In its guest blogs, NHC Supporter Ward Hadaway offers the legal perspective and some guidance on some of the social housing sector’s most pressing issues. In this edition: disrepair.
Asset management is a fundamental issue for Registered Providers – the quality and quantity of their housing stock have a direct impact upon their finances and reputation. Many providers have reliable and robust procedures in place to ensure that their properties are maintained (and improved where appropriate) on both a reactive and proactive basis.
However, ever-decreasing budgets and increasing financial constraints, coupled with large portfolios, means that sometimes maintenance matters do ‘slip through the net’ and are not dealt with as quickly or efficiently as they might otherwise be.
Disrepair claims in these circumstances are nothing new. However, up until around 2011 these were largely dealt with under Legal Aid or in the context of counterclaims (for example, where a tenant had been taken to Court because of significant rent arrears). Now that the scope for Legal Aid has been whittled down, disrepair claims are commonly funded by Conditional Fee (“No Win No Fee”) Agreements. The significance of this is disrepair claims can be harder to resolve by way of practical solutions where the tenant’s solicitor has a vested interest in the claim – particularly the payment of their costs by the landlord.
Even in fairly severe cases (which are relatively few and far between) it is uncommon for compensation in disrepair cases to exceed £10,000. However, legal costs (on both sides) can quickly exceed this amount – often, the parties’ legal costs significantly outweigh any compensation the tenant might claim. In 2016, a disrepair claim settled at trial for just £2,000 – however the landlord was ordered to pay £25,000 on account of the tenant’s legal costs, pending an assessment of those costs by the Court (and the tenant’s solicitors made a further (albeit unsuccessful) application for a further payment on account of their costs of £80,000).
As always, prevention in these circumstances is better than the cure. Time and money that is invested in ensuring you have reliable systems in place to log and raise repairs and keeping detailed notes as to the progress made and completion of those works will be well spent if it means that disrepair claims can be fended off quickly and at an early stage. One of the key factors for a successful system is to make sure frontline staff receive adequate training around disrepair. They should be taught the importance of logging and raising repairs (and providing adequate detail), the process that must be followed upon receipt of a disrepair claim, the time limits that apply and the potentially costly consequences that might follow if this is not done.
For those matters that might slip through the net, the same systems can be used to identify problem cases at an early stage and allow landlords to take a commercial view as to the merits of early settlement, balancing the potential costs of litigation and compensation against any reputational risks.
These issues can appear confusing or daunting. However, the process can be simplified through an understanding of how disrepair claims arise in the first place and the structure of a claim. Ward Hadaway and the NHC will hold its first Disrepair conference on 21st November 2017 at The Studio, Leeds where we will present a number of workshops discussing both the practical and legal aspects of disrepair claims in order to give you the tools and confidence to prevent, and deal with those claims.
For further information, please contact Howard Walker, PR Manager at Ward Hadaway, on 0191 204 4446 or firstname.lastname@example.org.