We have previously reported on the Coronavirus Bill. This has now received Royal Assent and so as of today, 26 March 2020, it has become law and is now the Coronavirus Act 2020.
For the purposes of our readers, schedule 29 is the main schedule and parts of the Housing Act 1988 are to be read as if it says the changes made by the Coronavirus Act 2020.
The changes start from 26 March 2020 until 30 September 2020 but that date can be extended under the Act.
The changes apply to both England and Wales.
Section 8 Notices
Before 26 March, a section 8 notice has various lengths that the notice is required to be depending on the specific grounds used from Schedule 2 Housing Act 1988.
From 26 March, the length for all grounds are to be read as if they say “three months” in all cases.
For example, by far the most common use of a section 8 notice is for two months or more rent arrears. This is ground 8 but our notice also includes ground 10 (any arrears) and ground 11 (persistently late paying rent). Ordinarily, the notice length for these grounds must be at least 14 days (plus 4 days for service) but between 26 March 2020 and 30 September 2020 (or later date if changed), the length of the section 8 notice must be at least three months (plus a further 4 days for service).
The same applies for any other ground for example ground 12 (breach of tenancy – not rent) or ground 14 (anti-social behaviour).
Section 21 Notices
Similar to section 8 notices, any reference to “two months” in section 21 Housing Act 1988 is to be read as if it says “three months” between 26 March 2020 and 30 September 2020 (or later date if extended).
Therefore, any section 21 notice given from today must be for at least three months and not two.
In addition to reading the Housing Act 1988 with the changes, the prescribed forms for the two notices (Form 3 for section 8 and Form 6A for section 21 (England only)) are to be read as if they contain the changes outlined in schedule 29 of the Coronavirus Act 2020.
The changes are fairly self explanatory in that they change any reference to a length of the notice from whatever it was to “three months”. The changes also require the notes to be read as if they say three months where relevant.
What’s unclear though is whether a new form with these changes must actually be used. Or, because the legislation is saying they are “to be read as if they say …” means the forms don’t need changing and a tenant who receives it simply reads it as if it contains the changes.
MHCLG has today published new forms (which throughout this morning have changed several times because they were wrong)!
Despite the several changes throughout this morning, they still contain additional wording which is not contained in the Coronavirus Act. The forms are prescribed by separate regulations and MHCLG has no power to simply add it’s own wording – however helpful they might think they’re being!
We are trying to get clarity on the situation and our possession notice wizard remains suspended and must not be used until the message on the possession notice page has been removed. Upon clarity, we will update our notices (if required) and our guidance where we can. We will do this as soon as possible.
Update: our possession wizard is fully operational with updated notices.
Time Limits for Acting on a Section 21 Notice
In England, a section 21 has a “use it or loose it” provision which in most cases is 6 months from the date it was served (slightly depends on the particular situation, please see here for details). This timescale has not been changed for the most common cases so in most cases the window for acting on the notice is effectively shortened.
Existing Notices Already Served
Where a section 8 or 21 notice has been served before 26 March 2020, those notices remain valid and can be acted upon after expiry in the usual way. However, in reality, with the courts mostly running in a skeleton mode, it may prove difficult to get possession orders through the system – especially if a hearing is required.
If you have an existing possession order, similarly, these can be enforced in the usual way by requesting the bailiff to attend. However, many areas (if not all) have now suspended bailiff activity so there could be extensive delays in obtaining physical possession.