Covid-19 - Extension of Practice Direction 55C
11 February 2021
Last summer, Practice Direction 55C was introduced in order to provide new rules relating to the resumption of possession proceedings that had been stayed due to the pandemic. It came into force on 23 August 2020. PD 55C supplements the possession provisions set out under Civil Procedure Rules Part 55. At the time of their commencement the provisions under PD 55C were intended to provide a temporary modification of the rules lasting until 28 March 2021. However, as the pandemic once again took hold, on 29 January 2021 the Government amended PD 55C to extend the period of its application from 28 March 2021 to 30 July 2021.
PD 55C applies to all possession claims. As matters presently stand, and lasting until at least 30 July 2021, the following provisions apply:
- The deadline for filing reactivation notices in respect of claims that had been brought before 3 August 2020 (which had been automatically stayed) has now been extended to 30 April 2021 (from 29 January 2021). It remains the case that for existing stayed claims, if no reactivation notice has been filed and served by the extended date the claim will be automatically stayed. Furthermore, the rules expressly state that a stay is not a sanction for a breach and an application to lift the stay is accordingly not an application for relief from sanctions. This is good (but hopefully not surprising) news for claimant landlords, who have been encouraged during the pandemic not to take action against defaulting tenants. However, any party making an application several months after the end of the period for filing reactivation notices should expect to have to provide an explanation for the delay.
- Claimants remain under an obligation to provide the Court with information about the impact of the pandemic on defendants and their dependents. This is not solely limited to rent arrears caused by the pandemic. The government guidance is that claimants: "must confirm that [they] have provided relevant information about [their] tenant’s circumstances to the court. This includes information about the effect of the pandemic on [the] tenant and his or her dependants, and about their vulnerability, disability and welfare benefit position, with specific reference to those who may have been shielding. If [they] have no knowledge of [their] tenants’ circumstances [they] should make this clear, including information about any attempts made to discuss matters with them" (emphasis added). The full guidance can be reviewed here. Where this information is not provided, judges have the ability to adjourn proceedings until such information is provided. It is therefore important to attempt to obtain this information at the earliest opportunity.
Whilst the courts are now open for business, the full effect of the pandemic on the housing and rental market remains unclear. The furlough scheme has been extended but when it ends, there are likely to be more job losses which in turn may lead to a greater number of defaulting occupiers. The 'temporary' provisions relating to possession proceedings provide a welcome relief to those directly affected by the pandemic and in our view are likely to be extended again late into the year.
If you have any queries or questions regarding the above, or about possession proceedings generally, please contact Michael Ellis, Alexandra Sollohub or Emily Thorp or complete the form below and one of the team will get back to you.