Section 8: Back to Basics

From time to time it is important to go over old ground. It can be easy to lose track or just need a quick reminder of the basics of possession cases.

Section 8 notices, as I’m sure you are all aware, can be used as a vehicle to gain possession of the property whilst at the same time obtaining the rent arrears that may have developed. There are a number of different situations that can trigger the requirement of a Section 8 notice which could be scrutinised in an incredible amount of detail. With regards to this blog entry, I am going to focus more specifically on the mandatory and discretionary grounds and how they differ in the courts eyes in particular with relation to the more common grounds for possession i.e. grounds 8,10 and 11.

The Housing Act 1988 s.7(3) stipulates that when the court feels that any of the grounds listed in Pt 1 of Sch.2 of the 1998 Act are satisfied then possession must be granted for that property. If this is compared to Pt 2 which substitutes the phrase ‘must be’ with the far less convincing ‘may be’ then it starts to become clear why having mandatory grounds is infinitely more desirable that simply pinning hopes on discretionary grounds. As a general rule we as a firm only advise issuing proceedings on mandatory grounds unless the evidence is particularly strong on discretionary, as we have found that judges tend not to be too receptive to the idea of handing over possession of the property to the landlord and making the tenant potentially homeless, unless there is overwhelming evidence against them or the mandatory grounds have been met.

The most commonly used of the grounds for possession are 8, 10 and 11. Ground 8 is mandatory whereas 10 and 11 are discretionary. If for example the tenant at this point pays some of the rent arrears to the landlord, enough to just about drop below the 2 month minimum requirement (if it was a monthly rental period) to claim ground 8, it would mean the claim would be resting on discretionary grounds which, as explained earlier, are far from reliable, particularly in matters involving rent arrears. The discretionary grounds in cases such as this service the role of supporting the mandatory ground and are normally too weak by themselves to satisfy possession criteria. As soon as the mandatory ground is lost the case for the landlord is generally lost along with it.

This is not always the case. However, if a mandatory ground can be relied upon it is preferable to do so rather than assuming possession will be granted on discretionary.

With discretionary grounds, on the making of an order for possession, the court can postpone the order for as long as the court sees fit. In this period the court will normally issue certain conditions with regards to the payment of the rent arrears as well as any other conditions that the court deems applicable. If these conditions are followed, the court can discharge or rescind the possession order if it sees fit. Can you see the pattern here? The level of discretion available to the court is illustrated by the repeated use of the term ‘if the court sees fit’. The only discretion available to the courts when it comes to mandatory grounds is a delay from the usual 14 days to a maximum of 6 weeks in cases of exceptional hardship, but this in itself has a high threshold in which to satisfy.

In light of the above costs need to be considered and proceedings against a tenant to gain possession is not an insignificant sum. To risk this sum on the courts discretion, particularly when the order for possession would result in the tenant being made homeless, may not be the best course of action.

This blog has been drafted in response to a comment. Thank you for your continued support Valerie.

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