Since reporting a year ago that under-resourced county courts were overwhelmed by the number of possession claims being put forward, Landlord Action says the problem has not improved and is now being compounded by the use of call centres run by inexperienced temporary staff. They warn other practitioners “If you want an answer quickly, be prepared to chase.”
Twelve months ago, Landlord Action employed a full-time member of staff solely to follow up claims made to the courts. They wanted to ensure they continued providing clients with an efficient service, despite the challenges via third party delays. However, with further court closures, it now transpires that some county courts are operating call centres, where temporary staff, with little or no experience, have been appointed to process claims and correspondence.
In a recent routine phone call to follow up a case, an operator informed Julie Herbert, Head of Legal at Landlord Action, that there were just six people in one call centre dealing with calls and paperwork relating to 55 different courts. “It is evident that those at the call centre are not qualified to be able to differentiate between correspondence that can sit on a file, and correspondence that needs the urgent attention of a Judge in order for a case to progress. We have had numerous incidents where court staff appear to be opening post, filing it and doing little about it, adding to the problem even further” says Julie.
Landlord Action has expressed concern that more planned court closures and the introduction of the recent Deregulation Act, will likely see a surge in more defended, contentious cases clogging up the system and resulting in even longer delays.
Considering ways to improve the system, Julie Herbert adds “When correspondence is received by the court, it needs to be looked at by someone who is capable of deciding whether the item of correspondence requires any action. If they are going to close courts, they need to transfer some of those qualified members of staff to these call centres. Alternatively, train up more qualified staff so that they have a legal understanding of each item of correspondence which the court receives. It can then be processed saving numerous calls from practitioners chasing them up”.
According to Ms Herbert, a high volume of tenants’ applications have no merit. However, some applications are being processed by office staff, where hearings are being set down weeks after a possession order has been granted, causing further losses to landlords and putting a strain on court resources. “If judges actually got to see these applications in the first instance, decisions could be made on most without the need for a hearing” she says.
In the interim, Landlord Action’s advice to other practitioners who are waiting for a reply from the courts on anything, is to carry out regular chase up calls, even more so than normal. “If told that it is in the system, push to know exactly when the file was or will be referred to a judge, as well as asking what timeframes are in place for when you can hear back from the court and take a name. It is important to follow up your conversation with the court by email, as this also provides evidence for you to show your client that you are being proactive” concludes Julie Herbert.