Stay on possession proceedings extended until 23 August 2020

08.06.2020

On Friday the Housing Minister ended uncertainty about the end of the stay on possession proceedings, which was due on 25 June 2020.

Calendar showing 23 August

The Lord Chancellor has asked the Master of the Rolls to amend the Civil Procedure Rules, to extend the stay imposed by Practice Direction 51Z, for a period of eight weeks, i.e. until 23 August 2020.

The rules, which are yet to be put before Parliament, are expected to provide that:

  • Time does not run during the stay.
  • The stay applies to actions by the court but does not prevent a possession claim being brought.
  • The stay does not apply to possession proceedings to which CPR 55.6 applies (claims against trespassers) or interim possession orders (eviction of squatters who entered without consent).

In the meantime a cross-sector working group on possession proceedings will consider arrangements to be adopted in the courts when possession cases resume.

This follows a report last week which highlighted widespread concerns in the legal sector about the impact of COVID-19 on the civil justice system. Issues highlighted by the Civil Justice Council report included:

  • The unsuitability of remote hearings for vulnerable persons and those without the required technology.
  • A need to strengthen the pre-action possession protocol.
  • Availability of legal advice.

In the announcement of the extension the Housing Minister stated that the Government will ensure :

...rules, are in place to assist the court in giving appropriate protections for those who have been particularly affected by coronavirus – including those tenants who have been shielding.

However, if these protections are merely of the type referred to above, one can still expect a wave of possession actions in the autumn.

The risk of a homelessness crisis led the Chartered Institute of Housing last week to propose a range of measures, including the end of section 21, a suspension of Ground 8 (the mandatory ground where rent arrears amount to 8 weeks' rent) and the avoiding evictions resulting solely from COVID-related arrears.

We will have to wait and see whether what additional measures, if any, the Government introduces for when the stay expires.

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