Where a claim for possession was filed with the court before 3 August 2020 and was stayed under the Coronavirus rules, a “reactivation notice” is required to get the claim running again. See our article about this here.
The government has published a reactivation notice which can be used for this purpose. There is no prescribed form for the reactivation notice so any form will do (as long is contains the correct information) but there’s no reason not to use the one provided.
Arrangements for Possession Proceedings
In addition, a new document has been issued by The Master of the Rolls (as Head of Civil Justice) Working Group on Possession Proceedings – OVERALL ARRANGEMENTS FOR POSSESSION PROCEEDINGS IN ENGLAND AND WALES.
This document essentially provides guidance for courts on how to reopen from 21 September 2020 and includes what priority should be given to listing possession hearings.
At paragraph 43:
As a guideline the following cases will be listed with priority:
(a) Cases with allegations of anti-social behaviour, including Ground 7A of Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1988 and Section 84A of the Housing Act 1985.
(b) Cases with extreme alleged rent arrears accrued, that is, arrears equal to at least
(i) 12 months’ rent or (ii) 9 months’ rent where that amounts to more than 25% of a private landlord’s total annual income from any source.
(c) Cases involving alleged squatters, illegal occupiers or persons unknown.
(d) Cases involving an allegation of domestic violence where possession of the property is alleged to be important for particular reasons which are set out in the claim form (and with domestic violence agencies alerted).
(e) Cases with allegations of fraud or deception.
(f) Cases with allegations of unlawful subletting.
(g) Cases with allegations of abandonment of the property, non-occupation or death of defendant.
(h) Cases concerning what was allocated by an authority as ‘temporary accommodation’ and is specifically needed by the authority for reallocation as ‘temporary accommodation’.
Other circumstances may warrant priority, and further amplification of this guideline may be published.
There will generally first be a review date of which 21 days notice will be given. Then, the claimant has a number of duties 14 days before the review date:
14 days before the date listed as the Review (R) Date the claimant will be required:
(a) to provide to the Court an electronic bundle (with a paper bundle allowed as an alternative);
(b) to confirm to the Court that a paper bundle had been provided to the defendant (with an electronic copy in addition where the defendant is able to receive that);
(c) to confirm to the Court that the bundle includes all required material, specifically including enhanced information about the defendant now required;
(d) to confirm to the Court that the claimant will be available during the Review Date to discuss the case (by telephone would be sufficient) with the defendant or a duty scheme (or other) adviser.
Accelerated possession claims may continue to be dealt with without a hearing but if a hearing is deemed necessary, it will also be subject to the same priority listing.
Accelerated claims will be referred to judges at a “manageable frequency”.
Furthermore, a review date may be listed for an accelerated claim:
Where the parties agree or there is no objection, the Judge to whom an Accelerated Possession Claim has been referred for consideration may direct that a Review (R) Date be listed to enable the Defendant to receive duty scheme advice and assistance, and also (where appropriate) to allow mediation/independent facilitated negotiation under the proposed pilot. This may be particularly appropriate in a case that is Covid-19 Case Marked by the defendant or at the direction of a Judge.
In respect of warrants enforcing an order for possession, the document provides that although each case will be dealt with on its own merits, applications to transfer proceedings from the County Court to the High Court may not be able to be treated as of high priority.
The document then confirms guidance is to follow for bailiffs:
Safety of defendants, occupants and enforcement officers/bailiffs in the specific case will be carefully considered by enforcement officers/bailiffs. At enforcement, safety procedures and policies will be properly explained to defendants and occupants by enforcement officers/bailiffs. The Ministry of Housing has announced that guidance will be issued to bailiffs to ensure that no enforcement of possession orders will proceed (a) where local lockdown measures are in place to protect public health (in areas where the public health risks could be greater), and (b) other than in the most serious cases, over the Christmas period. The same approach is to be expected of enforcement officers.
The document also confirms there will be pre-action plan to follow produced by the NRLA:
The National Residential Landlords Association will publish a “Pre-Action Plan: Managing arrears and avoiding possession claims” by 18 September 2020. This sets out 9 “golden rules” and emphasises that “in unprecedented times … it is incumbent on tenants and landlords to engage with each other, trying all available avenues to reach an agreement before seeking repossession through the courts.” It will also set out 5 steps to take before notice is issued (including under s21 and s8, ground 8).
Update 17 September 2020: the NRLA have now published the pre-action plan available here.
New Accelerated Claim Form N5B (England)
After several weeks of a missing accelerated possession claim form N5B on the government website, finally, a new one has been published. Our court form guidance has been updated with the new form.