In just over six weeks’ time, it is expected that the stay on possession proceedings, initially imposed by CPR PD 51Z until 25 June 2020 and then extended by CPR 55.29 until 23 August 2020, will be lifted.

In written questions to the government, Baroness Altmann asked:

“To ask Her Majesty's Government, further to their decision to extend the ban on tenant evictions by a further two months, what provisions are or will be in place to ensure that private landlords, who obtained a legal possession order prior to the suspension of evictions in March, are able to reclaim possession of their properties without further delay.”

Lord Greenhalgh replied:

“On 5 June, the Government announced that the current suspension of evictions from social or private rented accommodation will be extended by two months until 23 August 2020.

From 24 August 2020, the courts will begin to process possession cases again. This is an important step towards ending the lockdown and will protect landlords’ important right to regain their property. Work is underway with the judiciary, legal representatives and the advice sector on arrangements, including new rules, to ensure that judges have all the information necessary to make just decisions and that the most vulnerable tenants can get the help they need when possession cases resume.”

What does this mean for providers?

This is the clearest indication yet that the stay on possession proceedings will not be extended beyond 23 August 2020. Although this may change, this will be welcome news for private and social landlords alike.

Where possession orders remain to be enforced, new dates for bailiff warrants will be able to be sought from the court bailiffs from 24 August 2020. Plainly, there may be some considerable delays and, in cases where there is a pressing need for possession to be regained quickly, landlords may wish to seek permission to transfer enforcement to the High Court.

Where possession orders are yet to be obtained, the situation is uncertain as to how the courts will look to process the backlog of existing cases alongside an increased number of new cases which can be expected to be issued shortly after the stay is lifted. It is very much a ‘watch this space’ as to whether there will be a ‘national’ strategy which provides clear guidance to all courts, or whether it will be left to each court to determine the priority to be given to possession cases that have been stayed in the system.

One would hope that cases involving serious anti-social behaviour and/or mandatory ground cases - such as those where Closure Orders have been made – will be prioritised.

Capsticks’ advice to landlords

We continue to encourage landlords to seek to agree directions with defendants (where possible) and where not, to ensure that they take as many steps as they can to be as ‘trial ready’ as they can be. That may mean, for example, giving disclosure and/or preparing witness statements even though they have not been ordered and as well as ensuring that any potential issues under the Equality Act 2010 have been properly investigated.

The COVID-19 pandemic and ‘lockdown’ will have impacted upon the mental health (and potentially physical health given issues with access to healthcare) of a number of tenants, and so social landlords would be well advised to review the proportionality of continuing with possession in light of issues that may arise under the Equality Act 2010 in all current cases, and evidence that re-assessment by way of a written Proportionality Assessment.

How Capsticks can help

We remain well placed to continue to help you deal with cases swiftly and are in regular contact with your local courts to keep a finger on the pulse of any differing practices they are adopting.

If you have any queries around what is discussed in this article, or the steps that you can take in any given case, please do not hesitate to speak to Simon Strelitz, or any of your contacts at Capsticks, to find out more about how we can help.