Further to our previous article, ‘The continuing impact of Covid-19 on possession proceedings – extension granted’, which detailed the extension to the stay on possession proceedings, provision has now been put in place in preparation for the lifting of the stay on 23 August 2020.
The Civil Procedure (Amendment No.4) (Coronavirus) Rules 2020, will implement the new Practice Direction PD 55C, which will make temporary changes to the process of possession proceedings, brought under Part 55 of the Civil Procedure Rules (“The CPR”).
Lifting of the stay and changes made
From 23 August 2020, the stay on proceedings will be lifted and PD 55C will come into force and remain in effect until 28 March 2021.
The main changes to be made to the possession process are as follows:
- Landlords who wish to resume proceedings issued prior to 3 August 2020 only are required to provide a “reactivation notice” informing the court and the tenant, in writing, of their intention to resume, along with a rent schedule for the past two years pursuant to CPR 55C paragraph 2.4
- Where the claim includes non-payment of rent, the particulars of claim must set out what knowledge the landlord has, if any, as to the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the tenant and their dependants
- The standard period given between the issue of a claim form and hearing, no more than eight weeks, is suspended
- Parties must be given a minimum of 21 days’ notice of any listed or relisted hearing following filing and service of the reactivation notice
- For new claims issued after 22 August 2020, Claimants will need to set out any knowledge that they have as to the effect of the pandemic on the Defendant and notice of this has to be served on the Defendant at least 14 days prior to the hearing
- The above notice needs to be filed with the claim form in accelerated possession proceedings
Impact on Landlords and proceedings
For many landlords, the lift on the stay of possession proceedings has been long awaited, although it will not erode any frustrations felt by landlords of properties with tenants that had fallen into arrears prior to the pandemic and were left without exception under the changes introduced by the Coronavirus Act 2020 and as subsequently implemented by the Court in PD 51Z. It is also noticeable that there is no guidance as to how landlords should procure or investigate knowledge of the impact on the pandemic upon their tenants and therefore we can expect some interesting decisions ahead as the Court navigates these new requirements.
However, relevant information may include, but would not be limited to:
- Being informed that a tenant was furloughed or made redundant
- Being aware that a tenant or dependent occupants were shielding or considered vulnerable during the lockdown
- Whether a landlord was informed that their tenant or dependent occupants contracted coronavirus
- If they did contract coronavirus, whether this involved any protracted hospital stay or treatment, or if they suffered from a bereavement as a result
Tenants can request an extension of up to six weeks before mandatory possession orders take effect, and whilst it is not suggested within the new practice direction, it is not a far leap to make to envisage the Court taking the above scenarios into account when considering the length of time before any possession order takes effect.
In any event, it means that landlords can resume taking possession of their properties against tenants in arrears or in breach of their tenancy agreement, albeit after a further time as the Court will take several months to sort through the inevitable backlog of possession claims.
The Dispute Resolution Team continues to monitor the position regarding possession proceedings, so that our clients can be provided with the most up to date information. Following the recent changes, we are here to assist with the preparation of notices, including the new reactivation notices, and with other general matters relating to the resumption or issuing of your claim. Should you have any questions about the information within, or the services we provide, please contact the TSP Dispute Resolution team on 01206 574431 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org