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Mistakes in notices: useful guidance from the Court of Appeal

Earlier this month the Court of Appeal decided the case of Captain Nigel Crighton Pease v Jeffrey William Carter and Louise Mary Carter. The case concerned whether statutory notices of proceedings for possession, served under section 8 of the Housing Act 1988, containing an incorrect date for the commencement of proceedings, had been validly served.

Background

Captain Pease (the landlord) had granted the Carters (the tenants) an assured shorthold tenancy of premises at Barnard Castle, County Durham. The tenants were in arrears of rent which resulted in the landlord serving notices of proceedings for possession under section 8 of the Housing Act.

A section 8 notice must state the earliest date on which court proceedings can be brought, which cannot be earlier than 2 weeks from the date of service of the notice. In this case, the notices were served on 7 November 2018 and stated that court proceedings would not begin until after “26 November 2017“, when they should have stated 26 November 2018.

The Mannai principle

Of central importance in this case was the decision of the House of Lords in Mannai Investment Co Ltd v Eagle Star Assurance Co Ltd (1997). This decision made clear that minor defects in contractual notices will not necessarily invalidate a notice if a reasonable recipient “would not have been perplexed in any way by the minor error“. The Mannai principle is often relied on by a party that has served a notice containing an obvious error.

However, the Mannai principle will not save all minor errors or mistakes in notices. As was explained in Mannai: “If the clause had said that the notice had to be on blue paper, it would have been no good serving a notice on pink paper, however clear it might have been…“.

First instance decision

At first instance the judge held that the section 8 notices had not been validly served.

Although the judge at first instance, applying the ‘reasonable recipient’ test laid down in Mannai, considered that a reasonable recipient of the notices would have realised that the intended date for commencement of the proceedings was 26 November 2018, the judge concluded that the Mannai principle did not apply to statutory notices, including notices served under section 8 of the Housing Act.

The Appeal

The Court of Appeal carried out a detailed review of the authorities and, contrary to the judge at first instance, concluded that the Mannai principle does apply to statutory notices: “If a reasonable recipient would appreciate that the notice contained an error… and would appreciate what meaning the notice was intended to convey, then that is how the notice is to be interpreted“.

However, the Court of Appeal made clear that it remains necessary, when dealing with statutory notices, to consider whether the notice complies with the relevant statutory requirements or, at least, “fulfils the statutory purpose“.

In relation to the notices in question, the judge considered that they “did serve the statutory purpose of giving the Tenants at least two weeks’ warning of the commencement of proceedings” notwithstanding the error.

This is a helpful decision which clarifies that the Mannai principle can apply to statutory notices. However, more importantly this case serves as a useful reminder that it is always best to make sure notices are correct first-time round: nobody wants to end up in the Court of Appeal, having incurred significant legal costs, arguing over the validity of a simple notice.

Captain Nigel Crighton Pease v Jeffrey William Carter and Louise Mary Carter [2020] EWCA Civ 175