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Court hearings in possession proceedings

This content applies to England

What happens at a court hearing .

For more detailed information see the section Court hearings.

Is there a defence 

At the hearing, the court must decide whether the claim for possession is 'genuinely disputed on grounds which appear to be substantial'.[1] This could involve not only deciding whether a ground for possession is proved in the light of any substantial defence, but also, for example, considering the technical accuracy of the service of the notice.

If the claim is genuinely contested, the court may give case management directions. If the court is able to decide the case on the evidence, the court will generally do so there and then.[2]

In making this determination, the court will need to consider the evidence put before it. Wherever possible, both the landlord and tenant should include all the evidence they wish the court to consider in their particulars of claim or defence.[3] Any witness statements that either party wishes to rely on must be filed with the court and served on the other party at least two days before the hearing.[4]

Witness statements

It is possible for the parties to rely on the evidence contained in the witness statements without the witnesses themselves having to attend court.[5] This would be appropriate where the evidence being given is not in dispute. However, if the evidence is in dispute, the court can hear the witness if present in court, or adjourn the hearing so that the witness making the statement can attend court to give oral evidence.[6]

This provision could be utilised by social landlords (local authorities, housing associations, etc) to prove service of notices, levels of arrears, etc where the appropriate housing officer is unable to attend court.

In addition, if relevant to any alleged rent arrears, the tenant should give evidence about any outstanding housing benefit payments, the status of any claim for housing benefit and any pending challenge against an adverse housing benefit decision.[7]

Case management directions

Where the claim is genuinely disputed on grounds which appear to be substantial, the court should give case management directions at the initial hearing.[8]

Case management directions are orders from the court about how the case is to be conducted before the final hearing. Most cases will be allocated to a particular 'track', determined by the type of case it is, its financial value and its complexity. The track a case is allocated to will have a significant bearing upon what sort of case management directions are made by the court and how, in general, the case will be managed by the court. For more information on the different tracks available, see the section on Preparing for court.

As well as having regard to the usual factors that apply to all cases when allocating,[9] the court must also have regard to:[10]

  • the amount of any arrears (if applicable)
  • the importance of vacant possession to the landlord.

The financial value of the property is not necessarily an important factor.[11]

Possession claims cannot be allocated to the small claims track unless both parties agree.[12] In practice, the vast majority of possession claims allocated to track will proceed in the fast track. Once allocated, the claim will proceed as normal to a final hearing. This could be anything from six to 12 months depending on the case management directions and how busy a local court is. In case of uncertainty, advisers should check with the listings officer of their local court.

Coronavirus guidance

HM Courts & Tribunals Service has published guidance for those attending court or tribunal hearings during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. The guidance will be updated when new advice is available.

[1] Civil Procedure Rules 55.8(2); Ceballos v Southwark LBC [2014] EWHC 1450 (QB).

[2] Civil Procedure Rules 55.8(1); Forcelux Ltd v Binnie [2009] EWCA Civ 854.

[3] Civil Procedure Rules Practice Direction 55 para 5.1.

[4] Civil Procedure Rules 55.8(4).

[5] Civil Procedure Rules 55.8(3).

[6] Civil Procedure Rules Practice Direction 55 para 5.4.

[7] Civil Procedure Rules Practice Direction 55 para 5.3.

[8] Civil Procedure Rules 55.8(2); Ceballos v Southwark LBC [2014] EWHC 1450 (QB); Forcelux Ltd v Binnie [2009] EWCA Civ 854.

[9] Civil Procedure Rules 26.8.

[10] Civil Procedure Rules 55.9(1).

[11] Civil Procedure Rules Practice Direction 55 para 6.1.

[12] Civil Procedure Rules 55.9(2).

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