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What next for Possession Claims: a new practice direction marks the end of the stay

by Justine Soutter

Invicta Law’s Justine Soutter explores the new practice direction which comes into force in August which will allow possession proceedings to move forward again.

A new practice direction comes into force on 23 August 2020 and will apply until 28th March 2021. It signals an end to the stay that is currently in place in respect of all possession proceedings. You can read the new practice direction on the Judiciary.uk website.

New Development

On the face of it, the fact that possession proceedings (which have been stayed for several months) can now move forward is good news for landlords but unfortunately there are a number of strings attached to this new development.

For example, under Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) 55.5, possession hearings must be listed no later than 8 weeks after the claim has been issued. However, this requirement has been removed for the duration of Practice Direction (PD) 55C to enable courts to have time to catch up on the backlog that built up during the period that claims were stayed. Whilst this is understandable, it is likely to mean that cases will progress more slowly than before.

Reactivation Notices

In addition, “reactivation notices” must now be served in relation to claims brought before 3 August 2020. New obligations placed on landlords include:

  • The requirement to provide information about the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the tenant and their dependants to assist the court in having regard to tenants’ vulnerability, disability, social security position and whether or not they are “shielding”.
  • For possession claims based on rent arrears, landlords must also provide a rent account for the previous two years.

If no reactivation notice has been served by 29 January 2021, the claim will be automatically stayed.

Possession Claims

For possession claims brought on or after 3 August 2020, the landlord must serve on the tenant and the court, a notice setting out the knowledge that they have as to the effect of COVID-19 on the tenant and their dependants.

The policy reasons behind the new practice direction are understandable: to ensure that that cases are dealt with sensitively with a view to public health and to avoid a “cliff edge” resulting in homelessness once the stay is lifted.

There is currently no guidance on how landlords should proceed if they are unable to obtain the required information from their tenant or what will happen if defendants refuse to provide the required information but then seek to rely on it at court.  In the absence of this guidance, landlords would be wise to make every effort to engage with their tenants and keep written records of each attempt.

Invicta Law’s Dispute Resolution and Employment team can assist you with current or future possession claims. Contact us on 03000 411100, email info@invicta.law or download the team leaflet for more information.

Contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute professional or legal advice. Invicta Law cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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