Assessing the Court System’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic in Eviction Cases in England and Wales

This six-month ESRC funded project wants to learn more about how the legal system in England and Wales has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in housing possession cases.

About the project and what it’s aiming to answer

This research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of UK Research and Innovation’s emergency route for time-critical COVID-19 research.

This six-month ESRC funded project wants to learn more about how the legal system in England and Wales has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in housing possession cases. Unique data will be obtained from occupiers threatened with eviction and the legal practitioners who advise them to offer an assessment of the effectiveness of the new temporary regime and to consider which aspects, if any, should be retained in the post-pandemic era.

The aim of the project

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on household debt evidenced by a significant increase in rent and mortgage arrears. In response, the landscape of eviction in England and Wales has changed fundamentally with lenders, landlords, regulators and the court system all introducing temporary measures designed to assist households to keep their homes.

This project will explore whether the court system’s response has proven effective in addressing the risks and challenges posed by the pandemic and what lessons, if any, we might want to take forward into the post-pandemic era.

How this aim will be achieved

To achieve this aim, the research team will collect unique data from, among others, occupiers threatened with eviction and the legal practitioners who advise them. This will supplement knowledge gathered from a review of relevant literature including topics such as housing possession, access to justice and the use of remote hearings and mediation in other areas of the civil justice system.

The research focuses on the two temporary initiatives introduced within the court system in England and Wales known as the ‘Overall Arrangements’ and the ‘Housing Possession Mediation Pilot Scheme’. The main hypothesis is that some but certainly not all aspects of these new initiatives should be considered for retention into the post-pandemic era.

The project wants to answer some specific questions including:

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted on household finances and the likelihood of eviction?

What risks and challenges has the COVID-19 pandemic posed for the court system in England and Wales?

What measures have been implemented in the court system in England and Wales to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic?

How effective has that response been and what aspects of the new legal regime might we want to retain for the future?

The outcomes of the project

The findings of the project will be made known to a wide audience including occupiers, legal practitioners, academics, policy makers and government agencies. The hope is that the findings will make a positive and significant contribution to the development of a legal process that is fit for the post-pandemic future.

Dr Lisa Whitehouse

Dr Lisa Whitehouse is the Principal Investigator of the project. She specialises in the area of Property Law and has a particular interest in the legal process of housing possession arising out of mortgage and rent arrears. Over the last 25 years she has published widely on a range of topics in peer-reviewed journals and edited collections and has received grants from the ESRC, British Academy and Nuffield Foundation. She is a Centre Fellow of the Cambridge Centre for Property Law and Honorary Academic Member of the Property Bar Association and the Property Litigation Association.

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