Emma, a debt advisor, spent the day at a County Court hearing centre to better understand the eviction hearing process. She’s written this article to share what happens during an eviction hearing and what she learnt from the day.
As a debt advisor, I regularly speak to clients who are in rent or mortgage arrears and are concerned about eviction. It’s part of my job to understand the County Court eviction process, explain to clients what to expect at their hearing and how to prepare for it.
However, being fortunate enough to have never been in that situation myself, one thing I can’t talk the client through is how they’ll feel on the day.
So to find out more, I visited a County Court hearing centre to help me to understand more about the process from a client’s perspective.
Free legal advice
I spent the day shadowing the duty solicitor in the course of her work in handling eviction hearings. There’s usually at least one solicitor on duty at court to provide legal advice to people who haven’t got a solicitor to represent them.
The duty solicitor I shadowed was on hand to give help to anyone who needed it, including advising clients on housing and mortgage issues.
I sat in on eight eviction hearings in one day. This was normal for the court I visited, but it varies across the country.
Negotiating with the housing officer
The duty solicitor met with each client before the hearing to discuss their options. Most of the negotiations were done outside of the court room between the duty solicitor and the housing officer. This is normal practice even for people without legal representation.
Housing officers manage properties for agents, local authorities and housing associations. In County Court possession claims, these officers represent the organisation they work for and prepare evidence to be used in court.
I had a chat with the housing officer and she told me that in her experience the biggest cause of rent arrears in the past twelve months was due to the “bedroom tax” (under occupancy charge).
Preparing for an eviction hearing
Eviction is a last resort, and the courts and housing associations would always prefer a payment plan to be put in place rather than evict a tenant.
Out of the eight cases I attended there was only one eviction. The person who was evicted said she couldn’t afford her rent due to the “bedroom tax”.
This was her second hearing. Her first hearing had been adjourned to give her time to apply for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) and to find alternative accommodation. The housing association that was evicting her had helped her with the application for DHP and had given her references to join another housing group, but unfortunately neither were successful.
In the court room
When it was time to go in and see the judge we were guided into a meeting room with a long table. The judge heard both sides of the case before deciding to grant the eviction.
The client had 14 days to vacate the property before the court would enforce a warrant to the property, which allows law enforcement agents to change the locks.
As the client wasn’t sure she could find alternative accommodation within two weeks, the housing association offered to put her possessions in storage until she found somewhere to live.
What I learnt about evictions
If you’re in debt you’re not alone and there are people who want to help. The most important thing to remember is to keep talking to your landlord. Ignoring the situation will only make it worse. In general, the courts, local authorities and housing associations want to help their tenants and avoid eviction wherever possible.
If you’re struggling to pay your rent, take a look at our guide to rent arrears.
You could also complete our online Debt Remedy tool to assess your financial situation and provide you with a personal action plan to deal with your debts.
If you’d prefer to speak to someone in person, call our friendly advisers on 0800 138 1111 (Free from all landlines and mobiles)