After several months of possession claims being stayed, the stay has now been lifted. The Master of the Rolls has set up a working group to address concerns about the consequences of the current stay on housing possession claims ending. The group has produced a publication which aims to deal with how possession claims are to be managed over the next year including rules on several topics such as starting cases, issuing new cases, court arrangements, Covid-19 case marking, listing and priorities, hearings and a few other rules.
The guidance confirms that claims brought before the 3 August 2020 will not be listed, relisted, or referred to a judge until a party files and serves a Reactivation Notice confirming that they wish the case to proceed. This can be served at any time until 29 January 2021.
Here are a few handy bullet points to assist you in digesting the 13-page document.
What you need to know:
- The overall arrangements:
- have been brought in to address the demand for courts to deal with claims accrued from the general stay on possession claims and the possible increase in demand caused by economic consequences as a result of Covid-19;
- aim to reduce the backlog and take into account the effect of Covid-19 so that it maintains confidence in the fairness and outcomes of possession proceedings when disputes arise between landlords and tenants; place a strong emphasis on reaching an early settlement.
- Hearings will be broken down into 5-minute review hearings and 15-minute substantive hearings to decide claims where appropriate to do so.
- Guidance for social and private landlords will be provided to encourage and guide the parties in reaching a settlement.
- In-person substantive hearings will be offered to parties with three exceptions. The exception most likely to apply is that the parties have agreed (subject to court approval) that the hearing should be by telephone or video.
- The court has designated 160 staff to serve as liaisons for these guidelines.
- 200 additional judges have been assembled to assist as required.
- Courts will be marking cases which are (or claim to be) the direct consequence of Covid-19.
- Certain types of claims (mainly those involving the risk or threat of harm, convictions, serious rent arrears or other types of a serious breach of tenancy) will receive priority listing.
- There will be at least 21 days between the processing of a ‘Reactivation Notice ‘and a hearing.
- Claimants will be required to file bundles before review hearings. If the landlord’s documents are not in order for review hearings, the claim may receive further directions before a substantive or even be dismissed.
- The purpose of the review date is to:
- Provide a fixed date on which they might obtain duty scheme advice;
- Give parties the opportunity for settlement; and
- Enable the judge to consider the papers and either list them for a substantive hearing or dismiss the claim or make other directions.
The process for obtaining possession will be cumbersome and very likely a more expensive procedure than the previous one.
Courts have started to deal with possession claims (since 21 September 2020) but with an eviction ban on the horizon, it will be interesting to see how landlords and tenants navigate their way around the new procedure.