County Courts in London have suspended bailiff operations “for the foreseeable future”, making it harder to evict tenants even after a court order.
London landlords report that bailiff appointments have been cancelled at short notice with no alternative dates given.
HM Courts and Tribunals says operations have been suspended to protect bailiffs’ health and safety. A recent risk assessment revealed that many bailiffs didn’t have the right Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to carry out evictions safely, and so services have been cut back while they source more. According to the Daily Telegraph, the problem is that many of their stab-proof vests were found to be too small.
More delays to evictions will be a blow to landlords, many of whom will have waited many months for a court decision.
While the PPE shortage may be temporary, industry insiders say there is a longer-term shortage of bailiffs – and the problem goes beyond London. Low investment in the justice system means bailiffs are being handed bigger workloads and covering wider areas, making it harder to deliver a quality service.
The news also raises red flags about the upcoming Renters (Reform) Bill. Once Section 21 evictions are scrapped, all eviction cases will have to go through the courts, piling more pressure on a creaking County Court system and overworked bailiffs.
Landlords can apply to have their eviction cases transferred from the County Court to the High Court, which may result in a faster eviction. However, applying for permission costs £71 and the County Court could still say no. If the case is transferred, a High Court eviction also costs significantly more than a County Court one.
However, a High Court eviction could be cheap compared to even one month of rent arrears if an of a non-paying tenant eviction is delayed. According to HomeLet’s latest figures, the average new rent in the UK is £1,213 a month. Letting agents should advise landlords of their options for securing an eviction and help them weigh up the costs and benefits of each route.
Paul Shamplina, founder of eviction and housing law specialists Landlord Action, has called on County Courts to let more landlords transfer their cases to the High Court when they have significant rent arrears. But even this might only be a temporary fix – High Court Enforcement Officer numbers have themselves fallen 40% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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