NOTE: – see important change from 1st October 2018 – my note here
Now some of you may remember that in a previous life (when I really was Coventry Man) I worked for a firm who acted for some major social housing providers. They, unlike private landlords, usually let properties on assured tenancies (rather than assured shorthold tenancies) and played a much longer game. If a tenant was in arrears then they were quite prepared to let them pay off the arrears by instalments and sometimes they encouraged this by getting possession orders that were suspended on payment of say
“the current rent as it falls due plus the arrears of £800 at the rate of £100 a month, commencing on 1st November.“
Now from time to time, indeed surprisingly often, the tenants would fall down on the payments and we would issue a warrant for possession and the tenant would be stirred up by a visit from the merry County Court bailiff who would give them an appointment for eviction in 4 weeks, and the form to apply to have the warrant suspended, so they could rush back to the court and explain to the cynical DJ why they had failed to keep the promises that they had made only a couple of months ago.
This might happen several times before either they got their priorities in order, or the DJ lost his remaining patience and the eviction went ahead.
Now it always surprised me that we could get the warrant issued just on our say-so. We signed the Request and cerified that they were in arrears and that was that. Indeed, if there were more complicated terms, such as the removal of a noisy dog, or the clearing of rubbish from the garden, we still just had to certify that they were in breach. No evidence was needed. Naturally our clients were fair about things, and my colleagues were decent honest and truthful, but I couldn’t help think that not everybody was like that, and that the courts were being very trusting, especially when more and more litigants were doing without lawyers and acting for themselves.
Anyway, things have changed now, and when the bits of the County Court Rules that governed enforcing judgments and warrants (rr25-26) were taken into the CPR in April 2014 (along with RSC 45-47) the powers that be took the opportunity of tigntening things up. I hadn’t noticed because I have moved on and don’t act for social housing providers any more, but it would seem that before you can apply for a warrant for possession after a suspended order you have to get permission by making an application supported with evidence.
The rules are in CPR 83.2 and spell things out pretty clearly:
This rule applies to—
warrants of possession.
A writ or warrant to which this rule applies is referred to in this rule as a “relevant writ or warrant”.
A relevant writ or warrant must not be issued without the permission of the court where—
under the judgment or order, any person is entitled to a remedy subject to the fulfilment of any condition, and it is alleged that the condition has been fulfilled; or
An application for permission may be made in accordance with Part 23 and must—
identify the judgment or order to which the application relates;
if the judgment or order is for the payment of money, state the amount originally due and, if different, the amount due at the date the application notice is filed;
where the case falls within paragraph (3)(c) or (d), state that a demand to satisfy the judgment or order was made on the person liable to satisfy it and that that person has refused or failed to do so;
give such other information as is necessary to satisfy the court that the applicant is entitled to proceed to execution on the judgment or order, and that the person against whom it is sought to issue execution is liable to execution on it.
An application for permission may be made without notice being served on any other party unless the court directs otherwise.
Now the problem is that there is no reference to any of this on the form of application for a warrant – N325 – which is the form needed under r83.26. Indeed there are several references in the order that make it look as if nothing has changed:
A judgment or order for the recovery of land will be enforceable by warrant of possession.
An application for a warrant of possession—
may be made without notice; and
must be made to—
the County Court hearing centre where the judgment or order which it is sought to enforce was made; or
the County Court hearing centre to which the proceedings have since been transferred.
Without prejudice to paragraph (7), the person applying for a warrant of possession must file a certificate that the land which is subject of the judgment or order has not been vacated.
When applying for a warrant of possession of a dwelling-house subject to a mortgage, the claimant must certify that notice has been given in accordance with the Dwelling Houses (Execution of Possession Orders by Mortgagees) Regulations 2010.
Where a warrant of possession is issued, the creditor will be entitled, by the same or a separate warrant, to execution against the debtor’s goods for any money payable under the judgment or order which is to be enforced by the warrant of possession.
In a case to which paragraph (6) applies or where an order for possession has been suspended on terms as to payment of a sum of money by instalments, the creditor must in the request certify—
the amount of money remaining due under the judgment or order; and
that the whole or part of any instalment due remains unpaid.
You always had to certfy this sort of thing. The difference is that you shouldn’t apply for the warrant at all before you get permission under r83.2(3). Easily overlooked.
Well, what happens if you get it wrong, and haven’t got permission and the court doesn’t notice? Because the issue of a warrant is dealt with by the court office, not the DJ, and court offices are busy understaffed places. Is your warrant invalid, and can the tenant get it set aside? Or can you rely on good old r3.10 that allows the court to fix things when there has been a mess-up by somebody:
3.10 Where there has been an error of procedure such as a failure to comply with a rule or practice direction –
(a) the error does not invalidate any step taken in the proceedings unless the court so orders; and
(b) the court may make an order to remedy the error.
There has been some interest in this among the frantically overworked heroes who represent tenants expecting immenent eviction, as some courts and DDJs had one idea and some had another, and there has now been a decision by the CA in Cardiff CC v Lee  EWCA Civ 1034 .
The CA decided, after some navel-gazing, that if the failure to apply for permission was “an error of procedure” then an application under r3.10 could put things right. In the particular case the tenant had applied to set aside the warrant anyway without success so the facts had been examined and nothing would be gained by going into things again, so the court below had been right to allow the warrant to go ahead.
Had the failure to apply been intentional however they might have taken a different view. And given there has now been a case in the CA on this point, which is being reported and commented on in interested circles (like here), it is going to be much harder for any landlords who merrily sign the N325 without getting permission to enforce first.
Applications can be made without notice and dealt with on the papers, but it will mean another delay of several weeks in most courts before the order can be enforced in any event.
As usual this is covered in the Nearly Legal blog in a lot more detail that I do here. However, you all know this now, so there’s now one less thing to trip over.