Stay on Possession Claims Extended to 20th September 2020

In an extraordinary last-minute turnaround on 21st August 2020, the Government announced that the stay on possession proceedings imposed by rule 55.29 of the Civil Procedure Rules, which was due to come to an end on 23rd August 2020, was to be extended by a further 4 weeks to 20th September 2020. This takes the total time that possession claims and evictions have been suspended for to 6 months.

The Government has also indicated their “intention” to extend the notice period required under Section 8 and Section 21 Notices from 3 months, to 6 months.

What does this mean for landlords?

Landlords who have had their claims stayed since March 2020 were all set to file a “Reactivation Notice” today (24th August 2020) asking the Court to progress their claims.

However, the draft changes to the Civil Procedure Rules (55C), which set out what these Reactivation Notices had to contain and which were due to come into force today, will presumably be amended shortly. What this means in practice is that no Reactivation Notices can be filed until after 20th September 2020 at the earliest (or Reactivation Notices served between now and 20th September 2020 will unlikely be actioned by the Court).

For landlords with Section 21 or Section 8 Notices which have already been served and expired, there is nothing preventing them from issuing a possession claim now. However, as before, they will simply be “joining the back of the queue” behind a backlog of an estimated 40,000 claims already in the Court system.

Until new legislation is passed to bring the proposed changes into effect, the current position is as follows:

  • Section 8 or Section 21 Notices served between now and 30th September 2020 have to give 3 months’ notice
  • Where notices have already expired, a possession claim can be issued now, but will presumably be stayed automatically until 20th September 2020
  • For existing claims, no Reactivation Notices can be filed until after 20th September 2020 (or those that are filed will unlikely be actioned by the Court)

For new claims issued after 3rd August 2020, and where Reactivation Notices relating to existing claims are filed, the Court will want to know details about how the Coronavirus pandemic has affected the tenant and their dependants.

Although there appeared to be no express obligation on a landlord to actively make enquiries with their tenant to obtain this information, it is strongly recommended that landlords make at least some effort (for example: e-mails, telephone calls or letters) and keep a record. This is to avoid the Court simply adjourning cases for a further period of time and delaying matters even further. It is likely we will have more detail on exactly what is required in a Reactivation Notice once the draft text of CPR 55C is amended.

Proposed longer notice periods under Section 21 and Section 8

The Government’s announcement also included the following:

"The government also 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.

“The government will keep these measures under review with decisions guided by the latest public health advice.

“When courts do resume eviction hearings they will carefully prioritise the most egregious cases, ensuring landlords are able to progress the most serious cases, such as those involving anti-social behaviour and other crimes, as well as where landlords have not received rent for over a year and would otherwise face unmanageable debts.”

Parliament returns on 1 September 2020, which should hopefully mean new legislation is passed in the weeks following that date. For the moment though, several questions already spring to mind from the Government’s announcement:

  1. Will landlords be able to give less than 6 months’ notice in other situations (e.g. extremely high rent arrears) as well as where there is anti-social behaviour?
  2. When will the 6-month notice period for Section 21 and Section 8 Notices come into effect?
  3. As Section 21 Notices currently only remain valid for 6 months from the date of issue, will the Government remember to change this?
  4. Will those 3-month Section 21 and Section 8 notices already served remain valid?

Given the volume of cases already in the system, it remains the case that parties should try to resolve their disputes without resorting to Court action wherever possible. That, in turn, avoids the significant costs which can be incurred in long drawn out litigation.

If you have any queries about possession proceedings or would like to take legal action to recover possession of a property, please speak with Liam Kreibich, Associate and Head of our Landlord and Tenant Team on 01332 225207 or email liam.kreibich@smithpartnership.co.uk 

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