Not so much guidance, more of an exhortation

Back in our post on the 50th update to the CPR, we noted that there was a new requirement from 1 October 2009 for the Claimant in mortgage possession proceedings to notify occupiers of proceedings within 5 days of receiving notification of the date of hearing and, interestingly, to notify the local authority’s housing department under CPR 55. We wondered at the time what local authorities would actually do with these notifications.

And now Housing Minister John Healey has told them and us what they must do. Well, not so much must do as should do. Or perhaps ought to maybe think about doing, at least if they like the idea. Healey’s press release makes it sound good:

Mr Healey has also written today to all council leaders saying that when councils hear from lenders taking repossession action against local people this should prompt them to offer practical advice or support for residents struggling to keep their homes.

This could include directing them to free debt and legal advice, helping them apply for benefits such as Support for Mortgage Interest or, for the most vulnerable households, assessing them for the Mortgage Rescue Scheme.

But you will note that this is a letter from Mr Healey, not a code of guidance or anything that local authorities might actually be required to follow.

In short, we still don’t know what local authorities will do with the notifications and whether it makes any practical difference at all is entirely at the whim of the doubtless cash strapped housing departments and the authorities themselves.

About Giles Peaker

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts, and still is Nearly Legal on Google +.
Posted in Housing law - All, Mortgage possession and tagged .

6 Comments

  1. it could be made to sit alongside the obligation to offer advice in homelessness cases. but it’ll need a bit of firming up. probably, given the ticking clock on this government, they will save themselves the paper and leave it as an aspiration. not going to form the basis of a jr, i fear.
    interesting on listening to conference today that london borough of hammersmith and fulham were quoted as lamenting that la tenants were ‘hard to get rid of’. if accurate (and that’s of course quite a large ‘if’) it’s a troubling attitude towards social housing and may be a clue to the sort of policies the (surely inevitable) conservative government will come up with. god help us all.

    • It would need to be either statutory or an obligatory code of guidance to have a real effect. Definitely not the basis of a JR at present, obviously. It stands as a ‘good idea’, nothing more.

      The attitude you mention – depending on who was saying it – would not necessarily surprise me, by the way.

  2. The whole notion is pure showboating, as is clear from the terms of the press release which emphasises “new rules”.

    The idea that a local authority would respond to the notice within the necessary timescale (i.e. before the possession hearing) is from cloud-cuckoo land.

    Even if they did, I see nothing to be gained from linking this with the existing obligation to provide “advice and such assistance as they consider appropriate” under sections 190 and 192 of the ’96 Act. to those not in priority need or who are “intentionally” homeless. Was that what Simply Wondered was referring to? Or was it the general duty under section 179?

    The sort of thing which actually emerges from those obligations, in the rare cases where they are observed, is a list of hostels which is several years out of date. I saw one such list which also included organisations allegedly able to give further advice. Whilst they were mostly inappropriate, none were as inappropriate as the three which had been had been closed down several years previously by the council withdrawing their grants and repossessing their premises!

    I do wonder about JR in this context. Misconceived and out of date “advice” which merely results in sending a homeless or potentially homeless person on a wild goose chase is surely the opposite of “assistance” and no reasonable authority could consider it appropriate. It is a hindrance and a waste of the person’s valuable time in a situation where time is of the essence. Have they not also failed to take into account a relevant fact -that their “advice” handout is out of date rubbish or otherwise largely useless?

  3. Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of employer, I can do no better than recall the higher courts opinion that local authority decisions must be considered or viewed as a whole. They must be considered fairly. It is erroneous to adopt a narrow approach, combing through the words of the handouts with a fine appellate tooth-comb, with the prospect that a slip or error will be found warranting the inference of an error of law.

    I wonder how many advocates have picked up the phone and tried to work with a local authority to improve its practises, procedures, policies or material before considering an application to move for judicial. My Nelsonian ignorance would stretch to breaking point if I believed that all local authorities put its customers (as they are now called) first, but bullish advocacy is surely no good for anyone.

    • Well, having worked for a (then reasonably decent if a bit innefficent) council for many years before becoming an advocate I was always minded to work *with* local authority workers as I genuinely assumed most, like me, worked in homelessness or housing because they wanted to (and I understand the pressures on them)

      While I still think that’s a reasonable approach to at least *attempt* with northern authorities (though its getting less so, as they pick up London habits, using spurious gatekeeping methods, failing to train their staff properly, and failing to do the bare minimum such as responding to post)

      I have been horrified to discover that London authorities almost never respond to anything *but* litigation (or the impending threat of it)

      So you may be being a bit idealistic Stephen.

      Cait

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