The First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal have issued emergency Practice Directions for up to six months during the coronavirus pandemic. Brady Solicitors explain what the new guidelines will mean for property management disputes.

In light of the COVID-19 situation the Senior President of Tribunals has issued a Practice Direction for tribunals to adjust their ways of working to limit the spread of the virus and manage their workloads appropriately.

As a result, the default position is that for the period concerned, representations and decisions in the FTT and UT will be made on the basis of paper submissions, rather than in person. In cases where an oral hearing is still required, parties will be expected to appear remotely.

Site inspections are suspended with immediate effect. Evidence from photos or videos is to be used instead, or in certain cases the FTT can do a “drive by” viewing. If a site visit is crucial, then the case will be stayed until further order.

The Practice Direction has been put in place for a period of six months, although it may be reviewed within that period should it become inappropriate or unnecessary and may be revoked at any time.

For Upper Tribunal guidance only

The Upper Tribunal have issued further guidelines for the conduct of proceedings during the COVID-19 situation.

Email will now be the preferred means of communication for all purposes. However, should a hearing be required, it should be held in public and will be conducted by telephone, video link or other electronic means.

The Tribunal may make any decision without a hearing, but will apply the following principles first:

  • where a decision can be made fairly and justly without a hearing, there will be a presumption in favour of a determination on paper.
  • where a decision can only be reached at a hearing there will be a presumption that the hearing will be conducted by telephone or video link.
  • if a hearing conducted remotely would not be fair or practical, the hearing may need to be postponed.

It is acknowledged that some cases (for example, those involving a large number of witnesses) may need to be postponed. In these instances, the Tribunal will either fix a new hearing date or will fix a review date, three or four months in the future, to determine whether the matter can now be re-listed.

Where cases have already been listed, the Tribunal will ask the parties to express a preference for how their case should now proceed. Parties will be strongly encouraged to communicate directly with each other to agree a way forward.

In situations where parties do not have internet access, the use of an alternative video conferencing product or a telephone conference call facility may be considered.

The Tribunal appreciates that in the current circumstances, parties may not always be able to comply with procedural directions in time. The Tribunal will be sympathetic to requests for extensions of time, especially where these are agreed between the parties.

It is too early to say whether this process will make decisions in the FTT easier to make on paper/electronically rather than in person, and how it will affect outcomes, but the property management experts at Brady Solicitors are fully prepared to assist you through these challenging times. For further information please get in touch with Brady Solicitors using the contact details above.

You can read the Practice Direction in full here.

You can read the Upper Tribunal guidelines in full here.