the middle of a housing crisis – now it seems an evictions crisis is likely to follow. Court closures will force the issue, but we already know there is a problem. The government must heed the warning that the system is starting to buckle. For the families going through eviction, the words eviction and crisis already go hand in hand – before it gets worse evictions must be made as pain-free as possible. A good start would be making sure the process is clear and transparent from the outset. Surely these families need to be given the best chance of moving on?