Landlords will be aware that, following the introduction of Practice Direction 55Z to the Civil Procedure Rules, all possession proceedings, or any steps (directions) in connection with live proceedings, were stayed until 23 August 2020. We now know what will happen after 23 August.
It has just been announced that a further amendment to the Civil Procedure Rules comes into force on the 23 August which introduces a new temporary Practice Direction 55C. The good news for landlords who have been struggling to manage tenancy breaches that are not COVID-19 related is that there is no further extension to the stay. The bad news is that PD55C requires additional steps to take before you can get any cases moving again, or before you can issue a new claim.
The changes are:
For existing cases, any claimant who wishes to continue proceedings after 23 August must be sent a ‘reactivation notice’ to the court and the defendant. This must be in writing (but there is no prescribed form).
- If this is not filed at court and served on any defendant, the case will not be reactivated. The notice must include:
- Details of the impact of COVID-19 on the defendant and their dependants.
- If the claim is based on rent arrears, a statement of account for the past two years (or from the inception of the tenancy if less than two years) must be attached to the notice.
- For new cases, where a claim includes non-payment of rent, the particulars of claim must set out what knowledge (if any) the claimant has as to the effect COVID-19 has had on the defendant and their dependants.
Landlords will be under some scrutiny, particularly when issuing new claims. The court will want to know that they have been in contact with tenants to establish whether COVID-19 has had an impact. It will not be enough to simply say ‘impact not known’ without demonstrating that you have at least attempted to find out. And note that you need to report on the impact it has had on any dependants as well as the defendant.
The other key change relates to listing court hearings:
- The standard period between the issue of a claim and a hearing has been extended. Currently, a hearing date should be fixed within eight weeks of issue of a claim. Under the new PD, the court can take as long as it chooses to fix a date for the hearing.
Given that it is unlikely that the court will be able to return to the ‘block booking’ method of dealing with possession claims, I foresee some very long waits before cases are heard.
PD55C is intended to be in force until 28 March 2021. There are no new or amended forms so, if you are issuing a claim through PCOL, you will need to find somewhere to insert the information about the impact of COVID-19 on the tenant.
Unfortunately, the end of the stay imposed by PD55Z does not mean it will be plain sailing for landlords by the sound of things. If you require any further information or advice, Wright Hassall is happy to assist.