Following the end of the stay on possession proceedings on 21 September 2020, the government announced that there would be a ‘winter truce’ on evictions between 11 December 2020 and 11 January 2021, other than in ‘the most serious circumstances.’ The legal basis for this was initially a letter from the Lord Chancellor to High Court enforcement officers and County Court bailiffs. We wrote about this in a previous blog post and the situation has developed further since then.
The lawfulness of this letter then became the subject of a proposed judicial review in the absence of any formal Government regulation. In response to this, The Public Health (Coronavirus) (Protection from Eviction and Taking Control of Goods) (England) Regulations 2020 came into force on 17 November 2020 and the winter truce on evictions will remain in effect until 11 January 2021.
However, what was initially described as a ban or truce on evictions over the Christmas period, now has some clear caveats introduced to balance the interests of landlords. If a possession order is made ‘wholly or partly’ on grounds related to the below then the Regulations will not apply and evictions can still take place over the Christmas period:
- Antisocial behaviour;
- ‘Substantial’ rent arrears (defined as at least 9 months’ before the possession order was made and excluding arrears accrued any post 23 March 2020) ;
- Death of assured tenant;
- Domestic abuse; or
The winter truce is a positive development in that it should prevent a rise in homelessness at a time when mortality rates are increasing and prevent additional pressure on local authority homelessness teams.
This also follows the amendments to the Civil Procedure Rules which came into effect on 1 October 2020, the effect of which was that residential occupiers must now be given at least 14 days’ notice of an eviction, whether by High Court enforcement officers or County Court bailiffs.
Going forward this effectively means that we are unlikely to see a particular rise in evictions this side of 2021 whilst the courts still get to grips with its backlogs. It also remains to be seen whether possession claims and the issue of warrants will increase in volume after 11 January or whether another extension will be given. This is likely to depend on the impact that the coronavirus is having on the UK in a couple of months’ time.
For tenants, depending on why possession is sought, it may allow valuable time to make alternative housing arrangements, apply for any discretionary housing payment made available to reduce arrears or rectify the issues which led to the claim. It is expected of both landlords and tenants that settlement should be explored wherever possible so as to ease the burden on the courts when possession claims re-commence in high volumes. For landlords though, this is likely to be seen as a further unwelcome delay though the new Regulations ought to strike a balance and ensure evictions can still take place in the most serious of cases.
At Hodge Jones & Allen we have yet to see the avalanche of anticipated claims by landlords eager to restart possession proceedings. As it stands now any possession claims which pre-date the stay are unlikely to lead to an eviction in the next three months and those claims made after or during the stay are also unlikely to lead to an eviction in the near future, except in the most serious cases outlined above, given the enormous volume of claims the courts are organising.