Landlords will be relieved to hear that the Government intends to resume possession claims on Monday 24 August 2020 and have stated that they do not currently intend to extend the present stay that is in place.
Plans are already underway to deal with the resumption of claims. On Friday 17 July 2020 the Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 4) (Coronavirus) Rules 2020 were laid before Parliament. These new rules make further amendments to Part 55 of the Civil Procedure Rules by inserting a “Coronavirus – Temporary Provision”. The Temporary Provision is the new Practice Direction 55C which will set out how claims, including appeals, are to proceed when the stay comes to an end. A copy of the proposed new practice Direction can be found HERE
The changes introduced by the new Practice Direction 55C will be temporary and last until 28 March 2021, subject to review during that time.
The new Practice Direction 55C will put in place the following arrangements:
Where possession claims are already underway and those issued before 3 August 2020, the Landlord will need to inform the Court and the Tenant, in writing, that they wish to resume their claim by serving a “Reactivation Notice” once stay is lifted on 24 August 2020. Where there are directions issued that have slipped, a mechanism is created to propose new directions to be submitted to the Court for approval.
Landlords will be required to provide the Court with relevant details regarding the Tenant’s circumstances including the impact the pandemic has had on the Tenant and his or her dependents. This will enable the Court to consider issues such as the vulnerability, disability, social security position and issues regarding “shielding” that Tenants may have experienced. The information will need to be given as part of the reactivation. It also needs to be provided when submitting all new cases.
The Court will fix a hearing date on or after the issue of the possession claim to enable cases to be spread out and to avoid the “bunching” of hearings. The parties will be given at least 21 days’ notice of a hearing.
The standard period of 8 weeks, which is usually the time limit between issue of a possession claim and the first possession hearing, will be temporarily suspended. This is to allow cases to be spread out appropriately and to take account of the Court’s capacity.
Landlords, insofar as it is practicable, will be required to produce a full arrears history before the hearing as opposed to at the hearing. Ideally, this will need to be provided either with the reactivation notice or, in the case of new claims, appended to the Particulars of Claim.
The Government has acknowledged the impact that the changes will have on Landlords who have been unable to pursue proceedings for eviction and will now be required to demonstrate that they have engaged with their tenants in an effort to find a solution before making a claim. However, the provisions are issued in light of the wider circumstances of the public health implications of Covid-19 and the need to prevent homelessness. Therefore, the Government believes that the resumption of possession claims needs to be handled in a sensitive and proportionate manner.
It was anticipated that Landlords would face further delays once the stay was lifted due to the backlog of claims and warrant requests. Given the suspension of the 8 week time limit, Landlords may find themselves waiting longer than 2 months for their first hearing, even if they serve a reactivation notice promptly. How long the wait will be is going to depend on the capacity of the specific Court at which the claim has been lodged.
It has been made clear that where a Landlord is seeking a possession order for rent arrears, the Court is going to want to see evidence that they have engaged with the Tenant to try to find a solution before starting or progressing the Court claim.
Landlords should also be aware that the lifting of the stay and the resumption of claims does not alter the current requirement to give at least 3 months’ notice when serving the new Section 21 or Section 8 Notice. The temporary changes to notice periods introduced by the Coronavirus Act 2020 will continue to have effect until 30 September 2020.
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