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The pitfalls of free online legal advice

Online Advice

The pitfalls of free online legal advice

Law on the Web's guide to landlord and tenant law is at least in part practically useless, and in part downright wrong

Giles Peaker

As we move down through the hellish circles of 'free legal content', and as your reluctant Virgil, I must insist we jump a few circles to go directly to the centre of the pit.

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The Pit – 'Free Legal Information'

Law on the Web proclaims itself to be a 'Free Online Legal Information And Find A Solicitor Service'. What is more, the site claims to be 'The UK's Biggest Source Of Free UK Legal Information' (on a page headed 'Legal Advice'). In fact they say, under 'About Us':

The mission of Law on the Web is to help people get access to justice by helping them find the right legal advice. We want to help people understand their legal rights and find a good solicitor if they should need to do so.

We aim to be the best place to go in the UK to find a solicitor and to get helpful legal information.

Before we get to the content, let us just note that the site is owned by Everything Legal Limited, who are now owned by DAS UK Group, a large legal expenses insurer. The managing director of Everything Legal Ltd is Brad Askew, a former practising solicitor (no longer listed on the Law Society site). His linkedin profile still describes him as a 'lawyer'.

Let us also note that Everything Legal owns Claims Financial – a PPI claim farming site, amongst others.

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Now, suppressing a slight shudder, to take a look at this 'helpful legal information'. There is a section for 'Landlord Law', which seems a good place to take a sample.

Under 'Evicting Tenants', there is this helpful information:

As a landlord, there may be occasions when you need to ask the tenants occupying your property to leave. If, however, the tenant refuses to go after the agreed notice period, you will have to take legal action. You must first serve your tenant a 'notice of intention to seek possession' to inform them that if they do not leave, you plan to go to court to obtain possession of the property. This notice must be given before you can apply to court for the possession order.

Once you do go to court, the court will decide whether or not to grant you a possession order based on evidence from both parties. If the order is granted, the court will set a date on which the tenants must vacate the property. If the tenant still refuses to leave, even after you have the possession order, you will have to go to county court and apply for a warrant of eviction, where the court will arrange for bailiffs to come and remove the tenants from the property. If a possession order is not granted, the court will allow the tenant to stay in the property as long as they stick to the guidelines set out by the court.

Which obviously provides everything a landlord would need to obtain a possession order. Well, apart from being both vague and sort of wrong. For example, it is unlikely that the Court would give 'guidelines' if a possession order is not made, but may make conditions on a suspended possession order. Even then, this would not apply for mandatory grounds of possession or the accelerated possession procedure, where no suspended order would be made.

And better (or worse) yet, under 'Accelerated Possession':

If your tenant has an assured short hold tenancy agreement, which is now the most common tenancy agreement, you will be able to use the accelerated possession procedure, which will enable you to get possession of your property much quicker and will not require you to have a court hearing. This procedure can only be used if the tenant has a written tenancy agreement and you have given them at least two months notice that you require the property back. You cannot give notice before the end of a fixed term tenancy.

So not only vague, but actually wrong. Notice can be given at any time, but the date on which possession is required cannot be before the end of the fixed term. Following this information could lead to a two month delay for a landlord.

And under a page on Tenancy Deposit Schemes (which has actually been updated since mid April 2012 – I'll come back to this) we find this:

Under a deposit protection scheme the landlord in charge of the property must protect the deposit paid to them using either a custodial scheme or an insurance based scheme. The landlord has free reign over which of these two options they choose to use, but they must do it within 14 days for deposits made between 6 April 2007 and 6 April 2012, or within 30 days for deposits made after 6 April 2012. Meanwhile, the tenant should always make sure that they and the landlord have carried out and agreed on an inventory when the tenancy starts.

Under the provisions of any deposit protection scheme, the tenant can apply to the county court for a legal order that forces the return of the deposit if the landlord has failed to either return or adequately protect the deposit. The county court can also order the landlord to pay compensation to the tenant is sufficient wrongdoing has been committed.

For those deposits made after 6 April 2012, the tenant has guaranteed recourse even after the tenancy has ended, and the compensation the landlord must pay out will be between one and three times to deposit paid.

This is just wrong in ways that may well leave a landlord relying on it in something of a mess – look at that last sentence, for example. All deposits taken after 6 April 2007 are, since 6 April 2012, subject to the amended rules, so that a tenant can claim after the tenancy has ended, so long as it ended after 6 April 2012. Any landlord relying on this inaccurate information would lose their case. The page also makes no mention that deposits taken between 6 April 2007 and 6 April 2012 had to be protected by 6 May 2012 or it would be too late to protect them and avoid a claim.

Or as a last example, from a page on 'Tenant's rights under Landlord Law':



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