Last night, as housing law twitter (yes there is such a thing) did what it does, this tweet from @marieajparis definitely caught my attention
My client applied to suspend a warrant yesterday afternoon, and told his bailiffs that he had Covid symptoms and was waiting for his test results. Bailiffs proceed to do a lateral flow test this morning and evicted him before the app. could be heard. Dangerous on many levels!
— Marie Paris (@marieajparis) July 1, 2021
(If you can’t see the tweet, it says “My client applied to suspend a warrant yesterday afternoon, and told his bailiffs that he had Covid symptoms and was waiting for his test results. Bailiffs proceed to do a lateral flow test this morning and evicted him before the app. could be heard. Dangerous on many levels!”)
It became clear that the bailiffs were High Court Enforcement Officers, not County Court bailiffs. It also became clear that the tenant had obtained an injunction for re-entry because an application to set aside the possession order had been made before the warrant was issued (although the Judge on the application took a dim view of the bailiff’s approach.
It also became clear that the HCEO set up involved claimed that they were following guidance from the High Court Enforcement Officers Association. The firm involved shall, for now at least, remain nameless, but I know who it is.
Now, to be clear, I have absolutely no idea whether this was guidance from HCEOA, misinterpreted guidance from HCEOA, or the firm was basically making things up. It would not be the first time that such things were made up, to be honest.
The current (post 31 May 2021) Govt guidance is:
bailiffs have been asked not to carry out an eviction if they have been made aware that anyone living in the property has COVID-19 symptoms or is self-isolating.
Note that is not ‘unless you make them do a lateral flow test and it is negative’ (58% accuracy) or ‘they didn’t register as having a temperature on a temperature gun’.
But this is the problem with ‘guidance’. We saw this before, when the govt laughably attempted to ban evictions by writing to bailiffs asking them not to evict people. Either this is put on a legal footing or you will get creative interpretations like this HCEO set up.
That said, if there is actually any guidance from HCEOA that suggests that High Court enforcement officers can carry out (or force people into) on the spot lateral flow tests, or temperature checks, when deciding whether to evict someone with Covid symptoms, it needs to be rescinded loudly and immediately. I think steps are underway to bring this to the attention of the senior Chancery and Queen’s Bench masters, for them to get the message to the HCEOA.
In the meantime – waves at HCEOs – if someone has covid symptoms, DON’T EVICT THEM. A couple of weeks delay as against a potential (and tricky) claim against you? And no, you have no right at all to administer or demand a lateral flow test. None, none whatsoever….