An article by Sean Hooker of the Property Redress Scheme – and the new Tenancy Mediation Service.
The Value of Mediation
I have had for a long time an appreciation of mediation and its value in conflict resolution. It is a fast and very effective form of settling disputes and this, in turn, means less stress and ultimately cost to the parties.
Hamilton Fraser in 2015, set up The Property Redress Scheme (PRS), first trailing telephone mediation with an external partner, and then providing our people with the skills of mediation and facilitated negotiation.
The benefits of the measures have dramatically reduced the time it takes to resolve complaints and increased satisfaction rates enormously.
A Marriage Made in Heaven
The developments in the PRS coincided with Hamilton Fraser acquiring the Solicitors Regulated Authority registered law firm, Landlord Action in 2017.
Specialising in eviction work and debt recovery, the legal team had learned the value of mediation and reconciliation in order to mitigate the impact of what can tend to be very fractious and costly conflicts. It, therefore, was a natural fit to explore the world of alternative dispute resolution together.
Reform was on the cards
It was therefore no coincidence that when the Government, first mooted the idea of mandatory redress for landlords and then out of the blue, announced their intention to abolish no-fault (Section 21) evictions and reform the courts, that the seeds of a mediation service for landlords and letting agents to resolve housing disputes were firmly sown and we had been working on the proposition for a while.
Then came COVID-19…
Then Coronavirus crisis hit the world like a tsunami. Courts closed, tenants started losing their jobs or being furloughed and the Government extended the notice period for all evictions to three months with the option for extending the measure for a longer period.
The need for non-settlement became a vital requirement to prevent, tenants falling deeper and deeper in to trouble and landlords facing escalating debt and financial ruin during a period where we already desperately need places to live.
Speed was of the Essence
We therefore knew we needed to get our service up and running in record time and to start resolving disputes and helping landlords and tenants put together realistic and robust payment plans to get them both through this frightening period.
We also knew that Government were desperately working on pre-court protocols to prevent courts going into meltdown when they finally resume housing work and for thousands of tenants and landlords to be able to get through, a solution had to be found and quick.
Where there is a will there is a way
We turn therefore to a lawyer, (well actually two) and said to them “turn the blueprint for a telephone mediation service into a reality and get it into operation in weeks not months”. They have more than risen to the challenge.
Tim Frome, who has been with me since the mydeposits days and was instrumental in setting up the Property Redress Scheme, doing most of the heavy lifting on the structure of the service along with Michael Morgan, who in a previous incarnation was my rival at another deposit protection scheme and had equally been involved with ADR innovation there.
We had recruited Michael to put together our new legal helpline HF Assist that had just launched before the lockdown. He himself a trained mediator has volunteered along with a team of trained, experienced mediators and complaint resolvers to be on the frontline of the service.
A cast of many from the Hamilton Fraser family have helped the team to deliver, with Paul Shamplina and me cheering from the sideline!
We have already started case work, with a large rent guarantee provider referring all their claims work to us and the phone lines are now open to the general landlord and letting agent population.
This is like being at war…. However we believe in Jaw Jaw!
I realise that we will not be the only service out there offering practical and valuable help to the private rental sector and I do very much see this like Dunkirk and the need for a flotilla of solutions to what could be a long term disaster waiting to happen.
However, with our expertise and experience and resourcing, I believe we will be at the vanguard of this.