Some landlords use an interim possession order to remove squatters, believing them to be a faster route than going straight for a possession order. We examine the facts.
How an interim possession order works
CPR 55.20 to 55.28 covers the process of obtaining an interim possession order (IPO). This can be made against “persons unknown”. The landlord (claimant) applies to the County Court local to the property. A hearing date will be set and notice must be given to the squatters within 24 hours of receipt of the documents.
Once an IPO is granted, notice must be served within 48 hours of sealing. If the squatters do not leave within 24 hours, or return within 12 months, they are committing a criminal offence and can incur a prison sentence.
The claimant will then apply for a final possession order. There is another hearing for this and the squatters must be served notice when the final possession order is made.
Service does not have to be made to the actual person; it can be served by fixing them to the door or another prominent part of the property, through the letterbox if possible, or by attaching it to stakes in the ground. Notice must be within a sealed transparent envelope addressed to “the occupiers”.
Interim possession order conditions
The are several requirements that must be met before an IPO can be made.
- The occupied premises must be a building, part of a building or land ancillary to a building. It does not apply to open land
- The claimant must have an immediate right to possession of the premises being occupied and that right must have existed for the whole time the premises were illegally occupied
- The claim must be made within 28 days of finding out the premises were being occupied
- An IPO cannot be used to evict former tenants, sub-tenants of licensees
- An IPO cannot be used if the claimant is also trying to recover damages
A word of caution: every single condition must be met. At the hearing for the final possession order, the judge could allow the squatters back if all the conditions have not been met.
Enforcing an interim possession order
If the squatters leave within 24 hours of notice, then no further enforcement is required.
However, if they don’t leave, the claimant would then have to rely on the police to remove them. It is a criminal offence by this point, so support should be forthcoming.
However, we have been told by many claimants that not all police forces are co-operating and many do not want to get involved (for whatever reason). The police officers in these cases are only using their powers of arrest if an offence is committed on the site. This leaves the claimant with little more than negotiation to fall back on.
These clients have instructed us to carry out the eviction because the police were either unable or unwilling to complete the eviction.
The claimant will then have to wait for the final possession order before he can instruct an enforcement agent (either a High Court Enforcement Officer or a County Court Bailiff) to carry out the eviction.
Whether an IPO is faster depends very much on the willingness of the squatters (and the police) to co-operate.
If they are likely to resist, then a Part 55 claim for a possession order may well end up being the faster route, where there will only be one hearing and the first and only time they are evicted is by the enforcement agent.
If the claimant transfers the possession order to the High Court for a writ of possession for enforcement by a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO), the HCEO is almost always able to conduct the eviction far quicker than a County Court Bailiff.
A possession order against “persons unknown” does not require any permission from the court to be transferred up to the High Court.
As the IPO cannot be used on open land, this rules out many cases of squatting and protests.
And finally, with an IPO there is no guarantee that it will succeed, as the judge could end up allowing the squatters to go back if the conditions were not all met.
This last point is vitally important, as it has been known for some enforcement agents from other firms to have enforce an IPO when they were not allowed to.
David is the former CEO of The Sheriffs Office.