Further Extension to the Possession Stay
2nd Sep 2020
In continuance of the government’s unprecedented package of measures to help ameliorate the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, on 21st August 2020 the government announced that the possession stay, previously due to come to an end on 23rd August 2020, was to be extended to 20 September 2020.
The extension to stay has been effected by way of a further amendment to the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (“the Rules”), which govern how civil cases in England and Wales (including possession claims) are dealt with by the Courts and the parties. The effect of the amendment is that all possession proceedings and all enforcement proceedings by way of writ or warrant of possession are stayed until 20th September 2020.
When a claim is stayed, this means that the Court cannot take any action in relation to it. For example, there will be no hearings and no orders, including possession orders, will be made (subject to a few exceptions set out in the Rules). Similarly, the stay on writs or warrants of possession means that where a possession order has already been made and has expired, bailiffs are unable to attend at properties to evict the tenants.
Concern has been expressed amongst landlords and members of the legal profession as to the resulting backlog of cases at County Courts across the country once the stay is lifted. In relation to this, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has stated that:
“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.”
It is not at this stage clear whether any further legislation or amendment to the Rules shall be introduced to effect this policy.
Interestingly, Robert Jenrick also announced, alongside the extension, that:
“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.”
It is not clear how or when this further measure will be introduced. The Coronavirus Act 2020, which came into force on 25th March 2020, has already had the effect of extending the notice period from 2 months to 3 months for Section 21 Notices and to 3 months (in most cases) for Section 8 Notices.
It remains to be seen what will happen to notices served since 25 March 2020 which provided 3 months’ notice as required by the amendments effected the Coronavirus Act 2020, whether the 6-month time limit for issuing proceedings from the date of serving a Section 21 Notices will be lifted or amended, and what grounds in schedule 2 of the Housing Act 1988 will be subject to the new notice period.
The past 5 months have shown that anything can change at very short notice, so landlords and tenants should stay alert to any future announcements.
The above changes do not mean that tenants are no longer required to pay rent, so if you are a tenant you should continue to pay the rent in accordance with your tenancy agreement. If you are unable to do so you should seek independent legal and/or financial advice and try to agree a payment plan with your landlord to minimise the arrears that build up and address those arrears once you are in a better financial position.
Similarly, if you are a landlord you should maintain contact with your tenant and if the rent is in arrears discuss with the tenant the cause of those arrears and how they might be addressed. It is also important to note that the extension of the stay does not prevent you from serving a Section 8 or 21 Notice or issuing proceedings. It just means that if you issue proceedings they will be stayed automatically. It also does not affect the validity of any possession order that has already been made; you will just need to wait until after the stay is lifted before you are able to have the tenants evicted.
If you are a landlord or a tenant and would like further advice please contact Elizabeth Gibson at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01603 675641.