The government’s Housing Loss Prevention Advice Service (HLPAS) will provide free legal advice to anyone facing eviction – and landlords are worried it could cost them.
HLPAS, which started work on 1 August, will help private and social tenants, mortgage holders, shared ownership owners and leaseholders to access help with benefits, debt and housing. Crucially, they also won’t have to meet legal aid eligibility rules, so it won’t just be those on low incomes who can access the service.
The launch of HLPAS means that private tenants will have a lot more help navigating the eviction process. Before, the only free legal assistance they got was on-the-day advice and representation in court hearings.
What does HLPAS mean for evictions?
Some landlords worry that free legal advice could make it more difficult and expensive to evict tenants. According to Paul Sowerbutts, head of legal action at Landlord Action, the new process puts tenants at a significant advantage as they don’t have to pay legal costs – while landlords could face bills of up to £15,000 for a one-day trial.
HLPAS’s role could also get more significant once the Renters (Reform) Bill is passed and Section 21 “no fault” evictions are scrapped. Tenants will be able to stop Section 8 evictions by challenging their landlords’ grounds for eviction.
But there are hidden opportunities too for landlords. If HLPAS helps tenants at risk of eviction to access benefits and manage their debts, they will be in a better position to pay rent reliably – potentially reducing the need to evict.
Free legal advice will also be a great benefit for tenants, helping them understand their rights and prevent legally unsound evictions.
How can agents help?
Landlords and agents evicting tenants will have to make sure that they follow the correct procedure.
This is nothing new: there are already several steps that have to be followed to make an eviction valid, such as giving the prescribed information about the deposit to the tenant, issuing a gas safety certificate and sending the eviction notice in the correct format. But if tenants can access free legal advice, any mistakes are more likely to be caught.
Once Section 21 is scrapped, agents can help landlords to put together rock-solid Section 8 eviction cases. High-quality evidence, such as automated records of all rent payments, will help landlords overcome legal challenges.
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