With minor exceptions (such as claims against trespassers) all possession proceedings have been stayed until 23 August 2020. Landlords, tenants and practitioners been waiting with bated breath to find out whether there would be an extension to the stay period (it already having been extended from 30 June 2020) and, if not, how the court would permit claims to progress. We now have the answer.
On 17 July 2020 the Master of the Rolls made a new Practice Direction (55C) to deal with possession proceedings which have been stayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Practice Direction comes into force on 23 August 2020 and ends on 28 March 2021.It provides, amongst other things, that:
1. Where possession proceedings were issued before 3 August 2020, no claim is to be listed, relisted, heard or referred to a judge until one of the parties files and serves a written notice (known as a “reactivation notice”) confirming that they wish the case to be listed, relisted, heard or referred to a judge;
2. The reactivation notice must set out certain prescribed information;
3. Unless the court orders otherwise, any trial date set prior to 27 March 2020 is to be vacated and stayed unless a party files and serves a reactivation notice not less than 42 days before the hearing;
4. If no reactivation notice is served by 4pm on 29 January 2021 the claim will be automatically stayed;
5. The court must, unless it directs otherwise, give 21 days’ notice to the parties of any hearing listed or relisted in response to a reactivation notice;
6. Where a case was stayed where case management directions had been made, the party filing a reactivation notice must also file a copy of the last directions order made and (i) either a draft order setting out additional or alternative directions; or (ii) a written statement that no new directions are required; and
7. In any claim brought on or after 3 August 2020 the Claimant must file with the claim form for service with it a notice setting out what knowledge it has as to the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on the Defendant and their dependants.
It seems therefore that the court is now gearing itself up to deal with possession claims again. However, the writer expects that with virtually no new or existing possession claims having progressed for over 4 months, there will be a huge backlog of claims and there will inevitably be a long wait for a hearing both for existing and new claims.
This will be another blow to landlord’s who now need to take active steps to progress claims that they have already issued and which have been stayed through no fault of their own.