Housing: Proportionate Dispute Resolution

Status: This project is complete

In this project we set out to review the law and practice on how housing disputes are resolved, with the aim of reforming it to make it simple, effective, fair and proportionate.

In May 2004, the Department for Constitutional Affairs asked us to look at how housing disputes are dealt with. The Department's White Paper emphasised that:

  • users should come first
  • all dispute resolution should be proportionate, and
  • there should be a focus on improving initial decision-making rather than relying on complaints or redress systems to correct errors.

The project

As part of our programme of housing law reform, on 13 May 2008 we published our final proposals in our report, "Housing: Proportionate Dispute Resolution". Our report followed a consultation, held in June 2007.

On 29 June 2007 we published a consultation paper, "Housing: Proportionate Dispute Resolution – the Role of Tribunals". The main issue in the paper is whether a specialist tribunal should be established to resolve housing disputes. A summary of the paper is available.

In our consultation, we provisionally proposed that a tribunal should be set up within the new flexible structures to be created by the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill. It would incorporate the Residential Property Tribunal Service (RPTS) tribunals. It would also have jurisdiction to deal with rented housing possession and disrepair claims, mobile home possession claims and rented housing disrepair claims.

We also provisionally proposed a rationalisation of appeals from the RPTS to the Upper Tribunal to be created by the Bill. We suggested that the Upper Tribunal should also be given jurisdiction to hear homelessness statutory appeals and housing and homelessness judicial reviews.

Consultation on this project closed on 28 September 2007.

Scoping seminar

In September 2004 we held a seminar, "Resolving Housing Disputes", for about 50 people, including district judges, ombudsmen, government officials, people from the voluntary sector and representatives from landlords and tenants groups. Issues raised ranged from the need for early diagnosis of the nature of problems and the importance of services like mediation and debt counselling, to the role of ombudsmen and the need for a local focus for services.

Issues paper

The role of courts and tribunals was one of the themes explored in the issues paper, "Housing: Proportionate Dispute Resolution", which we published in April 2006. In this paper we took a broader view of housing dispute resolution. The starting point was the problems that people encounter with housing, and how they can be best resolved. This fits in with the policy of the Ministry of Justice (the then Department for Constitutional Affairs) on the need for more user-focused services (see below). 

The issues paper set out our proposals for a more coherent system of housing dispute resolution comprising:

  • use of a "triage plus" process, diagnosing individual and wider housing problems, referring them to appropriate resolution methods, and collecting information about housing problems and how they are resolved
  • use of dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation, ombudsmen and managerial techniques, and
  • where needed, use of a court or tribunal.

The values underpinning such a system should be stated explicitly. The bodies involved in the different parts of this system should inform and learn from each other. They should also feed back where possible to initial decision-takers.

In June 2007 we published an analysis of the responses we received to the issues paper.