New Strict Procedures for Repossessions

The outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic has significantly changed the world we live in and seemingly no aspect of life has been left untouched. One change, of particular interest to renters, was the suspension of repossessions by landlords and the subsequent changes to the rules around repossessions. Back in March the government suspended all repossession hearings for 3 months and then in June this was extended a further 2 months stating that no repossession hearings were to be held until at least the 23rd of August 2020 in England and Wales. Now that the time is approaching when the courts will hear repossession cases, the Government has released new rules for how the courts will handle them.

New Statutory Instrument

The new guidance is enshrined in law under The Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 4) (Coronavirus) Rules 2020 which were put before Parliament on the 17th July and will come into effect on the 23rd of August, when the Courts will hear cases again. The process will be governed by practice direction 55C which also comes into force on the 23rd August and will continue to 28th March 2021

The changes that have been introduced do not prevent a landlord from seeking to repossess their property under section 21 (notice of termination of an assured shorthold tenancy) or section 8 (termination due to breach of contract) orders. What the legislation does is change some of the step’s landlords have to take in order to apply for repossession orders through the courts.

Given the inevitable backlog in cases, it is vitally important that landlords follow the new rules very carefully or risk the case not being heard.

New Stages

If an application for possession was submitted to the courts before August the 3rd but no possession order was granted and the landlord still wants to continue, they must notify, in writing, both the court and the tenant. This is called a reactivation notice. Without this, the case will not resume in the courts. If no reactivation notice is filed by January 29th 2021, the claim will automatically be stayed. The court will need to give at least 21 days’ notice for a new hearing date.

Landlords seeking a new repossession will now need to provide additional information to the court as part of their claim:

  • If rent arrears are being relied on for the eviction, the landlord must supply details of the rent account for the previous 2 years to the court ahead of the hearing. Before the changes, this information could be supplied at the hearing.
  • The landlord must provide any information they have regarding the impact of Covid-19 on the vulnerability or social security position of the tenant. A landlord will be required to give information regarding whether their tenant is shielding or whether they are struggling financially due to the virus. It is advisable for landlords to get legal advice on this point to ensure that they are following the rules precisely.
  • The information must be supplied to the court not less than 42 days before the hearing date and to the tenant not less than 14 days before the hearing
  • The courts now have flexibility when setting a hearing date. In the past the court was required to set a hearing date at the same time as the claim form was issued and the date had to be set for 8 weeks after the form is issued. Courts can now be more flexible on when they set a date, this no longer has to be at the same time as the claim form is issued and the 8 week limit has been suspended.

The Government is still urging landlords and tenants to seek mediation and alternatives to court proceedings and has made it clear that courts will prioritise cases which involve anti-social behaviour, extreme rent arrears, domestic abuse and cases involving squatters, fraud or unlawful subletting.

These changes to the court rules around repossession claims will be strictly enforced and any deviation could lead to the courts not hearing the case. Landlords should make sure they are fully aware of the new rules before taking eviction action and it is advisable to seek legal advice.

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