My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Bridget Prentice) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am today announcing the Government's response to the Law Commission's report on Housing: Proportionate Dispute Resolution.
The Law Commission published its report on 13 May 2008. This follows a major programme of work on the reform of housing law. Unlike most other Law Commission reports, this report does not focus solely on reform of substantive law but rather looks at the broader social issues of how housing problems arise and how they might be better addressed.
The report makes recommendations in three broad areas: (i) better advice and assistance (ii) non-formal (ie not involving a court or tribunal) dispute resolution and (iii) formal dispute resolution.
The Government broadly accept all of the commission's recommendations on the provision of better advice and assistance. Substantial progress has already been made in improving advice provision and encouraging early engagement; for example, by promoting and signposting court users to the Community Legal Advice helpline and the Community Legal Advice website.
The report recommends that promotion of mediation and alternative dispute resolution is an important component of non-formal dispute resolution. The Government are committed to promoting mediation and using alternative dispute resolution as a tool to ensure court action is a last resort.
The Law Commission also recommends the transfer of jurisdiction for a number of different types of cases, including stand-alone disrepair cases, from county courts to tribunals. The Government have already, separately, confirmed that they will transfer dispute resolution and other proceedings arising out of the provisions of the Mobile Homes Act 1983 to residential property tribunals. However, they are not satisfied that a case has been made for any other transfers.
The Government also reject the Law Commission's recommendation that the county court should have powers to grant interim relief pending the outcome of a local authority internal review in homelessness cases. It is usual for parties to have to exhaust all alternative remedies before coming to court. This is a key feature of our policy of encouraging early resolution of disputes/problems, with the court being used only in the last resort. Local authorities are empowered to take decisions on homelessness applications and there are statutory procedures that are in place to ensure that this is done fairly. The Government consider that there is a significant risk that any changes in this area would be exploited to circumvent these procedures to the detriment of those who are genuinely homeless and in priority need.
A copy of the response will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.