Brady Solicitors has been helping managing agents with property management disputes since 2008, and we have a pretty powerful track record of resolving most of them before they get anywhere near the courts.
But when you do have a stubborn case or a service charge dispute that can’t be resolved through good practice and open communications, there is often no choice but to seek a resolution through the courts system. It is at this point that managing agents will often ask us for advice on whether the FTT or county court will provide the best route for their RMC or freeholder clients.
So, which is best – the FTT or the County Court?
Helen Carey, Head of Debt Recovery at Brady Solicitors weighs up the options and offers her expert view.
To cut to the chase, we would always aim to issue claims in the county court. There is a uniform and clear process for small claims (suitable for all claims under £10,000 into which most service charge arrears fall), with transparent deadlines and procedures.
Staying in the county court system is, however, less straightforward!
If a leaseholder files a defence disputing the reasonableness of the service charges demanded, then the case will almost always get transferred to the FTT.
The FTT (or First-tier Tribunal Property Chamber, to give it its full title), is not like a formal court. In fact, the FTT can feel relatively informal. Whilst some FTTs have their own premises, the hearing can quite often be in a neutral place such as a hotel meeting room.
The tribunal panel is usually made up of three people – a lawyer (who is usually the chairman), a surveyor /valuer (who may also be the chairman), and a lay-person (member of the public).
What about costs recovery?
The county courts, with their prescribed systems, generally allow for better costs recovery. This is an important point as leaseholders are usually unrepresented, which means cases can take longer.
The FTT meanwhile is more fluid, with no set format and variations from tribunal to tribunal.
FTTs can also be prone to some strange directions that can lead to the accumulation of extra work (and unnecessary costs).
What about timeframes? Which is quicker – FTT or county court?
Timewise, the county court has historically always been quicker than the FTT when it comes to resolving service charge and other property management disputes. Whilst delays in the county court system do still persist as we highlighted in our recent blog, we would still expect a quicker resolution than via the FTT.
So if you are a managing agent needing to resolve a service charge dispute on behalf of your RMC or freeholder client, Brady Solicitors would recommend issuing your claim in the county court.
The best advice we can give you though is to take every step to avoid heading to court!
Make sure your record-keeping is perfect and your service charge accounts are in good order; maintain open and clear communications with your leaseholders and – most crucially of all – ensure your service charge demands and processes are fully compliant.
The Brady Solicitors team can help you with prevention as well as cure.