Combating Homelessness, Creating Opportunities, Promoting Change

BHT’s Court Duty Desk Service

Have you received a court summons for a repossession hearing on your home?

BHT offers last minute, emergency advice at the county court on the day of your possession hearing. The service is free, confidential and available to anyone who needs it across all of the county courts in East Sussex.

court-duty-poster-pdf_W160 Click to your right to download BHT’s poster for the Court Duty Desk Service (PDF, 84kb)

As pressures on household budgets grow, changes in welfare reform, little increase in wages and the suggestion that interest rates will increase in the near future, we could see a rise in the number of people falling into difficulty.

But although repossessions rates are high, there is a growing concern that the number of people who are attending their court hearings is low.

In Eastbourne County Court, the number of people using our last minute, emergency advice service is as low as 10%, in Lewes it is 9% and in Hastings, 8%.

Some will seek independent advice before the court date but we fear that many more are terrified of losing their home and simply don’t know where to turn for help.

It is always better to attend your court hearing and seek advice.

BHT’s Court Duty Desk Service: Case Study One

BHT’s Court Duty Desk Service: Case Study Two

BHT’s Court Duty Desk Service: Case Study Three

Why Are People Not Attending their Court Hearings?

District Judges: There’s Plenty that You Can Do

Live Justice Day

How to Access Emergency Advice at the Court

BHT's Court Duty Desk Service: Case Study One

court-duty-case-study-01_W220I was really upset when I arrived at the county court. I felt terrified of what might happen.

We had worked all of our lives but my husband had suffered a catastrophic injury at work which resulted in him having significant brain injury and requiring 24 hour care. I had to give up my business to care for him. The accident had turned our life upside down.

We used all of our savings to just get by but it had run out and we couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage.

Demanding letters from the mortgage company started to come through the door and I just felt like I couldn’t cope so I stuffed them all in a drawer and tried to forget about it.

One day, it all became too much and I broke down in front of my friends and explained everything. I told them I was scared that we would lose our home and become homeless and I feared that my husband would be placed in a care home. My husband and I have never been apart since we got married and I really didn’t want that to happen now.

My friends encouraged me to phone the mortgage lender to discuss my situation. They offered to hold off the possession if I agreed to pay £350 per month off the arrears. I simply couldn’t afford that much and so believed that was the end of the line for us. There was nothing less but to attend the court hearing and lose our home.

That day at the court I was introduced to a BHT housing adviser who said that she could advise me on our situation for free. I explained everything to her and she realised quite quickly that we were entitled to benefits that we had not been claiming. She also told me that under case law, the ‘reasonable’ repayment that the court would ask for would be £50 a month not the £350 that the lender had insisted on.

When we went into the court room I was shaking. My adviser put her hand on mine and smiled a reassuring smile.

After just five minutes the Judge accepted our proposal to suspend the possession on the terms we agreed.

We left the Court room and the adviser explained what has just happened, what it meant and what I needed to do next. I was shell shocked but so relieved. I remember just saying over and over again to her “does this mean my husband won’t have to go into care, that we can stay together?”

“Yes” she said.

I cried with relief.

BHT's Court Duty Desk Service: Case Study Two

court-duty-case-study-02_W220It was a week before Christmas and we had rented out a property using some of our wedding money to pay for the deposit and rent.

The landlord said we were in arrears which we fiercely disputed. The BHT adviser asked us if we had brought any paperwork with us to prove that we had paid the rent but we hadn’t, we had nothing at all. Time was limited before our names were called and the adviser was working fast to gather as much information from us as she could.

The adviser told us that it would be tricky to save our home without any paperwork to prove our case and both our hearts sank. The thought of losing our home just before Christmas was heart breaking, but we had already prepared for the worst; taking down the Christmas decorations and telling the children that we may not be in our family home for Christmas this year.

It was all very sad and we just couldn’t believe it had come to this.

She promised she would give it her best shot and try to save our home – all we could do was hope for the best.

We went into the court room. The Judge queried the lack of evidence for the arrears and our adviser explained that we disputed the arrears and that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to grant possession of the property.

She battled hard for us that day, claiming that we needed time to get some legal advice and to fight our case.

The Judge agreed and adjourned the case with each side having to file and serve certain information by certain dates.

We left that court room feeling a little bewildered and confused until our adviser explained what had just happened. She had saved our home – for now- and we have never felt relief like it.

She explained that we needed to gather evidence by a certain date and she referred us to a BHT solicitor who took our case on.

Being able to go home and tell our children that we would be in our home for Christmas was the best Christmas present we could have asked for.

We really can’t thank our adviser enough for what she did for us that day. She was so calm and understanding at a time when we thought we were about to lose so much.

BHT's Court Duty Desk Service: Case Study Three

court-duty-case-study-03_W220I was quite tearful when I arrived at the court. I had lived in my housing association property for over 20 years and had never been in rent arrears before.

My children had grown up and left home and because of the new (at the time) bedroom tax for spare rooms, my housing benefit had been reduced by 14%.

Although I worked, I just hadn’t been able to cover the shortfall and the situation began to spiral out of control.

My adviser was really nice and helped me to calm down and focus on what we had to do before we went into the court room.

The housing association had told me I had to clear the arrears in seven days which was just not possible.

My adviser spoke to the Income Recovery Officer representing the Housing Association and explained the situation. They came to an agreement before we even got into the court room which was just brilliant news and such a weight off my mind.

It was agreed that the Income Recovery Officer would visit me at home the next day to complete a Discretionary Housing Payment form and assist me with applying to the Housing Register so that I could look to downsize and discuss other options to tackle the spare room issue.

I was so pleased to find a solution and was more than happy to look at new accommodation that I would be able to afford.

We went into the Court room and my adviser explained to the Judge that we had reached an agreement. The Judge adjourned the possession claim on the terms that we had agreed.

We can’t guarantee that we will be able to save your home but for those who have attended their court hearing and sought emergency advice from us, the success rate is 91%.

That is positive outcomes for the tenant in 91% of the cases we see.

Why are people not attending their court hearings?

There are lots of reasons why people do not attend their court hearings. Understandably it’s a frightening prospect, but there are lots of myths around the repossession process. Here are just a few of them.

Myth: The court room will look like the courts you see on the TV with a judge in a wig and gown and a parapet.

The truth: The court room is much smaller and less formal than anything you see on the TV. Everyone sits on one level and there is definitely no parapet.

Myth: Once a court date has been set it is too late and there is nothing that can be done to save your home.

The truth: Last year we managed to get a positive outcome for our clients in 91% of cases. It is ALWAYS worth attending court to see what we can do to help you.

Myth: If I don’t turn up at court, the hearing can’t go ahead.

The truth: If you don’t turn up at court the hearing will go ahead without you and a housing adviser will not be able to argue your case.

Myth: The court hearing will be long and drawn out.

The truth: Each court hearing lasts no more than five minutes (on average) from beginning to end. The time it takes for you to boil and egg, make a cup of tea or make a slice of toast.

District Judges: There’s Plenty that You Can Do

As District Judges, we are very aware that many tenants find possession proceedings extremely worrying and very daunting.

They receive a copy of the application for a possession order and a hearing date. Many tenants simply choose to ignore the hearing date, rather than coming to court, assuming that there is nothing they can do to avoid a possession order being made, particularly if the person has rent or mortgage arrears. Most people understandably assume that no help is available to them. However this is not the case.

At Hastings County Court we have allocated mornings for initial possession claims. A Desk Duty Scheme is provided to help any tenants coming to court for hearings. Brighton Housing Trust (BHT) currently run that scheme and have one of their advisors available to advise tenants and homeowners about their options, sometimes negotiate with the landlord or mortgage lender and speak in court on the persons behalf if necessary.

In our experience, when tenants and homeowner come to court for their hearing and meet with the BHT advisor, often by the time they come into court an agreement has already been negotiated with the landlord or mortgage lender. The advisors often also identify that the tenant is possibly entitled to additional state benefits and then later help the tenant with claiming those benefits.

If an agreement cannot be reached with the landlord or mortgage lender before the hearing, the BHT advisor often comes into court and explains, for example, why the rent arrears have arisen and suggests proposals for the tenant to be able to stay in the property.

So many people choose not to come to court for their possession hearings. This usually results in a possession order being made, requiring the person to leave the property within two weeks. In our view, this is a great shame. Often there are explanations for rent arrears or mortgage arrears mounting up. In many cases, if the tenant or owner occupier comes to court, a solution can be found.

This is not always the case of course, but often an alternative to eviction can be appropriate. However if tenants or homeowners do not attend the hearing, we as District Judges have no way of knowing this.

District Judge Barbara Wright & District Judge Harper,Hastings County Court.

Live Justice Day

On 27 October we will be attending court with a BHT adviser to tweet live updates of cases as they unfold.

We want to show you what happens at this crucial stage, what the help desks in the courts are able to do for borrowers and tenants, how the court process unfolds and what advice is available to people after the hearing.

Join us on twitter by following the hashtag #take5minutes and follow the cases at court that day as they happen.

How to access emergency advice at the court

The service is available to all tenants or mortgage-holders facing eviction or repossession who have a hearing listed on that day.

Our Housing Adviser might be very busy on the day, so you need to arrive at court about 30 minutes before your hearing is listed.

When you arrive, ask at the court for the BHT Housing Advisor. The earlier you seek advice the better.

Whenever possible we would strongly recommend you contact BHT Advice as soon as you are given notice of possession by your landlord or mortgage company.

Please find contact details for our advice centres below:

Brighton Advice Centre

Eastbourne and Advice Centre (including Lewes and Rother)

Hastings Advice Centre

Have you received a #takes5mins Message on Facebook?

Click here to find out about BHT’s Court Duty Campaign that runs from 27 – 31 November

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