New online court may improve chances of tenancy arrears recovery

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On 6 April 2018 HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) announced the launch of a new online civil claims service. Karl Anders explains why social landlords may wish to make use of the service.

New public online civil claims pilot

On 6 April 2018 HMCTS publicly announced the launch of a new online service to allow members of the public and businesses to issue money claims, resolve disputes and access mediation via a new online claims service. Known as Civil Money Claims, and available for money claims with a value of up to £10,000, the service replaces the Money Claim Online (MCOL) system which has been in operation since 2002. It is the first key step in delivering a modernised court service, which called for an online court capable, ultimately, of dealing with claims worth up to £25,000.

HMCTS has stated that the new service is a faster and more user-friendly way to progress a claim in the County Court small claims track. This is good news for social landlords who are often dissuaded from issuing small claims against tenants for current or former tenant arrears (FTAs). Anecdotal evidence suggests the reluctance in issuing claims has come about because of the length of time involved, the complexity of the MCOL system, and localised judicial anomalies which have made what ought to be straightforward cases unnecessarily complex. The new service may now encourage more social landlords to issue claims online, particularly in relation to FTAs which have in the past led to significant financial write-offs.

In many cases the new system is likely to improve access to justice as well as save time and cost. It is anticipated that the system should also free-up court and judicial time for more complex matters. This would be welcome relief to landlords, given the current delays experienced at court when listing possession and injunction related matters.

However, the downside is that the new, more easily accessible system may encourage many more claimants (in particular litigants in person) to issue proceedings than ever before.

Some of those claims will have merit and may be properly and cost-effectively resolved via the online process. Some, however, may be spurious and need to be robustly rebutted by the defendant landlord; and some may not actually be suitable for resolution within this new Civil Money Claims online procedure.

It is important to note that many of the usual civil procedural rules and timescales do not apply within the online process. Walker Morris’ specialist civil litigators have already dealt with some matters within this new system and will be able to advise and to assist as required.

For further information, please contact Karl Anders.