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The Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 5) (Coronavirus) Rules 2020

The continuation of the stay on possession proceedings to 20 September 2020 has been effected by the Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 5) (Coronavirus) Rules 2020, coming into force on 22 August. The amendment does two things.

First, it changes CPR 55.29(1) to say that "all possession proceedings brought under this Part and all enforcement proceedings by way of writ or warrant of possession that are (a) Stayed immediately prior to this rule coming into force, or (b) brought after this rule comes into force and on or before 19 September 2020, are stayed until 20 September 2020".

Secondly, the amendments to the procedure for enforcing possession orders by writ or warrant will now come in on 20 September 2020, and no notice of eviction under new rule 83.8A can be delivered before 21 September 2020. For more information on the amendments to the procedure for obtaining and enforcing writs and warrants see https://www.falcon-chambers.com/publications/articles/writ-the-ground-running-updates-to-the-regime-for-enforcing-possession-orde.

What Amendment No. 5 does not do is make any changes to new PD 55C, the practice direction designed to help the court to administer possession claims once the stay is lifted. Unless there is a further amendment, this still comes into force on 23 August, and requires the provision of information on the effect of Covid-19 on defendants, via a reactivation notice for stayed claims, or at the first possession hearing for new claims, or with the claim form for new accelerated possession claims. Assuming PD 55C remains unamended, what is the effect? Since PD 55C simply sets out what the parties have to do to have a claim listed or heard once the stay is lifted, but does not itself say any such claim will be listed or heard, the answer appears to be that there is no effect during the continued period of the stay. There is a brief theoretical question of whether parties could serve a reactivation notice next week, for example, despite the continuation of the stay, so as to ensure that the PD 55C requirements for stayed claims are complied with by 21 September 2020. Since the stay is for all purposes the answer is likely that parties should not do so, and it seems likely the court would rather have information about the parties’ wishes to proceed, and about the effect of Covid-19, current as at 21 September or thereafter rather than now. Thus it seems likely best to put any drafted reactivation notices aside to be updated and sent once the stay has lifted.

The Government’s press release about the continuation of the stay suggested that the notice periods for short term tenancies, for example ASTs, will be increased from the current 3 months to 6 months, save for cases with serious issues such as anti-social behaviour or domestic abuse. No such changes have yet been made, and will require amendment of the Housing Act 1988 and the other Acts giving security to short term tenants, both as to the length of notices and, for example for s21 notices, the length of their validity. Most s21 notices are valid for issue of a claim for 6 months from the date of service, thus if the notice period is to be changed then so must the validity period. It is unclear whether there is an intention to change notice periods with retrospective effect for existing notices, a complicated step. Thus at present, there is no change to the notice periods required.

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