Most landlords need to get a possession order from the court before a tenant can be evicted. There are several different types of court orders. The type of court order that can be made depends on your particular circumstances and the type of tenancy you have.
It's important to remember that not all tenants are entitled to a court order. If you are facing eviction and you're not sure of your rights, contact a local advice centre. It may not be too late, even if the bailiffs are on the way, but the sooner you get help, the better. Use our directory to find agencies in your area.
What is a 'possession order'?
Your landlord has to get permission from the court before he or she can evict you. This is called 'applying for possession'. If the court gives your landlord a possession order, this may lead to your eviction and end your legal right to live in the property.
'Possession' is a legal term that means the right to enter accommodation and prevent other people from entering it. Even if your landlord owns the property, you have the right to prevent them from entering your home without your permission while you are the tenant (unless you are an excluded occupier). At the hearing, the judge usually decides whether a possession order should be made and if so what type. It is possible for the judge to:
- make an outright possession order
- make a suspended or postponed possession order
- adjourn the case
- dismiss the case
- make a money judgment
See below for more information about each of these types of order. If your landlord applies for a possession order it is a civil matter and will be dealt with by the county court. Being taken to the county court is not the same as going to a criminal court. There is no risk that you will be sent to prison if you don't move out of your home before your landlord goes to court.
What is an 'outright possession order'?
If an outright possession order is given you have to leave the accommodation by the date given in the order. The date is usually 14 days after the date of the court hearing. However, if you are in an exceptionally difficult situation (such as if you are ill or have very young children), you can ask the judge to delay this for up to six weeks. If you want to do this you should tell the judge about it at the hearing.
Your landlord can apply to the court for the bailiffs to evict you, if you have not left once the date given in the possession order has passed. The time it takes varies depending on how busy the court is before the bailiffs come to physically remove you from the property, but you should get a few days' notice.
What is a 'suspended' or 'postponed' possession order?
The court may decide that your landlord has a legal reason to evict you but that it would not be fair to do so. In this situation the judge may decide to give your landlord a suspended or postponed possession order. This means that you can stay in your home as long as you keep to certain conditions. These conditions will be explained on the court order. For example, you may be ordered to pay off any rent you owe at a certain amount each week, or not to cause further disturbance to your neighbours.
If you don't stick to all of the conditions of the order and you have a:
- suspended possession order, your landlord can apply to the court for the bailiffs to evict you. This could happen very quickly and without advance warning
- postponed possession order, your landlord can apply to the court for a date to be fixed for when you have to leave. After this date passes your landlord can apply for the bailiffs to evict you
What does 'adjourning the case' mean?
The judge may decide that the case cannot be decided yet and that the hearing should be delayed. This is called 'adjourning the case'. It can be done either indefinitely or for a fixed period of time. This might happen if, for example,:
- your landlord says you have a certain type of tenancy but you disagree
- the judge gives you more time to sort out a housing benefit claim
- you don't owe much and you don't have a history of rent arrears
- the judge needs more evidence before making a decision
If the case is adjourned you may be given a date for another court hearing. Alternatively your landlord may be told to reapply to the court after a fixed period of time or if the circumstances of the case change. In the meantime you have the right to remain in your home. If you are behind with the rent you may have to pay a certain amount each week as a condition of the case being adjourned.
What does 'dismissing the case' mean?
The judge may decide that your case should be dismissed because there is no reason why you should be evicted. This is also known as 'striking out' a case. This might happen if:
- your landlord does not have the right to apply for possession
- your landlord has not convinced the court of a reason to evict you (when this necessary)
- your landlord has not followed the correct procedure for bringing the case to court.
If the case is dismissed you have the right to remain in your home with the same conditions as before.
What is a money judgment?
A money judgement is an order that says that you have to pay the rent arrears, regardless of whether you are evicted. This will affect your credit rating, which could make it more difficult to find a new home.
Can court orders be changed?
You might be able to apply to the court to have the possession order cancelled or suspended. This is only likely to be possible 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 you had the right 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
You may be able to vary the condition(s) attached to a suspended possession order. This might be possible if your circumstances change, for example if you are unable to keep up with payments because you have lost your job. It will be easier to do this if your landlord agrees with the change to the conditions.
To cancel, suspend or change an order, you will need to apply to the court by filling in a specific form. You may also have to pay a fee (although people claiming benefits or who have a low income may not have to pay this).
In some cases the court can set aside or cancel an order even after you have been evicted.
Paying court costs
If a possession order is made or if you leave the property after your landlord starts the court case but before the order is made, you may be ordered to pay some or all of your landlord's legal costs. Contact an adviser if you are in this situation.
Use Shelter's advice services directory to find a face-to-face adviser near you.