Suspension of possession claims

27.03.2020

The Government has confirmed that possession claims are to be suspended for three months.

Coronavirus illustration

When posting yesterday I suggested the administration of possession claims was likely to have a more significant impact on landlords' ability to evict, than the extension of possession notice periods to three months.

And so it has turned out.

Suspension

On 26 March 2020 the Government issued new guidance for landlords and tenants in England and Wales.

It confirms that from today, 27 March 2020:

...the court service will suspend all ongoing housing possession action – this means that neither cases currently in the or any about to go in the system can progress to the stage where someone could be evicted. This suspension of housing possessions action will initially last for 90 days, but this can be extended if needed. This measure will protect all private and social renters, as well as those with mortgages and those with licenses covered by the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

So, irrespective of when a possession claim was (or is now) made, nothing much will happen.

A new or amended Practice Direction will be issued at some point today to bring this into effect (basically these are the courts' procedural rules) [Edit: Practice Direction 51Z has now been published].

At the time of writing it's unclear whether the enforcement of possession orders already granted, whether by bailiff warrant or High Court writ, are also suspended. One assumes this will be the case. [Edit: yes, this is the case. See PD 51Z, para 2]

There's nothing to stop landlords from issuing new possession claims. But it's questionable whether a landlord would want to pay £325 now, given it's unclear when the application will be dealt with.

Particularly since the Government could extend the suspension beyond the current three month period.

Council housing departments will have a crucial role in letting tenants know they can't be pressured to leave, and in speaking to landlords where necessary (it's a pity so few councils have historically prioritised and resourced the prosecution of unlawful evictions, but perhaps that's a debate for another time).

Pre-action protocol

The guidance also restates the Government's intention to amend the pre-action protocol requirements:

We are working with the Master of Rolls to strengthen the pre-action protocol requirement and also extend this to the private rented sector. This will help landlords and tenants to agree reasonable repayment plans where rent arrears may have arisen.

There's reference to the financial assistance being made available, and the suggestion that landlords and tenants should:

...work together to put in place a rent payment scheme...

Tenants in financial difficulty will want to demonstrate they're doing everything possible. While the immediate threat has been taken away, there remains the risk of losing your tenancy down the line. It will be important to help tenants access financial help and advice.

Finally, there's clarification in the guidance that:

Landlords remain legally obligated to ensure properties meet the required standard – urgent, essential health and safety repairs should be made.

By contrast:

An agreement for non-urgent repairs to be done later should be made between tenants and landlords. Local authorities are also encouraged to take a pragmatic, risk-based approach to enforcement.

Huge credit is due to Shelter and others who have put pressure on the Government about the precarious position of tenants during the current crisis.

Shameless plug

And finally, if you're a manager whose staff might be having difficulty in spotting the difference between an ordinary tenancy, occupiers who just have the basic protection of a court order, and those who are excluded from statutory protection altogether, might I suggest that you could consider booking me for my in-house training course on security of tenure.

When this nightmare is all over of course. Just a thought.

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