What happens in court?
If you are a homeowner you can only be evicted if the court makes a possession order. This section explains what happens at the possession hearing.
The hearing will normally take place in the county court, as it is a civil matter. This is not the same as going to a criminal court. There is no risk of you being sent to prison if you have mortgage arrears. There is a county court in most cities and large towns. Your lender or freeholder has to apply to the one in the area where your home is. The papers you get from the court will tell you the address of the court where the hearing will take place.
In some circumstances, your lender or freeholder may start the case in the High Court. This might happen if there is a complicated dispute. If it is not appropriate for the case to be heard in the High Court, it can be transferred to the county court in the area where the property is.
When a lender or freeholder applies to the county court for a possession order, they are known as the ‘claimant’.
Hearings are usually held in the judge’s private room, known as chambers. Sometimes they may take place in an open courtroom but members of the public are not allowed to be present.
Do I need to go to the hearing?
Yes. It is essential that you attend the court hearing so you can explain your situation to the judge. If you need help, you should get advice as soon as possible. Click here to find an adviser in your area who can help you negotiate with your lender and prepare for the hearing.
What should I do when I arrive at the court?
The court papers will tell you the time of your hearing. You should arrive at the court in good time. There are usually several possession cases listed at the same time. When you arrive, you should:
- find out exactly where the hearing is taking place
- let the court usher know that you will be attending the hearing.
The usher is a court officer who deals with the administration of court hearings. The usher will have a list of all the cases to be heard by the judges that day. If you cannot find the usher, the court office can tell you:
- where to wait
- in which room the hearing will take place.
The usher will decide in what order the cases will be heard. As there may be a lot of cases to be heard, you may have a long wait until your case is called. But if you don’t arrive at court on time, you could miss your hearing.
Who will be at the hearing?
Your case will be heard in private. A judge will hear your case and decide what order to make. You and your lender (or freeholder) will both have the opportunity to speak, so you will get a chance to explain your circumstances. Both you and the claimant can bring a solicitor or adviser for representation. You can take a friend along to help you in court. If you also want them to speak for you, you will need to check if the judge will allow this.
Some courts have schemes where there are specialist advisers or solicitors on duty to help people on the day of the hearing. Ask the usher about this. You should allow plenty of time if you want to talk to an adviser before your hearing. They may be able to come into the court with you to speak on your behalf.
Phone Shelter Cymru on 08000 495 495 to find out if there is a duty scheme in your court. However, remember it is much better to get advice before the hearing. If an adviser is going to represent you in court, getting advice promptly gives them more time to find out about your situation and what can be done to stop or delay your eviction.
What happens next?
The usher will call you when it is your turn and will tell you where to go. It’s important that you listen carefully so you know when your case has been called. The judge will then explain what will happen during the hearing.
Usually the claimant or their representative speaks first and explains why they want to repossess your home. You or your representative will be able to ask the claimant or their representative questions.
After the claimant has spoken, you or your representative will have the opportunity to speak. You can tell the court why you shouldn’t be evicted, what your proposals are to resolve the matter, or why your eviction should be delayed. The claimant or their representative may ask you questions.
The judge may decide you shouldn’t be evicted if:
- you have paid off your arrears, or
- you are making regular repayments to reduce the debt,
- you will soon be able to make sufficient payments to repay the arrears.
Your eviction may be delayed if:
- you are having difficulty finding somewhere else to live, or
- you are trying to sell your home.
The judge may ask you or the claimant further questions. If you don’t understand the court process, ask the judge to explain it to you.
If the case is complicated or if you dispute what the claimant has told the court, the judge may decide that s/he needs more time to hear all the evidence. If this happens, the judge will set a date for a further hearing.
What decisions can the judge make?
When the judge has heard the arguments from both sides and looked at all the evidence, s/he will make a decision. The judge may decide to:
- adjourn the case
- strike out (dismiss) the case
- make an outright possession order
- make a suspended possession order
- make a time order.
Be sure to understand what these different orders mean. If you don’t understand the decision, you can ask the judge to explain what it means. A written copy of the judge’s decision should be sent to you after the hearing.
Will I have to pay court costs?
Probably. If your lender or freeholder starts court action against you, you are likely to have to pay their legal costs as well as your own. These costs are often added to the amount outstanding on your mortgage. These can be expensive if they have used a solicitor. Get advice if this happens.