The Death Knell For Unregulated “Eviction Specialists”?
There are many firms which advertise themselves as “eviction specialists”. In the main these organisations are not regulated as providers of legal services and therefore have no requirement to be properly trained and no insurance if anything goes wrong. They tend to rely on being cheap and having a strong presence on the internet to attract business. They also often pay commissions to induce referrals of business.
However, a recent county court appeal has thrown a spanner into their collective works. In the recent case of Kassam v Gill & Gill Judge Worcester, sitting in the County Court at Birmingham, ruled that the operation of these firms is likely to be unlawful. The case made a number of other important comments which will be dealt with in other posts.
In order to protect the public, there is substantial regulation around the provision of legal services. The Legal Services Act 2007 (“LSA”) reserves the conduct of legal proceedings as a legal activity which can only be carried out by properly authorised firms. This includes the “performance of any ancillary function in relation to such proceedings.”
In this case the Gills had made use of Remove a Tenant, a trading name of Fentham Group Ltd, based in the Solihull area of Birmingham. Fentham Group and Remove a Tenant are in no way regulated by any body approved to do so. Indeed they say so specifically by stating on their website and elsewhere that:
“Fentham Group are not Litigators. We offer assistance in the preparation and administration of possession claims from information and documentation supplied by the landlord relative to such claims”
In order to satisfy this slightly wordy disclaimer this means that Fentham Group get landlords to attend their offices and fill in the online possession claims form for them before asking the landlord to check the wording and then click the box to say it is correct. However, the Court of Appeal has held, quite sensibly, that filling in the claim form is a key step in the process and taken together with the rest of the services offered by the Fentham Group was a step too far and breached the terms of the LSA.
It may be possible for a non-regulated provider to offer possession assistance in a way which does not breach the LSA but they would have to so limit their services that they would end up offering very little indeed. This means that their days are likely to be numbered and they will either have to seek authorisation or cease trading.
Fentham Group had also in this case served a section 8 notice. To be fair to them this was held to be something that they were allowed to do as an agent of the landlord. Unfortunately they had got it partially wrong and so the landlord is not able to claim possession for rent arrears!
It may appear that these type of unregulated “specialists” are keenly priced and so a good deal. But the costs of their mistakes and the fact that they are not actually permitted to offer legal services leaves landlords at risk of far greater legal fees further down the line. To make matters worse their unregulated status means that there is little comeback for landlords if things go wrong. In the increasingly complex world of residential landlord and tenant law it is perhaps better to rely on a skilled firm of solicitors rather than an “eviction specialist” who is anything but.