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Professor Susan Bright of Oxford University's Faculty of Law and Dr Lisa Whitehouse of the University of Hull worked together with the Association of District Judges and the Community Law Partnership, among others, to bring research findings to actors in the legal system and to involve them in solutions to this failure of the housing repossession process.

Improving defendant participation in housing repossession process

Image credit: Shutterstock

One of the key consequences of the so-called great recession of 2008-2013 was housing repossession.  At its peak in 2008, nearly 70,000 properties were repossessed in the UK, and behind these 70,000 doors were individuals and families who would lose their homes.  Although housing repossessions have been on the decline since 2009, some 15,500 homes were still repossessed in the first nine months of 2015, and given the real potential of  an increase in interest rates, many are worried they will rise again.

When mortgagors or landlords seek possession of homes for non-payment of a mortgage or of rent, the tenant or homeowner has the right to participate in the legal process, but they generally do not.  When they do not, while courts have access to the relevant financial information, judges may not understand the story behind the situation of the people who live in the home in question and may be unable to consider matters such as the welfare of children, health problems, community networks, attachment and so on.  In a research project funded by Oxford’s John Fell Fund, Professor Sue Bright of the Faculty of Law at the University of Oxford and Dr Lisa Whitehouse of the Law School at the University of Hull have demonstrated the seriousness of this problem. 

In this knowledge exchange project funded by Oxford’s ESRC IAA, Professor Bright and Dr Whitehouse are working with the Association of District Judges and the Community Law Partnership, among others, to bring these important research findings to the actors in the legal system, and to involve those actors in further investigations into solutions to this failure of the legal process. 

In June of 2014, they held a seminar with key practitioners, such as judges, housing advisors, policy makers and officials from HM Courts and Tribunal Service to exchange ideas and perspectives on the legal process of housing possession and imagine recommendations for reform and the practical means by which to implement them. The results of this seminar along with its recommendations were published in the New Law Journal, a leading weekly legal magazine, and the researchers, with the addition of a psychologist from Middlesex University, are now planning a large-scale research project to explore the way in which judges make decisions in possession cases.

By bringing together key players from all sides of the repossession process, Professor Bright, Dr Whitehouse and the rest of their partners aim to improve the level of defendant participation so that judges will have more complete pictures of the stories behind the case numbers. 

This project was funded by Oxford's ESRC Impact Acceleration Account.

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