The accelerated possession procedure
This urban myth is really due to the rather inappropriate name used for this procedure. The accelerated possession procedure is a special process you can use to get a county court order for possession. It can be quicker than the ‘standard’ procedure, but not always. It can only be used for assured shorthold tenancies.
Section 21 notices
For a start, before you can use the accelerated procedure at all, you need to have served an notice seeking possession on the tenant under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988.
The minimum notice period you can give is two months. This will often be longer, for example the notice cannot expire before the end of the fixed term of the tenancy (so if you serve it four months before the end of the fixed term the notice will have to give a four months notice period).
Also if you serve it after the fixed term has ended, the notice period will need to give a date which is the last day of a period of the tenancy, so the notice period will be between two and three months, depending on when in the month it is served.
Therefore in many cases, you may have a rather long wait before you can use this procedure. Note that you need to be careful when drafting your section 21 notice as they can be problematic.
The accelerated possession procedure
The procedure is called accelerated because in most cases the Judge makes the order based on the paperwork, without the need for a court hearing. When the Judge does this will depend on how quickly he does his ‘box work’. This may vary depending on how busy the court is. However in my experience, assuming all goes well, you can expect to get the order back in the post about six to ten weeks after posting off the application.
If something goes wrong
However, for the Judge to make the order, you need to have perfect paperwork. If there is something wrong with your application, or if the defendant puts in a defence which seems viable (for example if the tenant claims that he has never received the section 21 notice) then the Judge will set the case down for a hearing. Normally the case is listed fairly soon, but I have known courts list the case over three months later (for example in a case where the Judge reserved the matter to himself).
Alternatively the Judge may decide to dismiss your application. If this happens you will either need to serve another section 21 notice and wait a minimum of two months before starting again, or (if the Judge is wrong, or if are entitled to your order but just made a mistake when drafting the court forms) you will need to try to get the case before the Judge again so he can review it.
I have known two cases where this has happened in the past few years. In the first, the Judge had made a mistake and once it was pointed out to him, the order was amended immediately. In the other case, an important point had been left off the claim form. We got the order but after a delay of some three months, as the Judge gave us leave to amend after which the papers had to be re-served and possession applied for again. So do be careful when drafting your court forms!
Enforcing your possession order
Even once you get the order, this is not the end of the story. Firstly, the tenants can apply to the court for more time, in cases of ‘exceptional hardship’. Judges views of what exceptional hardship means is fairly flexible, but at least (for this type of claim) they cannot allow the tenant more than six weeks from the date the order was made.
Then if the tenants have not left by the date in the court order for possession, you will need to make an application for the County Court bailiffs to go round and physically evict the tenants. In some courts you can get an appointment in about two to three weeks, but in many courts (particularly the busy London courts) you will face a wait of six to eight weeks.
Using the High Court Sheriffs
Note that there is a process available whereby the order for possession can be transferred to the High Court after which the enforcement can be done by the High Court Sheriffs (who will normally give you a date in a few days). However this is considerably more expensive than the £95 bailiffs fee.
If you are interested, the service is provided by the Sheriffs Officers Sherbond.
To see the rest of my ‘Urban Myths’ series click here. For more information about the cartoonist Wil click here.
Find out more about our DIY Guide for evicting tenants under section 21.
What is your experience in using the accelerated procedure? Have you received your orders earlier or later than the times given here? Have you had any problems getting orders made where the Judge has wrongly dismissed the case?