Changing possession orders
This content applies to England only.
Housing laws vary between England and Scotland. Get advice relating to Scotland
A possession order is a court order that ends your right to live in a property.
If a possession order has been made against you to evict you from the property, it may still be possible for the courts to make changes to it in some circumstances. You might be able to apply to have the possession order cancelled (set aside), to change the conditions of the order, or to delay the date of eviction.
It is very important to get specialist advice if an order has been made against you and you want to avoid becoming homeless. You will probably need to act quickly and ensure that you use all the proper court forms and procedures. Use our directory to find a local advice agency that can help you.
Can I cancel the possession order?
You will probably only be able to cancel the possession order if it should not have been granted in the first place.
This might be because:
- you did not receive the court papers
- you did not know that you had rights to defend your case
- you did not attend the hearing
- you did not reply to the court in time, you had a good reason for this, and if you had been able to reply in time, the court would have made a different order or no order at all.
Cancelling the possession order is known as 'setting it aside'. In addition to setting aside the order for possession, the court has a number of other options available to them. The court may take no further action or it may also:
- order the case to be heard again
- vary the order, or
- postpone the possession order
Applications to set aside an order need to be made to the courts. If you require help, get in touch with an adviser immediately. An adviser can help you complete the court papers and prepare a witness statement to provide supporting evidence as to why the order should be changed. In some cases the court can set aside or cancel an order, even after you have been evicted.
What if I did not attend the hearing?
It will depend on why you did not attend the court hearing but the most common reason for an application to be set aside is that you did not attend court when the possession order was made. An application on this basis can sometimes be used even after you have been evicted.
The court will normally look at several factors when deciding whether to set aside a possession order, including:
- whether you acted quickly after finding out about the possession order
- whether you had a good reason for not attending the court (illness)
- whether you would have had a reasonable prospect of success if you had attended the court
- if it would it be unjust not to set it aside
- and any other relevant matters.
There are no clear rules to define 'acting quickly' or what is a 'good reason' for not attending the court. This is a complicated area of law, so get advice if you think this might apply to you - use our directory to find an advice centre in your area.
Can I stay in my tenancy?
If the court sets aside the possession order, it is as if the order had never been made. The court will tell you whether you need to attend another hearing and the procedure involved. If you haven't done so already, get in touch with an adviser - use our directory to find one.
Making an application to the court to set aside the possession order does not automatically stop the court bailiffs carrying out an eviction. It is always advisable to ask the court to suspend any warrants at the same time as you apply for the order to be set aside. If you know that a date has been set to evict you, you should also contact the bailiffs to tell them you have applied to stop the eviction.
Can I delay the date for eviction?
If the possession order can't be set aside, the court may still be able to delay the date for eviction. The court can only do this if you have a certain type of tenancy. See our page on stopping the bailiffs and get in touch with an adviser for further information.
Can I change the terms of my postponed (suspended) order?
Possession orders are often postponed or suspended, on condition that you keep to the terms of an agreement, such as repaying rent arrears in weekly amounts. You can ask the court to change the terms of the agreement in certain circumstances, for example if your finances have changed, making it difficult to repay the agreed amount.
The court will not automatically agree to change the terms of the order, and is less likely to agree if you have a bad record of rent repayments or have not kept to previous agreements. Speak to an adviser to get help with applying to change the terms of the agreement.
What evidence will I need to provide?
You should set out your supporting evidence (eg reason you missed a rent payment, details about change in income, details of outstanding Housing Benefit claim) in any applications you make to have the case re-heard, or for the possession order to be varied, set aside, or delayed.
Get help from an adviser to make sure you have provided all the evidence needed. You will probably have to pay a fee for any application, although people claiming benefits or on a low-income can be exempt. Use our directory to find an adviser in your area.