This is what it is like: a Hackney lawyer describes a fight to stop an eviction….
At 10:45 Jim will be evicted. The minute hand on the clock hanging in the Court ticks to 10:46.
Jim was a bad lad, or a lost soul. A poster boy for his local drugs charity, he has successfully completed a 6 month rehabilitation programme. Then the black dog depression fell upon him and swallowed.
He can’t get an appointment with his GP, is terrified of his mail, falls into a hole. On many days, he can’t get out of his flat. He stops signing on. He loses a stone. Yet he’s clean for class A drugs.
He certainly can’t deal with the 27 page Housing Benefit form that he received. Thus 6 months of rent arrears clock up in a flash.
When the possession order was made against him, Jim failed to attend court, because the notice was in his pile of unopened mail. Jim is terrified of his mail. It is worth coming back to this again and again.
28 days ago, Jim engaged with a local charity. From hiding under the bed to having a cup of tea and sympathy, he opened up. 14 days ago, a volunteer came round and helped him to open all his mail. Then Jim learns that in 14 days he will be evicted. That’s what you get from opening your mail.
7 days ago, Jim applied for backdated Housing Benefit. 5 days ago, Jim got an appointment with his GP and signed on for sickness benefits while his depression receives treatment. 3 days ago, we apply to stay the warrant.
2 days ago the charity offers to clear 3 months' worth of rent arrears as a loan, while we wait for the benefit authorities to make their decisions. 10 minutes later, Jim’s social landlord refuses this offer.
24 hours ago I’m in court and the District Judge says no. The eviction will go ahead, even if the money due is paid in 2 days. Even if the Equalities Act says that housing providers must not discriminate against disabled people when evicting. Even when the Courts are bound by the same duty.
Something breaks in my brain. We shall appeal.
Adrenaline. Got to cancel our appointments, got to mess everyone else in our diary around. We have to get an appeal across to another Court, because cuts mean that there are fewer Circuit Judges, who hear these appeals.
Budget cuts mean that Kim spends an hour on the phone to talk to a human voice, to find out where to take the legal papers.
Like a dirty swan our papers are filed inelegantly but within time. The very next day Jim and Alice and the Blonde Angel aka Counsel turn up to Court to find that the Court can’t find our papers.
A small sign says the photocopier does not take pound coins, and another tells us that it is broken anyway. There is an apologetic smiley face.
The Court has been operating for 3 months with half the complement of Judges. There is a skeleton support staff.
Somehow, an Usher finds a Judge at 10:05. Papers are read and argued. Counsel swiftly guides. My hand hurts taking notes even I can’t read.
Jim and Alice watch the clock.
10:46 - The Judge tells her clerk to call the Bailiffs and stops the eviction.
Jim and Alice hug each other in exaltation. The eviction is not going ahead. Fireworks!
Sometimes the practice of the Law is like dancing on snowflakes. Most often it is a numbers game.
In these cases, the Landlord can tie us up like a kipper when they use Ground 8 , the Magic Words. It does not seem right to me that Landlords who provide Social Housing funded by your taxes can do this to disabled people, and stop District Judges from applying their common sense. It is not right that people can and are treated as mere ciphers.
In other news, another tenant has kept his home. For now.
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