Housing Possession Prevention Project
The Possession Prevention Project (PPP) was a joint initiative by Southwark Law Centre and Blackfriars Advice Centre. It set out to reduce the number of evictions for rent arrears by social landlords in Southwark. The project’s main focus was to get tenants to take earlier action on rent arrears in order in to avoid being evicted. It did this through a combination of improved information, community education, work with the local authority to get them to improve their procedures, and better referral to expert advice.
The project is interesting because it combined day-to-day advice work with the more proactive approach of public legal education and policy work with the local authority. This proved to be very effective, and offers a model for an integrated approach to the work of advice services which could be used elsewhere.
The project ran for three years, from 2004 to 2007. It was funded by the Legal Services Commission’s Partnership Innovation Budget.
Read the report – Possession Prevention Project evaluation reportct-2007-8 (0.9 MB)
Work with the Council
The project established effective channels of communication between the advice sector and the local authority and had extensive input into the rent arrears management policy. It proposed better induction of new tenants on rent payments, income maximisation and housing benefit claims and referral of tenants to advice and social welfare services at the possession stage. The local authority was very receptive to these comments, although it did take some time to implement the changes recommended by the project.
Although not natural allies, the project team and the local authority’s housing department worked together to improve the information sent to tenants. The project proposed improvements in the style and content of standard housing benefit notification letters in order to make them clearer and easier to understand.
At the request of the local authority, the project provided training to rent income managers. The project worked closely with the London Borough of Southwark, with the aim of overhauling its procedures. A new protocol for dealing with rent arrears cases came into force towards the end of the project. This had a real and immediate impact on possession actions and evictions locally.
The PPP undertook an extensive education programme with local community organisations to improve their recognition of arrears problems and referral to advice services. A total of 16 courses were held, and 140 individuals from community groups were provided with training. The response to the courses was overwhelmingly positive. The training was very effective in reaching community workers in contact with clients who have particular difficulties in accessing advice, including people with disabilities, the elderly, and people who speak English as an additional language.
Email referral system
A Southwark housing lawyers’ group email forum was established, which proved to be a very effective referral service and discussion platform. This was a simple and very cost-effective measure, and it continues to flourish.
Representation at Court
The PPP was able to improve relations with court staff at Lambeth County Court, where Blackfriars Advice Centre staff had coordinated the duty solicitor scheme for many years. They established good relations with the court manager, which led to a number of practical steps to improve long-term management of the scheme. The court improved and updated the advice provided to defendants when sending out summonses. Following suggestions from the PPP, it stamped the CLS Direct telephone number on the back of the envelope containing the summons – to deal with the reported reluctance of tenants to open unwelcome post.
The project’s central aim was, where possible, to prevent the tenant being evicted and reduce the high costs involved in an eviction for the tenant, council and courts. A New Economics Foundation report into the project estimated that the combined value to all involved in a prevented eviction would be approximately £50,000.
The project drew heavily on the independent advice sector’s tradition of strategic and preventative work. Liasing with the council sought to upgrade procedures and improve information to tenants. Legal education set out to help individuals and communities deal with arrears and avoid eviction. These initiatives were rooted in the agencies’ core advice work, but also enabled them to take the lead in improving council’s practices and tenants’ ability to deal with rent arrears.
The project provides a model that could form the basis of a national strategy on rent arrears and eviction. The model would also work with other problem types and with other client groups. For instance, this work with tenants has many lessons for agencies working with home owners faced with mortgage arrears and repossession.
Published: 23 January 2009