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Alternative dispute resolution such as mediation should be used where possible and appropriate, said the Government in the latest update of its guidance for landlords and tenants on Understanding the possession action process, just published.
There are several services available in the market which specialise in resolving disputes in the private rented sector which you may wish to consider, it advises. And, landlords can access the Housing Ombudsman Service for training on dispute resolution.
‘If you make a claim for possession, the court will ask you for information to determine whether your tenant is vulnerable; for example whether they have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic (including if they were clinically extremely vulnerable and/or were shielding) or if they are in receipt of welfare benefits. The court may not be able to progress your case until you provide this information. If your tenant is struggling as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, you should consider if you could delay seeking repossession of your property and find a way to support your tenant until such a time as they might be better able to move to another property’.
The guide ‘recognises’ that in some cases, making a claim for possession will be unavoidable – ‘for instance if your tenant is building up rent arrears and refusing to communicate with you’. But it is important that court time is put to the best possible use and, where possible, ‘you should use the court process only as a last resort’.
The guidance is one of a number of guidance updates issued following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. Others include:
- Guidance for those involved in home buying or selling and in moving home: Moving home during coronavirus. Regardless of the lifting of COVID restrictions, the Government is urging everyone involved in buying, selling and moving home to continue to take precautions and follow latest guidelines. Landlords and letting agents should ‘be aware of and follow’ the government guidance on coronavirus and renting.
- Non-statutory guidance for landlords, tenants and local authorities in the private and social rented sectors in the context of Coronavirus (COVID-19): COVID-19 and renting. This again pushes the benefits of alternative dispute resolution. ‘Landlords may accept a lower level of rent or agree a plan to pay off arrears at a later date and not seek possession action through the courts for a period of time’, it suggests. And it says the government has worked with the National Residential Landlords Association to produce a guide for private landlords and tenants on managing arrears and avoiding court action in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.