Slightly unexpectedly today (10 September) Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced further restrictions on landlord possession claims. I started this with “slightly unexpectedly” but that is a phrase I have been using rather a lot recently, and so the reality is that everyone involved in the private residential sector should just expect the unexpected at the moment. At least this announcement was made late on a Thursday and not late on a Friday before a bank holiday weekend!

Anyway, the SOS’s announcement repeated measures which I have written about already, such as the extension of notices to 6 months. However, there were also new announcements about limits on the use of County Court Bailiffs to evict tenants once a possession order has been made.

There will now be no evictions in the period running up to and over Christmas as Bailiff’s will not enforce orders over that period. However, there is no clarity on when the “run-up” to Christmas commences. Presumably, the MHCLG takes a different view of this from John Lewis, for example who have already opened their Christmas shop! It is also unclear when this stay ends. Will evictions be allowed from 4 January? The announcement states that evictions will still go ahead in cases of anti-social behaviour or domestic violence. Again, this is slightly unclear as the statement says that evictions will occur in “serious circumstances” and gives these examples. That is not to say that other cases might not also allow for eviction. This echoes the normal position in France where evictions are not permitted during the winter at any time, not just as a Covid measure.

Additionally, the statement says that evictions will not be allowed in areas of local lockdown. It is slightly more specific than this and says that eviction will not be allowed in local lockdowns where there is a restriction on gathering in homes. But this is maddeningly unclear. From next week the entire country is under a restriction preventing more than six people gathering in people’s homes. Presumably this is not what the SoS means and he is referring to lockdown more like the one recently introduced in Bolton where people from different households may not meet at all. It will be interesting to read the rules that will bring this into effect.

It’s is also worth noting that the SoS repeated that the court will be opening on 20 September which landlords will see as good news. However, there have been last minute u-turns before and I would not rule one out now. The statement also reiterates the new requirement to provide a statement of information about the effects of Covid-19 on the tenant and states that judges can adjourn cases without this. I would see this as a clear statement that judges will be encouraged to adjourn cases without such a statement and so this is something that landlords and other possession claimants will need to get right.

This will create a further layer of confusion and uncertainty. Doubtless there will be landlords and tenants seeking to work out of the lockdown in their area qualifies for eviction limitation or not. In addition, court operation areas do not match with local authority areas and so there is bound to be some confusion at the edges of lockdown zones. I would also expect there to be a bit of a rush in some cases to try and get evictions in before the Christmas eviction stay kicks in.

Yet again, we find the rules changing before they even come into effect. How many more changes we can expect before Christmas is anyone’s guess.