Good Service is more than just Good Business
In a recent unreported case in the County Court at Central London (Sajid v Nuur, 30 July 2018), a Claimant (Landlord) had brought a claim against a Defendant (a former Tenant) and attempted to serve the claim at an address which the Claimant knew the Defendant had left some two years before. It could be fair to say the Landlord should well have known – as it was his own property!
The claim itself was for rent arrears which the Claimant Landlord (C) alleged the Defendant Tenant (D) owed under a tenancy agreement for the property D had rented from C. 22 months after D had moved out of C's property, C issued a Claim Form for the unpaid rent.
C then served the Claim Form at the property, knowing D had left nearly 2 years previously, and quickly obtained default judgment for D's failure to defend the claim (of which she was unaware).
In a later appeal against the default judgment, D argued that the Claim Form had not been properly served under the requirements of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 ("CPR").
The CPR Requirements
Part 6 of the CPR sets out the rules on service of documents generally, whilst CPR Rule 6.9 contains the specific requirements where a defendant has not provided an address at which they may be served.
The provisions of CPR 6.9 do allow service of a Claim Form at a defendant's usual or last known address. However, this is not a blanket allowance to serve the Claim Form at an address that it is known the defendant once lived at, and, in certain circumstances may demand further investigations are made by the claimant.
Such further investigation will be required where the claimant has reason to believe that the defendant no longer resides at that last known address. Where this is the case, the claimant must take reasonable steps to find out the defendant's current address (under CPR 6.9(3)).
If such reasonable steps are taken and an alternative address cannot be identified, the claimant must consider whether there is an alternative place or alternative method by which the defendant may be served (CPR 6.9(4)(b)).
Only if an alternative place or method cannot be ascertained is the claimant permitted to rely on serving at the last known address of the defendant (CPR 6.6).
The Application of the CPR
In the present case, the Court decided that C should not be permitted to rely on CPR 6.6 as there were alternative methods by which D could have been served which were not considered by C (including serving on D's previous solicitors and notification via text to D's daughter's mobile phone – which had previously been used as a method of communication between C and D).
Points to Take Away
It is clearly very important to carefully consider the service requirements when taking such an important step in a claim as bringing the claim to the defendant's attention (i.e. service of the claim). Simple reliance on rules which allow service at the defendant's last known address will fall short if the further inquiries which may be required are not made. This could potentially mean the downfall of an entire claim, so a methodical approach to considering all of the relevant rules should be applied to avoid later potential problems.