On 9 June 2020, we reported that the stay on possession proceedings during the Coronavirus outbreak had been extended to 23 August 2020.
A new Practice Direction 55C under the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 has now been introduced which will apply from 23 August 2020, when the existing stay expires, until 28 March 2021. The effect of the Practice Direction is that where a claim has been stayed, one of the parties (in most cases the Claimant) must serve a reactivation notice for the claim to be listed, relisted, heard or referred. If the possession claim relates to arrears of rent, the landlord must provide an updated rent account for the previous two years.
For all new possession claims issued after 3 August 2020 (which will be stayed if issued between 3 August and 22 August) and all new claims issued after 23 August 2020 (which will not be subject to the stay), the Claimant must serve a notice on the Defendant not less than 14 days before the hearing setting out what knowledge that party has as to the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on the Defendant or their dependents. Where the accelerated possession procedure is used, that notice must be filed with the Claim Form.
When the stay is lifted, there will inevitably be a backlog of claims in the Courts as all possession claims have been stayed since 27 March 2020 (not just those relating to Assured Shorthold Tenancies). The usual listing period between the date of issue of the claim form and the hearing of up to 8 weeks has been temporarily suspended, presumably to give Courts flexibility in listing arrangements.
It doesn’t appear that there is a pre-action protocol for private residential possession claims on the horizon (as currently exists for social housing possession claims). A new pre-action protocol was discussed early on in the pandemic, however, landlords of private residential properties will need to ensure that any Section 21 Notice or Section 8 Notice gives three months’ notice whatever ground for possession is relied upon. Those changes were made under the Coronavirus Act 2020 and remain in place until 30 September 2020 (with a power for this date to be extended).