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COVID-19: Possession Proceedings and New Practice Directions

Once the magnitude of coronavirus (COVID-19) became apparent in mid-March of this year the Courts had to quickly adapt their initial approach of ‘business as usual’ amidst the global pandemic. In adapting to these uncertain times the Court system in England and Wales has had to quickly modernise its systems, generally enabling remote, virtual hearings while allowing for cases to be issued electronically. With fewer court staff, and presumably judges, available to assist with proceedings and see judgments through, many areas of the Court system have proceeded with a stripped back approach; dealing with emergency issues only.

These have been uncertain times for clients waiting for hearings/judgments in areas of law that have a profound effect on lives, such as housing re-possession. Tenants or home-owners who are unable to work during this time potentially face the prospect that the non-payment of rental or mortgage repayments could warrant possession proceedings being brought by their landlord or mortgage lender. Without drawing an income, the loss of a home could become a potential reality for many people.

It is therefore welcomed that the Court has issued an additional Practice Direction to Part 55 of the Civil Procedure Rules, which deals with residential possession proceedings (inclusive of those taken by landlords and lenders). The Practice Direction 55A goes further than the original prohibition on the eviction of residential tenants, which can allow possession to take place in just 14 days.

The new Practice Direction stays all possession proceedings and precludes the enforcement of any existing possession orders (including orders of the court Bailiff) for a period of 90 days, from 26 March to the 25 June 2020. There is also scope within the Practice Direction to extend the initial period up to 30 October 2020 but hopefully that will not be considered necessary. One limitation of the new Practice Direction is that it does not stay orders for injunctive relief – this means orders for nuisance and annoyance can still be invoked. Notices will also be extended at this time, up to three months.

The new Practice Direction offers a welcome reprieve to people facing Court orders for possession of their homes.