Is this the end? The stay on possession proceedings

COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on possession proceedings in England and Wales. The stay on possession claims and evictions imposed by CPR 55.29 was due to end on 23rd August 2020; however on 20th August 2020 the Lord Chancellor directed the Master of the Rolls and the Civil Procedure Rules Committee to amend the Rules and the stay was extended to 20th September 2020 in an effort to not endanger public health.

Therefore, no evictions or possession hearings will take place before 21st September 2020. Additionally, tenants have been provided with greater protection from eviction throughout the winter as Landlords are now required to provide tenants with six months notice in all cases, not including those cases where the landlord is able to raise other serious issues such as anti-social behavior or domestic abuse, or where there are at least 6 months rent arrears.

This has been beneficial for tenants but disastrous for most landlords. The inevitability of severe backlogs that the County Court will be faced with and the potential for a further stay will mean that cases may not be dealt with until at least 31st March 2021.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has advised as follows:-

“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”

This seems questionable given limited guidance has been given on the meaning of ‘egregious’ and therefore parties will still unaware as to the likelihood of when their cases will be heard.

Additionally, the Housing Secretary also confirmed that with coronavirus still posing a risk, if an area is in a local lockdown, that includes a restriction on gathering in homes, evictions will not be enforced by bailiffs. This only adds to the uncertainty for both landlords and tenants if there is a local lockdown in their area?

Still, there does seem to be some light at the end of the tunnel. As of 15th September 2020 reactivation notices and overall arrangements for possession have now been published by HM Courts & Tribunals Service, it is now time for Landlords to liaise with their tenants for this information and be ready to reactivate claims in preparation for the lifting of the stay.

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