11 June, 2020
In our blog dated 30th March 2020, we advised clients that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) had issued Civil Procedure Practice Direction 51Z which suspended all housing possession actions for an initial period of 90 days until 25 June 2020. These measures were introduced by the Government to protect tenants from having their property repossessed during the Coronavirus outbreak. We further advised that the period of the suspension was subject to review and extension as deemed appropriate.
The Lord Chancellor has now asked the Master of the Rolls to amend the Civil Procedure Rules to extend the stay for a further period of eight weeks until 23 August 2020. “Eviction hearings will not be heard in courts until the end of August and no one will be evicted from their home this summer due to coronavirus,” the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, tweeted.
The concern is that as many tenants fall into rental arrears as a result of the Coronavirus, that we are just ‘kicking the can down the road’ and that there will an increased number of possession claims once the courts start hearing such actions again. To address this concern, the Government has committed to passing new rules that will protect vulnerable tenants from eviction. The Government's press release commented that: ‘Ministers are working with the judiciary, legal representatives and the advice sector on arrangements, including new rules, which will mean that courts are better able to address the need for appropriate protection of all parties, including those shielding from coronavirus. This is 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’. Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland QC MP, also commented that: ‘protecting vulnerable people has been our priority throughout this pandemic. Extending this ban will give people invaluable security in these turbulent times and work continues at pace to ensure vulnerable renters remain protected long after the ban ends’.
Schedule 29 Coronavirus Act 2020 also remains in force until 30 September 2020 meaning that landlords must provide tenants with a notice period of three months when issuing a notice seeking possession.
The Government has also reiterated that ‘tenants are still expected to pay rent during this period and where they are unable to do so, the government encourages open and honest conversations between the landlord and tenant about the tenant’s ability to pay’.
Where tenants do experience financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic, the government is clear that landlords and tenants should work together and exhaust all possible options such as flexible payment plans which take into account a tenant’s individual circumstances to ensure cases only end up in court as an absolute last resort.