Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic we published a series of articles and news items covering the key changes in the law relating to residential possession proceedings, commercial property, statutory demands and winding up petitions and company law.
In line with the Government’s current direction of travel, many of the temporary measures and restrictions have now expired or been revoked. This note covers the very latest position.
Residential Possession Proceedings
The notice periods for seeking possession of residential premises let under assured shorthold tenancies have – as of 1 October 2021 – gone back to the pre-pandemic position. For a no fault section 21 notice, this is a minimum period of 2 months. For a fault based section 8 notice, the notice period will depend on the grounds relied on.
Changes were made to the prescribed forms for giving notice during the pandemic. It is therefore important that landlords accurately identify the correct prescribed form of notice to serve.
Restrictions on actual bailiff evictions (following the making of possession orders) have also now all been lifted, save that current guidance to bailiffs is that if there is someone living in a property who is self-isolating or displaying symptoms of Covid-19 the warrant of possession should not be enforced.
The most significant development is that the restrictions on landlords seeking to forfeit leases for non-payment of rent have expired (as of 25 March 2022). Similarly, measures to protect landlords (to prevent them accidently waiving a right to forfeit) have lapsed.
In the same vein, restrictions on taking control of a tenant’s goods (where there are commercial rent arrears) ended on 25 March 2022. If you are dealing with arrears that arose between 25 April 2020 and 25 March 2022, then the restrictions may still apply – advice should be taken on your specific circumstances. However, if you are dealing with arrears arising after 25 March 2022, then the restrictions on powers to take control of goods no longer apply.
However, new legislation – the Commercial Rent (Coronavirus) Act 2022 – contains provisions that ring fence rent debts built up as a result of mandated business closures during the Covid-19 pandemic. In relation to such debts, the Act introduces a new binding arbitration process aimed at resolving disputes if landlords and tenants cannot agree on a way forward. If the parties cannot resolve matters themselves, there is a six month window in which either party can refer the matter to a new arbitration scheme. Landlords will be unable to exercise their usual remedies in respect of such debts during this period, and whilst the arbitration is in progress.
The government has also introduced a Code of Practice for commercial property relationships following the Covid-19 pandemic. Amongst other things, it provides guidance on the arbitration process, the evidence that will be considered and the principles arbitrators will apply.
It remains the case that rent arrears accruing during the pandemic will be treated differently in the context of opposed business lease renewals.
Statutory Demands, Winding-up and Insolvency
After 31 March 2022, the insolvency regime has returned to its pre-pandemic operation. This means that there will no longer be restrictions on the service of statutory demands and the issuing of winding-up petitions. It also means that the minimum debt amount for a winding-up petition in respect of a company reverts to the pre-pandemic figure of £750.
As noted above, however, there do remain some restrictions (under the new Commercial Rent (Coronavirus) Act 2022) if you want to rely on a statutory demand or a winding-up petition in relation to arrears of commercial rent.
The other point of note is that the periods where directors could not be at risk of wrongful trading claims (i.e. continuing to trade a company when it is insolvent) are at an end.
Company Law Matters
One of the main temporary changes in company law was the ability for companies to hold virtual meetings during the pandemic. However, this temporary relaxation expired on 30 March 2021. Whether or not a company can now hold a virtual meeting will depend on its articles of association.
Similarly, there was a Covid-19 related extension for filing deadlines for company accounts and similar, but this was only in place between 27 June 2020 and 5 April 2021. There is scope for extending an accounting reference date by up to 3 months, if this is needed.
Companies House also briefly suspended its voluntary and compulsory strike off processes for companies, but this brief suspension also came to an end in March 2021.
Generally, if you are dealing with a company law point and you are wondering whether there are still any relaxations of rules in force as a result of Covid-19, probably the best starting point is to assume that there are none. If it is an important matter, we recommend that you take proper advice.
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