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How could court closures affect landlords?

Posted on 2016-02-25

It was announced earlier this month that a fifth of all courts and tribunals in England and Wales are to be closed over the next few years.

Modernisation plans mean that 86 of England and Wales' 460 courts and tribunal hearing centres will cease operations, starting as early as this month and running all the way through till September 2017.

According to Ministers, one of the main reasons this is happening is because many of these court buildings are unused for long periods of time. They say that on average, the 86 courts that are closing are used for just over a third of their available hearing time – equivalent to less than two days a week.

What's more, according to Justice Minister Shailesh Vara, many of the courts and tribunal hearing centres which are being closed are expensive to run and are unsuitable for modern technology.

In a written statement, Vara noted that the Government is investing some £700 million between now and 2020 to update the courts system. Modern IT systems – including Wi-Fi – will be installed in a bid to make the justice system more 'efficient and effective for modern users'.

Vara states that online plea, claims and evidence systems as well as video conferencing will be implemented, reducing the need for people to travel to court.

Opposition has come from the Law Society, which says that the closures could limit access to justice. The organisation is gathering views and case studies from its members and has also produced a 'campaigner pack' to help people raise any issues they may have with their local MP.

A representative of the Magistrates' Association charity told the BBC that the organisation's members were worried about the impact of the closures.

"There will be inevitable additional pressure on the system and the paramount concern of magistrates is for accessible justice to be protected," they said.

What could these closures mean for landlords?

Longer journeys

Landlords who are evicting tenants after issuing a possession order are required to attend subsequent court hearings.

This is because, according to Government guidance, if a landlord or their representative doesn't attend a court hearing, it's likely the judge will dismiss the case outright.

Therefore, in simplest terms, the court closures could mean that landlords – and tenants – may have to travel further to attend hearings if their local court is one of the 86 being closed.

However, after the closures, over 97% of people will still be able to reach their required court within an hour's drive, according to Shailesh Vara.

Delayed court cases

The impending closures also raise the question of whether landlords who want to evict will have to wait longer for a court hearing as there will be fewer courts available.

Considering the Government's claim, though, that the 86 courts being closed are currently used for just over a third of their available hearing time, it's possible that this won't be a significant problem.

However, it could be more of an issue in areas where there is a higher population density and larger Private Rented Sector (PRS) as court hearings are likely to be more frequent. In London, for example, 10 courts are being closed – so there could be more of a delay for landlords waiting for hearings in the capital.

Increased costs

Court hearings can already be a costly exercise and increased travel expenses will push costs higher.

In this scenario there could also be increased pressure and less margin for error on behalf of the landlord.

This is because landlords who lose court claims may be ordered to pay tenants' legal costs. This possibility combined with the extra travel costs and the potential for delays, means court hearings could prove very expensive indeed.

Fewer possessions

These potential financial and temporal implications may encourage fewer landlords to try to gain possession of their property during a tenancy. They may also see landlords putting up with tenants in arrears for longer, highlighting the importance of rent guarantee and rent protection products.

For the majority of landlords, court hearings are of course a rare occurrence – so these closures may not necessarily have a wide-reaching effect on the PRS.

The best thing you can do in the first instance, however, is to look at the full list of closures to see if your local court is closing and if so, when.

Then you can determine where your alternative court is so that you can gauge how these changes may affect you and in the event of a court hearing or tribunal, you'll know where you're expected to go.

Which could be the first courts to be closed?

The following list details the 26 courts which could potentially be closed anytime between now and June this year:

London
- Richmond-upon-Thames Magistrates' Court
- Hammersmith County Court (formerly West London County Court)

South East
- Basildon Social Security and Child Support Tribunal (Acorn House)
- Dartford Magistrates' Court
- Lowestoft Magistrates’ Court, County Court and Family Court
- West Berkshire (Newbury) Magistrates' Court

South West
- Barnstaple Crown Court

Midlands
- Shrewsbury Magistrates' Court
- Solihull Magistrates' Court
- Worksop Magistrates' Court
- Buxton Magistrates' Court and County Court
- Corby Magistrates' Court
- Grantham Magistrates' Court
- Kettering Magistrates' Court

North East
- Morpeth County Court

North West
- Accrington County Court
- Accrington Magistrates' Court
- Kendal Magistrates' Court and County Court
- Ormskirk Magistrates' Court and Family Court
- St Helens Magistrates' Court
- Tameside County Court
- Trafford Magistrates' Court and Altrincham County Court

Wales
- Carmarthen Law Courts (The Guildhall)
- Holyhead Magistrates' Court
- Prestatyn Magistrates' Court
- Dolgellau Crown Court and Magistrates' Court

The full list of courts which are being closed and the potential implementation dates can be viewed here.

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