The stay on Possession claims was initially introduced in March 2020 by way of Practice Direction 51Z. The stay was brought in to provide protection to tenants and stop landlords from evicting tenants during the pandemic. The stay brought a halt to all possession proceedings under CPR 55 and stayed enforcement of possession claims for a period of 90 days until the 24 June 2020.
On the 20 April 2020, the Practice Direction 51Z was then slightly amended to exclude claims against persons unknown, allow interim possession order applications and applications for agreed case management directions. Further information on the changes introduced on the 20 April 2020 can be found on my previous blog " Update to Possession Claims during Coronavirus ". Subsequently, in June 2020 the stay on possession claims was extended to the 23 August 2020 and CPR 55.29 introduced. In anticipation of the stay being lifted PD 55C was introduced to allow the resumption of possession claims. Therefore, it was widely thought that the stay would not be extended further. However, in another last-minute U-turn by the Government an announcement was made on the 21 August 2020 that the stay on possession claims has been extended for a further 4 weeks until the 20 September 2020.
The Government has also announced that it intends to introduce a new 6-month notice period which is to be in place until at least the 31 March 2021 and once possession claims resume the most serious cases will be prioritised.
What does this mean for my Possession claim?
This means that any possession claim currently with the Court that is not an excluded claim under the above-mentioned provisions will be stayed until the 20 September 2020. The Court is unlikely to take any action and no hearing will be listed until the stay is lifted. Once the stay has been lifted, parties will still be required to file a reactivation notice for the Court to list, re-list, hear or refer the stayed possession claim. If no reactivation notice is filed, then the Court will not take any action until one has been filed and there is a risk that the claim could be stayed indefinitely.
For any possession proceedings that are only at the notice stage, the extension of the stay does not preclude you from sending your claim to the Court for issue once the notice has expired. The Court is likely to stay the matter upon receipt of claim papers. However, issuing your claim early is important given the backlog and delays that are likely to occur at the Courts once the stay is lifted. Additionally, this is particularly important for section 21 possession claims as you do not want to miss the 6-month time limit in which your claim needs to be issued. It is important to note, that where a claim for possession is now being sent to the Court, the Claimant is required to comply with Practice Direction 55 C paragraph 6.1. For any claim brought after the 3 August 2020 the Claimant must tell the Court anything they know about the effect the pandemic has had on the Defendant and their dependants. There is no requirement for the Claimant to set out how the pandemic has impacted the Claimant, but this may be relevant information that the Claimant may want to volunteer in cases of substantial rent arrears.
Is the 6-month notice period in force?
The 6-month notice period is not in force yet. However, the Government has announced that it " intends to give tenants greater protection from eviction over the winter by requiring landlords to provide tenants with 6 months' notice in all bar those cases raising other serious issues such as those involving anti-social behaviour and domestic abuse perpetrators, until at least the end of March." This means that the Government is likely to try and introduce these changes shortly, but any such change is likely to require amendments to the primary legislation as a section 21 notice is currently only valid for 6 months.
Currently, until the 30 September 2020, the notice period in England for most notices seeking possession is 3 months. Therefore, any landlord who is thinking about serving a notice seeking possession should obtain legal advice and proceed to serve their notice quickly.
Which cases will be prioritised?
The Government has indicated that the most "egregious cases" including those involving crime, anti-social behaviour and where rent has not been received for over a year will be prioritised. However, no further guidance has been provided on how these cases will be prioritised, which categories of cases are a priority and when the cases that are not 'priority' will be heard. It is likely that there will be a long wait before any non-priority possession cases are heard.
If you are a landlord who seeks assistance in obtaining possession, then please do not hesitate to contact our team and we would be happy to assist.
Originally published 27 August, 2020
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.