Possessions procedure to change when courts reopen
NRLA policy director Chris Norris explains the changes to Civil Procedure rules announced by Government today – and what they mean for landlords.
Friday night in 2020 just wouldn’t feel right without another instalment in the saga that is the possession moratorium.
Only a few weeks ago the Government waited until the start of the weekend to announce that the say on evictions would be extended until 23 August, and whilst today’s instalment is nowhere near as drastic it remains an important step towards whatever normal will look like in the future.
The changes published today are related to the Civil Procedure rules, that is to say the rules by which the courts operate in England and Wales.
In fact the statutory instrument published today (17 July 2020) is entitled ‘The Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 4) (Coronavirus) Rules 2020’ and as the name would suggest it amends the way that the courts will approach cases for a temporary period in light of the impact of the Covid-19.
Essentially it is intended to provide a little more practical information about how the courts in England and Wales will handle possession cases after 23 August.
Crucially, this statutory instrument doesn’t change the rules around possession for landlords.
It doesn’t amend s21 or s8. However, it will change some of the steps we as landlords have to follow if we want to apply for possession through the courts.
Firstly, it requires that if an application for possession was made prior to 3 August 2020 and the landlord wishes to continue or resume proceedings they will need to notify the court and defendant in writing.
This notification will be known as a ‘reactivation notice’. Without a reactivation notice cases started prior to, or during lockdown, will not resume.
Secondly, the landlord will be required to provide ahead of any hearing, or as part of the reactivation notice, any information relevant to the tenant’s circumstances regarding Covid-19. For instance if they are aware that the household has been shielding, or is in some way vulnerable.
Thirdly, if arrears is to be relied upon, it makes clear that landlords should produce evidence of the full arrears history in advance – not just at the hearing.
In addition there are a number of provisions providing the judiciary with more flexibility concerning the timetable for hearing cases, to prevent ‘bunching-up’ of cases during sitting days and allowing hearings to be spread out over a longer period of time.
The new measures will be in place until 28 March 2021; although there is provision for a review at an earlier date if circumstances change between now and then.
Ultimately, this confirms much of what we already knew. When the courts re-open there will be a backlog, cases will take longer than usual to progress, and it will be even more important than ever to follow procedures to the letter.
That said there are a few outstanding questions. Although landlords will be required to provide any information they have about their tenant’s experience of coronavirus, there is no indication of how the courts will use the information.
Also there is no detail about how, or in what form a reactivation notice should be served. The NRLA is working to answer both of these points with the ministries of justice and housing respectively.
On the positive side, it is further confirmation that possession cases will resume after 23 August offering a faint reassurance to those landlords who have been struggling with long-term arrears since March.
The full statutory instrument and explanatory memorandum can be found here.