ACT’s Money Advice team helps keep roofs over heads

From helping victims of domestic abuse with financial capability and freedom, to helping with debt management and dealing with creditors, each day for a Money Adviser is different and each case that they manage requires different skills and levels of support. Here’s an example of one of the more specialist areas in which our Money Advisers work: Stuart of our money advice team, explains what’s involved in being part of the Ipswich County Court Advice and Representation Service (ICCARS) and provides an insight into one interesting case:

ICCARS is a service that was set up to provide people who are vulnerable and cannot afford legal representation with help at re-possession hearings at Ipswich County Court. ICCARS helps people to avoid being unnecessarily evicted and losing a roof over their head and gives them the chance to access help to deal with their rent or mortgage arrears. The ICCARS charity service is currently supported by the Suffolk County Council Financial Inclusion and Advice Service (FIAS), the Disability Advice Service (DAS), and ACT, who each provide Duty Advisers on a rota basis to attend possession hearings at Ipswich County Court throughout the year. ACT provide this service for free, on a charitable basis; the service is financed by charitable donations to ACT.

When the tenant/ mortgagee arrives at the court waiting room they are required to report to the usher who should ask if they have legal representation – if they don’t have (which is most cases as they’re unable to afford it), the usher states that there is a duty adviser to offer free, independent advice and the client is referred to us.

Stuart explained that when on duty, a typical day involves arriving at court at 9.30am to get a feel for the type of cases to be heard (this can be as many as 30-40 cases). These are usually split between rent repossession cases from the local authority, social landlords and private landlords and mortgage re-possession cases from banks, building societies and other lenders. The advisers occupy an office next to the court room and work with the court usher to identify vulnerable people who might need help. Events usually happen very quickly and if somebody needs help, there is usually no more than 5-15 minutes to understand their situation, check their housing rights and prepare a defence. The hearing system was changed last year and now the hearing dates are less frequent meaning that there are many more cases on the days when the hearings are heard and are more frequent, hence two advisers on duty each day as there are frequently 2 or 3 tenants to deal with simultaneously.

One of the advisers will then go into court and represent the tenant against a landlord or solicitor and in front of a judge. This is often a very challenging situation not having met the person before, and typically with little or no paperwork to refer to. After a hearing the advisers will signpost people to the likes of the Local Authority Homeless Team and HomeGroup for follow-on assistance as they have a statutory duty to refer. Some hearings now have a HomeGroup support worker present to help speed up the referral process.

Despite the obvious challenges, it is often possible to persuade the judge to let defendants stay in their home, to get the hearing adjourned to allow time to get further help, or simply to postpone eviction to give adequate time for people to find alternative accommodation. Ian, previously ACT’s Duty Adviser likened the role to “extreme money advice”!

An interesting case recently took place in which our Money Adviser was able to get a particularly favourable outcome for the tenant:

Case : Private Landlord vs Tenant: An order was applied as follows:

Rent arrears of £14,000 to be repaid;
Court and legal costs of £480;
Possession to be given in 14 days (this would be Christmas Day)

It was clear that the landlord was taking advantage of a vulnerable mother and her daughter who had an autistic spectrum disorder. The landlord had refused to carry out essential repairs with no gas safety certificate; the local MP had been contacted and was taking up the case. We recalculated the arrears which were £7500. Any rent arrears would result in the tenant being deemed as intentionally homeless by the local authority and they could discharge their duty to house her and her autistic daughter so these needed to be cleared before the order was made. After serious negotiation and much evidence provided to the landlord’s solicitor the following was negotiated:

Outcome:

100% of the rent arrears written off and not now part of the order
The legal cost was born by the landlord
Tenant was allowed to remain in the property until Jan 5th

For more information on our Money Advice service, please take a look here