Today, in a last minute announcement before the stay on possession claims was due to be lifted on 23 August 2020, it was explained that the Lord Chancellor had written to Sir Terence Etherton MR to explain that:
“he [the Lord Chancellor] thinks it expedient for the Civil Procedure Rules to include provision that would extend the stay imposed by rule 55.29 for a period of four weeks, to 20 September”.
The Civil Procedure Rules Committee were directed to achieve that purpose and, despite “the extremely unusual nature and timing of the letter of direction”, the Rules Committee agreed, by majority, that it was bound to follow the direction.
This announcement will be a disappointment to many landlords and appears to show no regard or thought given whatsoever to cases where, for example, other tenants are suffering at the hands of anti-social behaviour or domestic abuse or properties are standing empty where there is a need for housing.
It was also disappointing in light of the work being done by the MR Working Group on possession claims. The Working Group, led by Mr Justice Knowles, was preparing for the end of the stay and attempting to strike a balance – by setting priorities for the courts – between tenants facing hardship due to Covid-19 and landlords, specifically social landlords, who need to manage their housing stock.
Landlords may now wish to think about applications to lift the stay in certain cases especially given this may well not be the last extension. Members of the housing and property groups have been advising on such matters over the last few months.
Sarah Salmon, as chair of the SHLA, has also been feeding into the Working Group and social landlords with concerns should not hesitate to contact her so she can continue to act on their behalf.