31 July 2016

Preventing Homelessness: EHAP's Court Work

Eviction/Repossession Court Work

sheriff court 1EHAP provides a multi-faceted homelessness prevention service, but one key aspect of what we do … right at the sharp end … is the representation work we do every week at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, Defending those at risk of losing their homes because of rent or mortgage arrears.

The last Quarter (1 April to 30 June 2016) has once again continued the trend that we saw developing in the latter part of 2015, as the City of Edinburgh Council's 'Firmer Approach to Rent Arrears' policy continues to impact - with more Cases being brought to Court and the Council, in particular, less willing to negotiate in high arrears cases or where there has been default in payment arrangements by the tenant.

The City of Edinburgh Council has seen arrears levels rise dramatically in recent years.  In 2009/10 - the year before the UK Government's Welfare Reform agenda began to roll out - the year end arrears figure for CEC tenants was £1.2m.  By 2014/15 that year end figure had risen to £4.5m.  The projection for this year was for a further increase to £5.4m by the end of March 2016.  The increase is largely attributed to the various and collective impacts of welfare reform, and the general economic pressures experienced by those at the lower economic sectors of society.  Zero hours contracts - and the resulting unpredictable incomes, in particular, cause tenants ongoing problems with budgeting and sustaining rent payments.

EHAP's Manager, Mandy Burrell, commented:  "The Council's 'Firmer Approach to Rent Arrears' policy has definitely impacted on our workflow, with a significant increase in cases being lodged in Court.  We are also seeing many more Cases where the level of arrears - even at First Calling - is very high … and, in fact, often at levels where Case Law suggests that it will almost always be 'Reasonable' to grant Decree - so we are immediately on the back-foot in these Cases.  The demand for our service has never been greater, but we're totally committed to being here for those who need us, and our experience is very much that if we can work with the tenant or home-owner - and they work with us - we will get positive results."

In Quarter 1 of 2015/16, CEC issued 196 Notices of Proceedings, and Lodged 136 Cases in Court.  In Quarter 3 there were 420 Notices of Proceedings issued, and 205 Cases Lodged in Court.  A total of 420 new Cases were Lodged in Court by CEC in the first 3 Quarters of 2015/16.

EHAP has contact with a high proportion of the arrears cases which Call at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, so an increase in Cases lodged and Cases Calling has an inevitable impact on our workload.

In the first two Quarters of 2016 EHAP dealt with:

Court Hearings (1 January to 30 June 2016)

 

Q1

Q2

Increase

Number of Individuals with Cases Calling in Court

295

431

46%

Total Number of Court Hearings with EHAP representation

475

671

29%

Average Number of Hearings per Client in Quarter

1.6

1.55

 

Court Outcomes 2016 (1 January to 30 June 2016)

 

Quarter 1

Quarter 2

Outcome

Number

%age

Number

%age

Case Continued

328

69

480

72

Case Sisted on Payment Arrangement

90

19

133

20

Case Dismissed

10

2

15

2

Decree for Repossession Granted

28

6

27

4

Decree for Payment Only

0

0

3

0.5

EHAP Withdrawal

19

4

13

1.5

Totals

475

100

671

100

 

671 Hearings average out at 52 per week over the 13 weeks that the Sheriff Court 'sat' in the last Quarter.  That's 52 Cases each week that required ongoing contact with the client, negotiations with the landlord/lender, Court representation where required and any follow up casework to progress Housing Benefit and/or DHP claims or other income issues.  Given that these cases are already in Court, these represent people and families who are at an acute risk of losing their accommodation and becoming homeless - at significant cost to the Council.

However, the evidence of the last Quarter continues to demonstrate that where tenants engage with EHAP the most likely outcome of their Court Case is a positive one - 94% of cases were either Continued, Sisted or Dismissed.  In only 4% of the Cases we represented was Decree for Repossession Granted - despite the fact that levels of arrears are higher and the landlords less willing to negotiate a repayment arrangement.

If you are worried that your home may be at risk due to rent or mortgage arrears, it can be sorted.  Don't wait until it's too late, contact us now.  We can help!

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