15:27 PM, 28th June 2021, About a month ago 1
There can be no doubt by any property investor or landlord reading this article that the process of evicting tenants has changed as a direct result of this wretched pandemic.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the term “eviction”, it remains the final outcome for a landlord where for the reasons decreed by Parliament, the relationship of landlord and tenant has come to an end and the tenant must be served with a Notice of Eviction.
During the pandemic, the moral arguments put on Landlords not to evict have been enormous, and we think unfairly so. It is in our view the responsibility of the State to house those that cannot house themselves. This includes sadly those that have lost their incomes due to the pandemic, albeit the Government has put in provisions to help qualifying people through this unimaginable crisis with an aid package that has never been seen before.
The Size of the Eviction Backlog
So, as we emerge from lockdown what will be the extent of the eviction backlog problem and how can it be solved?
According to civil court statistics there were 110,907 claims for possession issued in the county courts in England and Wales in 2019. Out of this number 87,698 possession orders were granted. Compare those figures to the year when the pandemic hit in 2020, and the number of claims for possession dropped to 39,681 with just 22,115 possession orders being made. The drop in evictions is easy to understand as Government regulations put a brake on the eviction process as early as March 2020.
But somewhere in these figures are the claims from 2020 still waiting to be heard, with possession orders pending and waiting for eviction to take place. The differential in claims has not gone away, it has just been delayed.
On top of this problem, Warrants for Possession are issued for a 12-month period, so after that period has expired, a landlord will have to apply to the Court for a new Warrant. This in turn leads to another set of eviction cases that need to be factored into the evitable lump of cases which are going to need enforcement.
What Are We Seeing in Shergroup on Possession Claims?
Shergroup is looking to help landlords transfer their possession claims from the county court to the High Court to avoid the delays caused by the pandemic and the county court backlogs.
We encourage all landlords to seek permission, when issuing their claims, to have any eventual possession order enforced in the High Court rather than the county court. Permission is more likely to be granted at the hearing stage. We do offer a service to seek that permission after the possession order has been made. Either way the decision to transfer is at the discretion of the District Judge and it seems that discretion is more easily exercised in favour of a landlord at the claim stage, rather than after an Order for Possession has been made. We are looking to compile more data-based research on this observation.
Either way, the game plan is to end up with a county court possession order which has the necessary permission to be enforced in the High Court.
This month we have seen a Possession Order granted on 16th January 2020 in the Clerkenwell & Shoreditch County Court come to us for transfer up on 8th June 2021. That’s a total of 509 days of waiting to do something with the enforcement of the order. That’s also a year and a half’s rent lost due to being unable or unwilling to go to the enforcement stage.
Shergroup lodged the paperwork to transfer the judgment with the High Court in London for transfer on 15th June 2021. The High Court issued the Writ of Possession on 17th June 2021. The statutory Notice of Eviction was served on 21st June 2021 and the eviction is scheduled for 8th July 2021. In effect, a county court possession order with 509 days on the clock, has taken 30 days to be transferred. The landlord client has a direct contact with our team, no long waiting times on a telephone system, and has been able to schedule a date for the eviction to take place.
Out in the shires, we give a shout-out to District Judge Lyons in the Dudley County Court. The Learned Judge made a possession order on 18th March 2021, and this was transferred to Shergroup on 1st April 2021. So just 14 days was taken to transfer the possession order to Shergroup.
We applied to Dudley District Registry on 12th April for the case to be transferred to the High Court for enforcement, and it was returned to us on 24th May 2021 with the Writ of Possession. The Notice of Eviction was served on 25th May 2021 and the eviction was carried out on 8th June 2021.
Although not quite as quick as the Central Office in the High Court in London, we can report that the Dudley District Registry team have been helpful and efficient on this, and subsequent matters sent to them for transfer. This personal service from staff in Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service is very welcome and needed if we are to work together to help landlords during this post lockdown period.
Our national panel of enforcement agents cover the entire 105 postcodes of England and Wales and as things stand are not encountering any backlog in their ability to service these enforcement instructions.
The Alternative to an Eviction?
We can also report that we are seeing more landlords coming to us with claims for rent arrears which they are then issuing as a money claim. Rather than evict their tenant, they are seeking a county court judgment for the arrears which they can then enforce using a Writ of Control. Whilst this is not a panacea for the current predicament that landlords find themselves in, it is a way of securing the amount of the arrears particularly where the tenants have goods, such as a vehicle or other obvious asset.
Landlords, and their managing agents, may well have better insight of the assets on the ground than other types of creditor. They should use this insight to give themselves more flexibility in their enforcement options. Losing a good tenant, who has fallen on hard times, may not be the best outcome for landlords as they emerge from the lockdown period.
Shergroup is seeing an uptick in the number of enquiries from landlords on how to transfer possession orders to the High Court. June 2021 has been our busiest month since the pandemic began in March 2020.
Backlogs are still not on our radar. We are committed to helping Property118 landlords achieve the best outcome for their possession claim or order in what are difficult circumstances. If you have a possession order that needs to be enforced, then take advantage of our no obligation review and let’s see what can be done.
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