Landlords are challenging the pause in evictions put in place to protect households in financial difficulty because of the pandemic.
Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland wrote to enforcement bodies in October, asking them to pause repossessions in areas covered by Tier 2 and 3 restrictions.
He wrote to the High Court Enforcement Officers Association a second time at the start of November, asking for an extension of the delay except in cases relating to domestic abuse, anti-social behaviour, squatting or criminal activity.
He added that he was considering the introduction of a further exception for ‘extreme’ rent arrears which had been built up pre-pandemic.
But now solicitors acting for two landlords are asking for a judicial review into the legality of the Lord Chancellor’s actions.
The claim by JMW Solicitors said: “Our clients challenge the legality of the Lord Chancellor issuing letters or guidance to County Court Bailiffs and HCEOs and HM Courts and Tribunals Service adopting a policy which provides that warrants and writs of possession should not be enforced without appropriate primary or secondary legislation being approved by Parliament.”
Partner David Smith said: “Such an important decision cannot simply be made by writing a letter on a whim.
Many cases of rent arrears were in place before Covid-19 hit – and landlords must be able to tackle the most serious cases.
“This letter from the Lord Chancellor does not constitute a legal framework and has breached the landlords’ civil and human rights as well as usurping the power or Parliament.
This must be corrected, and quickly.”
Not the only one
Mr Smith is not the only objector to the action. Solicitor Giles Peaker recently described the guidance as ‘a complete farce’.
He said: “Evictions, or the lack of them, who gets evicted and who doesn’t, are not at the whim and fiat of the Lord Chancellor.
This needs to be put on a statutory footing immediately.
“I don’t know a single housing lawyer, no matter who they act for, who thinks this is lawful.”
For the renters
Speaking for the renters Generation Rent director Alicia Kennedy said: “The government had an opportunity to protect renters from losing their homes, and have instead chosen not to act.
“A non-binding pause on bailiff action is completely inadequate.
Eviction notices will be dropping through renters’ doors throughout lockdown, and the courts will be open the entire time, putting pressure on renters to move out while the pandemic rages on.
“Although the government has asked bailiffs not to enforce possession orders, it’s not clear if tenants are legally protected.
“In the event that a bailiff goes against the guidance, renters will have few options.”