Monday, 21 October 2013

Numbers

At 10:45 Jim will be evicted. The minute hand on the clock hanging in the Court ticks to 10:46.

Jim was a bad lad, or a lost soul. A poster boy for his local drugs charity, he has successfully completed a 6 month rehabilitation programme.  Then the black dog depression fell upon him and swallowed. [1]

He can’t get an appointment with his GP, is terrified of his mail, falls into a hole.  On many days he can’t get out of his flat. He stops signing on. He loses a stone.  Yet he’s clean for class A drugs.

He certainly can’t deal with the 27 page Housing Benefit form that he received.  Thus 6 months of rent arrears clock up in a flash.

When the possession order was made against him Jim failed to attend court, because the notice was in his pile of unopened mail.  Jim is terrified of his mail. It is worth coming back to this again and again.

28 days ago Jim engaged with a local charity. From hiding under the bed to having a cup of tea and sympathy, he opened up.  14 days ago a volunteer came round and helped him to open all his mail.  Then Jim learns that in 14 days he will be evicted.  That’s what you get from opening your mail.

7 days ago Jim applied for backdated Housing Benefit.  5 days ago Jim got an appointment with his GP and signed on for sickness benefits while his depression receives treatment.  3 days ago we apply to stay the warrant.

2 days ago the charity offers to clear 3 months worth of rent arrears as a loan, while we wait for the benefit authorities to make their decisions.  10 minutes later Jim’s social landlord refuses this offer.

24 hours ago I’m in court and the District Judge says no. The eviction will go ahead, even if the money due is paid in 2 days.  Even if the Equalities Act says that housing providers must not discriminate against disabled people when  evicting. Even  when the Courts are bound by the same duty.[2]

Something breaks in my brain. We shall appeal.

Adrenaline.  Got to cancel our appointments,  got to mess everyone else in our diary around. We have to get an appeal across to another Court, because cuts mean that there are fewer Circuit Judges, who hear these appeals.

Budget cuts mean that Kim spends an hour on the phone to talk to a human voice, to find out where to take the legal papers.

Like a dirty swan our papers are filed inelegantly but within time. The very next day Jim and Alice and the Blonde Angel aka Counsel turn up to Court to find that the Court can’t find our papers.

A small sign says the photocopier does not take pound coins, and another tells us that it is broken anyway. There is an apologetic smiley face. 

The Court has been operating for 3 months with half the complement of Judges. There is a skeleton support staff.

Somehow an Usher finds a Judge at 10:05. Papers are read and argued. Counsel swiftly guides. My hand hurts taking notes even I can’t read.

Jim and Alice watch the clock.

10:46- The Judge tells her clerk to call the Bailiffs and stops the eviction.

Jim and Alice hug each other in exaltation. The eviction is not going ahead. Fireworks!

Sometimes the practice of the Law is like dancing on snowflakes. Most often it is a numbers game.

In these cases the Landlord can tie us up like a kipper when they use Ground 8 , the Magic Words[3].  It does not seem right to me that Landlords who provide Social Housing funded by your taxes can do this to disabled people, and stop District Judges from applying their common sense.  It is not right that people can and are treated as mere ciphers. 

In other news, another tenant has kept his home. For now. 







[1] I’m a sucker for people swallowed by the black dog depression. Even when you’re getting better it gnaws on your boots.
[3] For all you law junkies, let me recommend Grounds 8, 10 & 11 Sched 2 Housing Act 1988. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/50/schedule/2.  In essence where there are moderate rent arrears of 8 weeks Housing Associations can choose to ask the Judge what the right thing to do is, or muzzle the Judge by using the magic words “Ground 8”. 






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2 comments:

  1. Housing Association officers are the worst. There's no reasoning with them. I tell my clients there's not much difference between them and those officers - and that's why the officers lord it over them every chance they get.

    I worked in the legal department of a similar organisation. They sit behind you in court, trying to justify why a single mother with three small kids must be evicted two days before Christmas - or why someone caught up like your client - even though they have cleared their arrears, should get the boot. And then get pissed off when the DJ gives the tenant a break.

    I'm glad I realised that's not the kind of law I want to practice. I still wonder how these people sleep at night. I suppose their nice pensions help.

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  2. I posted a few tweets last night about this post

    In Scotland Jim's eviction would have been very easily prevented. When the eviction notice was discovered (and noting that the decree had been granted in Jim's absence during the initial court hearing) then a Minute for Recall of decree would be prepared and lodged with the clerk of the local sheriff court.. A date would be fixed for a hearing on that Minute (usually about 3/4 weeks away).As soon as that hearing date is intimated on the landlord the eviction would need to be postponed. None of this would go near a judge at this stage!!! In my previous life as a tenants’ solicitor I have managed to prepare, lodge and serve these minutes in less than an hour, never mind having 14 days!!!

    at the hearing on the Minute the court rules state that the decree "shall" be recalled....effectively taking the case back to a first hearing. At that stage (and given the circumstances set out above) it would be very simple to state a defence to the eviction action based on "reasonableness". RSLs in Scotland have no mandatory ground for eviction based on rent arrears. That would mean the court would fix a proof hearing (trial/evidential hearing).That hearing would be at least 6/8 weeks away. That assumes that the sheriff doesn't just have the hearing simply continued to await the outcome of the HB application and the payment from the charity. Legal aid would be available.

    I would also be astonished if any RSL client of mine refused an offer of 3 months' rent towards a debt of about 6 months rent?

    It's nice to know that the Scottish system seems to be designed to be much fairer

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