Housing mediation tender plans met with criticism
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Marc Bloomfield
Plans announced by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for a pilot to test remote mediation for housing cases have been criticised by a leading housing lawyer.
The MoJ is asking firms and other suppliers to tender to run a pilot remote mediation service. It says that the aim of the pilot is to ‘facilitate settlement without a substantive hearing where possible’.
Diane Astin, a consultant solicitor at Deighton Pierce Glynn and the author of LAG’s Housing law handbook, told Legal Action the pilot ‘shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of possession proceedings and what happens at the hearing’. She said the lawyers and advice agencies that provide duty advice and representation at possession hearings ‘already strive to facilitate settlement’ and believes the money would be better spent on enhancing the services legal aid providers can offer ‘so that tenants in rent arrears can obtain early advice, which could avoid the claims being issued in the first place’.
According to the information from the MoJ, the tender will be issued on Monday next week (23 November 2020) and the deadline for bids is 8 December. The contract start date is scheduled for 11 January 2021. Astin thinks it will be difficult for any successful bidder to put in place the necessary staff and other resources within this time frame. ‘The idea of a pilot is to evaluate something for possible future roll-out,’ she said, but believes it makes no sense to do this ‘during a time of unprecedented crisis, both for tenants and the courts’.

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