The Coronavirus pandemic has had a huge economic impact on the UK. Many workers have been furloughed or made redundant and this has had a consequent effect on their ability to pay their mortgage.
As part of the government response, all claims for possession proceedings, whether due to rent arrears or other reasons, were stayed and that stay currently expires on 23 August 2020.
To assist the Court when possession proceedings start again, the Court has introduced detailed new rules that modify the usual possession process. These are due to last until 28 March 2021, but may be extended.
The new possession rules apply to any claim that has currently been brought and stayed by the Court and any new claim that is brought after 3 August 2020.
The Court will not automatically revive claims that have been stayed, but will require the party seeking possession to serve a reactivation notice confirming to the Court that a possession hearing is still required and supporting documents to enable the Court to make directions and list the new hearing.
The most important new rule, which applies in any claim whether new or stayed, requires the party seeking possession to prepare a notice in all claims ‘setting out what knowledge that party has as to the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on the Defendant and their dependants.’
This notice must also be served on the Defendants themselves, or filed with the claim form in an accelerated possession claim.
Though the current rules require the party seeking possession to provide the Court with any information they have about the Defendant’s circumstances, in my experience the Court has not seemed particularly concerned if no information is provided.
The fact that the Court has chosen to now require this specific information as part of a possession claim suggests to me that that the Court is likely to take a hard line on compliance and may stay or simply dismiss the claim if the information is not provided.
It also seems obvious that this is a factor that the Court will be paying close attention to. There is no indication in the rules that coronavirus will be a reason to deny a possession claim and, in the case of rented properties, some of the grounds for possession are mandatory regardless of the underlying reasons.
However, the Court always retains the discretion to suspend any possession orders and it seems to me that if a major reason for the Defendant’s difficulties is financial issues caused by Coronavirus, this may be an option that the Court makes more frequent use of.