There has been a small but important change to Possession Orders for landlords.
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government has taken dramatic steps to ensure that tenants were not evicted from their homes due to the virus.
The first changes happened in March 2020 when the notice period required for Possession Orders under Section 21 Housing Act 1988) often called the “no-fault” possession route) was extended from 2 months to 3 months. In August increased to 6 months where it remains.
Possession under Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988 also changed. This is the route used when there are rent arrears. Before the pandemic, if a tenant was 8 weeks in rent arrears their landlord could give them 2 weeks’ notice and then start possession proceedings. In March 2020 the length of notice increased to 3 months and in August 2020 it increased to 6 months (if you had less than 6 months of arrears) or 4 weeks (if you had more than 6 months arrears). This remains the same.
However, the snappily entitled Public Health (Coronavirus) (Protection from Eviction and Taking Control of Goods)(England) Regulations 2021 made an important change to how Possession Orders are enforced.
Generally speaking, all evictions remain paused until after 21st February 2021 but there are some important exceptions.
Before 11th January 2021, the bailiffs would not execute a warrant for possession (made on the grounds of rent arrears) unless it involved “substantial rent arrears”. Substantial rent arrears were previously defined as 9 months unpaid rent at the date the possession order was granted and crucially disregarded any rent arrears that accrued after 23rd March 2020.
Since 11th January 2021, the definition of substantial rent arrears has changed from 9 months to 6 months (with no reference to the date of the possession order) AND will not disregard rent arrears accrued after 23rd March 2020.
Therefore, if you have 6 months worth of rent arrears at the date the warrant of possession is applied for, the bailiffs will enforce it. Better news for landlords, but only to a small extent. If the tenant or their household is self-isolating due to Covid-19 the bailiffs still won’t enforce, and the time scale for the bailiffs to act could be anywhere between 4 and 10 weeks.
Watch this space – we fully expect the rules to change again shortly.