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End of Coronavirus Residential Possession Notice Periods10th September 2021 Commercial Litigation
New regulations ending the, somewhat extended, Covid-era of longer residential possession notice periods were laid before Parliament on 8 September. This change is being achieved by suspending most provisions set out in Schedule 29 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, which originally introduced the extended notice periods. These regulations apply to England only, Wales is doing its own thing.
The new regulations come into force on 30 September 2021 with the new notices applying from 1 October. Following the taper of notice periods which started on 1 June (with a further reduction on 1 August), from 1 October notice periods will drop back to the pre-pandemic lengths. Generally, this means that most section 8 notice grounds for possession will return to the shorter 2-week notices, including for rent arrears. Section 21 notices will revert to the 2-month notice periods from before Covid.
Helpfully, new notice templates have been produced in Schedule 2 of the new regulations. The MHCLG has clearly appreciated the benefit of giving a longer warning to changes to notice periods as it has now given an even longer notice than it previously did in May. Hopefully this approach of giving more notice of changes will continue longer-term.
This will be welcome news to landlords in cases where some tenants have exploited the opportunity to stay put in the knowledge that landlords will be unable to take swift action to evict them. The announcement of the end of extended notice periods will hopefully encourage parties to negotiate and resolve matters as otherwise Court action will be available to landlords at a much earlier stage in the dispute.
One of the key effects of these notice period changes is that landlords would not be wise to serve s21 notices for the rest of this month as the notice period will be much reduced from 1 October. Likewise, notices for rent arrears which are below the threshold allowing for shorter notice periods should also be held back until after 1 October. The other option is to serve notices now but with the intention of serving a replacement notice after 1 October.
The regulations have not entirely got rid of the longer notice periods. Instead they are suspended until March 2022 so the suspension and longer notice periods can be quickly brought back. Presumably this is in recognition of the fact that we cannot be fully certain that the Coronavirus pandemic is behind us.
While Courts have been slower in the management of possession cases compared to pre-pandemic rates, there have not been the very large number of cases coming before the court that was anticipated. So cases are being processed and enforcement is taking places more quickly than was first thought. Hopefully the courts will start to recover and return to pre-pandemic rates of processing (or better) in the near future. However, things might get worse before they get better if there is an increase of possession cases once notice periods return to normal. We have experienced an increased stream of service of possession notices this year especially since the announcement of restarting of evictions. It remains to be seen whether the possession process will be revised and whether it will retain the additional Review Hearing, which inevitably slows the Court process down. Indications are that this will be abandoned but this is not yet certain.
As against this good news it is worth notice that possession fees will also be increasing shortly, alongside most other court fees, so the cost of proceedings will increase slightly.