Taking a case to the FTT is a daunting experience, or is it?

Recently I have spent a considerable amount of time dealing with the FTT. This is not something I would particularly recommend unless absolutely necessary, as the process can be long drawn out and may be costly. However, the system is very transparent and easy to access and ultimately provides a good service for leaseholders. For those of you who have no experience of the FTT (and long may it remain that way) I thought you may be interested to know a little more.

First, how does the FTT system work? The process is straightforward enough and follows a set procedure.

  • Either you issue an application to the FTT or, if the matter is in the County Court and relates to service charges, the court can transfer the case to the FTT. This is served by the FTT on the respondent and a date will be set for a preliminary hearing
  • Additional  information is requested, if necessary, following the preliminary hearing
  • A time table of directions will be set following the preliminary hearing to allow both parties to set out their cases in detail and provide the evidence on which they intend to rely
  • You attend the hearing.
  • Evidence is considered by the FTT panel.
  • A decision s made which becomes final if no application for an appeal is made within 21 days of the determination. The FTT has no jurisdiction as to costs or      interest, so if the matter has been transferred from the County Court, it will need to go back there for a determination of costs and interest.

FTT hearings are informal. You can arrange for a professional to state your case - normally a solicitor - or you can do it yourself. The FTT is normally a panel of three people being a legally trained person, a surveyor and a lay person.

The process is fair, giving each party a chance to respond. You don’t need to attend the FTT hearing, however it makes sense to be there when your hearing is taking place, especially if you do not have legal representation.

The system is very transparent and easy to understand, with guides available for flat owners who think they may need to use the FTT as a final resort when all else fails. There is also a lot of advice and information available on The Leasehold Advisory website http://www.lease-advice.org/

Having said all that, in my view most leaseholders don’t really understand the way the system works. Most of us need a solicitor to provide initial guidance on understanding our lease and the regulations that surround it, unless the issue in hand is something quite simple.

The main drawback is that the process can take a long time, especially if one side asks for extra time. Most normal FTT cases send out the written decision and reasons for their findings within six weeks of the hearing date. Sometimes, the FTT will inform you of their decision at the end of the hearing if it has been straight forward.

The other problem with the FTT is one of resources – there simply aren’t enough to cope with the demand from leaseholders. Our case took more than a year to get a hearing. Despite these problems, the FTT deals effectively with a wide range of issues from disputes relating to buildings insurance through to lease variations. Of course, there will always be complaints but given the limited resources the service has to call upon, it does a pretty good job. In my opinion, one way to improve on the system as it stands would be to make FTT decisions legally enforceable. At present, for this to be the case, another interim step must be taken – any order made by the FTT can be enforced with the permission of the county court. This means jumping through another legal hoop – and may be a daunting prospect for many flat owners as well as adding additional cost.

If you do find you need to use the FTT to help with a dispute in your block, take advice as to whether or not you need representation. Make sure you have all the information, documents and so on that you or your solicitor will need for the hearing and above all, don’t panic. If you really want to do your homework, you can see the latest tribunal decisions on the Leasehold Advisory website to find out how other similar hearings have been determined at www.lease-advice.org/lvtdecisions/.

Stephen Gibbs

Chairman of The Mailbox RMC

Tel: 0203 102 8526