Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Ombudsman writes £100,000 off on 'irresponsible' loan secured on Glasgow couple's home

A Glasgow couple who borrowed £20,000 on a APR of 16.2% over 40 years - at a whopping total cost of almost £124,000 - have been successful in arguing that their lender failed to undertake a proper affordability check, had overridden its own lending criteria, and irresponsibly sold an unaffordable product to the couple, which was secured on their home.

The couple, respresented by Govan Law Centre, could not pursue a claim against their independent financial advisor (IFA) firm, which had since folded, and the lender sought to hold the IFA responsible for any failing. The Ombudsman held that 'I did not consider that White Label had properly assessed how the loan would be affordable so far into Mr and Mrs C's retirement'. The Ombudsman ordered the lender to release the couple from the current loan agreement, effectively writing-off £100,000 in terms of the secured loan agreement.

The couple's solicitor, GLC's Mike Dailly said: "This is a fantastic result for our clients who would have otherwise been looking at repossession. It raises two important principles; first, that a lender is ultimately responsible for their own product and cannot always avoid liability by pointing to a third party financial advisor who sold their product as an intermediary, and secondly, a lender has to adhere to its own lending criteria and make sufficient enquiries to assess affordability".

The Ombudsman's Final Decision is here.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Govan Law Centre participates in UK launch of the Justice First Fellowship - opportunities for legal traineeships for those committed to social justice and social welfare law

Justice First Fellowship is a prestigious new Scheme established to support the next generation of students in the UK committed to public interest and social justice issues who want to pursue a career in social welfare law. The Scheme has been established by The Legal Education Foundation, in partnership with Govan Law Centre and other organisations in the social welfare law sector.

Govan Law Centre is one of seven organisations in the UK participating in the Justice First Fellowship, other partners include Coram Children's Legal Centre, Coventry Law Centre, Deighton Pierce Glynn, Greater Manchester Immigration Unit, Staffordshire North and Stoke on Trent Citizens Advice Bureaux, and the Public Law Project.

This is the first year of the Scheme, and it will focus on law graduates that have passed the Legal Practice Course or Diploma in Professional Legal Practice and are seeking to complete their training contract before taking up a role in social welfare law. The aim is that the Fellowship Scheme will come to be seen as a respected route to a career in this important area of law, with Fellows going on to become leaders in their field and important advocates for access to justice and the rule of law.

In 2014, the Fellowship has three parts. To provide:
1.      Training contract placements for law graduates seeking to pursue a career in social welfare law;
2.      Fellows with time and resource alongside their traineeships to develop and implement a project that will advance access to justice in some way;
3.      Additional support, training and opportunities for Fellows to gain skills and feel part of a wider movement of people committed to access to justice.

For more information and how to apply please visit the Justice First Fellowship website here; please note that applications cannot be made until Monday 8 September 2014, when the application process goes live.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Glasgow tenant with learning disabilities wins bedroom tax appeal with help from Govan Law Centre

Govan Law Centre (GLC) has secured a successful appeal at the First Tier Tribunal in an unusual case. Our client has learning disabilities and experiences a high level of anxiety. She has lived in her tenancy for some years and has an essential support network in her local area.

Agencies involved with our client were of the opinion that to move home would cause her extreme distress and be detrimental to her health. Our client is unable to deal with paperwork and benefits did not understand the concept of the underoccupancy charge or the process of applying for discretionary housing payments. Our client had accrued rent arrears  before she accessed support to secure discretionary assistance and this had caused her to experience high levels of anxiety.
In addition, being advised that discretionary housing payments were not guaranteed and had to re-applied for caused her great distress. It was recognised that our client did not have a specific need for an additional bedroom. She said herself she did not ask for an extra bedroom when she was allocated her tenancy and suggested that she would board it up if this would stop her being charged for this room.

Rather our client had a specific need, due to her disabilities to remain in her current home. It was an irrefutable reality that she was unable to detach her ‘spare’ room from her home, Our client's need to remain in her current accommodation, due to her disabilities and health needs were not considered by the bedroom tax regulation.
We submitted that this was discrimination against our client and that the provision of discretionary housing payments did not temper this discrimination in our client’s case. We asked that the local authority made additional no discretionary payment for our client so as to comply with their Public Sector Equality duties. This was accepted by the Tribunal.  The client was represented by Claire Findlay, welfare rights and financial inclusion officer with GLC's Prevention of Homelessness Project.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Up to £10m could be refunded to Scottish homeowners for 'unfairly charged' legal expenses

GLC is today publishing a successful decision of the Financial Ombudsman Service where our client, a Scottish homeowner, obtained a refund of £1,500 from Santander UK plc with respect to half of the legal expenses he was charged in a mortgage repossession case.

The legal background
The case concerns a lender who had raised mortgage repossession proceedings in Scotland where the borrower had got into arrears of his mortgage but the case had to be dismissed from court as it was incompetent standing the ruling of the UK Supreme Court in RBS v. Wilson [2010] UKSC 50. The lender then had to re-raise proceedings in court.

The legal expenses for the incompetent case came to £3,000, and the Ombudsman has ruled that it was neither the borrower or lender's fault the case had to be dismissed following the UK Supreme Court decision which changed what everyone understood the law to be, and 'it seems fair, under the circumstances, for the cost to be shared'.

In paragraph 18  (opens as PDF) of the CML's response to the Scottish Government's consultation on the RBS v. Wilson case, the CML estimated between 3,000 and 5,000 repossession actions were dismissed in Scotland as incompetent, standing Wilson. Taking an average expenses figure of £1,500, we may be looking at a figure of £7.5m due to be refunded to consumers in Scotland based on the attached Ombudsman's decision.

And there are then the cases dismissed as incompetent following Govan Law Centre's (GLC) NRAM v. Millar and RBS v McConnell 2012 SLT (Sh Ct) 58 test cases, in relation to a failure to comply with the Pre-Action Requirement statutory provisions.

We are not sure of the approximate number of cases dismissed because of these cases but the number is not insignificant. Again, applying the rationale of the attached Ombudsman's decision we may be looking at around £3m, producing an overall figure of in the region of £10m of costs which consumers in Scotland may be able to have refunded.

What does this mean for you?
If you were taken to court for mortgage repossession in the last few years and the court proceedings had to be dismissed or re-raised on competency grounds, then you may well be affected by this issue, and may entitled to a refund of at least 50% of the legal expenses in one of those cases. You can speak to your solicitor or advisor to check whether you may be able to claim.

If you already think you are affected by this issue then you can write to lender asking for a refund yourself - here is an illustrative letter (keep a copy of this letter too for your own records and in case you need to prove you made a complaint).

Your lender has 8 weeks to deal with your complaint, and if they are unwilling to offer you a refund you can then make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service, details on how to do so are set out here: http://www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk/consumer/complaints.htm

* For the sake of completeness, GLC did invite the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) and its members to make arrangements for voluntary refunds, where appropriate, but this suggestion was declined by the CML who insisted that their members were entitled to recover full legal expenses even where incompetent legal proceedings had been raised and were required to be dimissed by the court.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

GLC recruitment opportunity for an Additional Support Needs Caseworker

Additional Support Needs Caseworker (funded by the Scottish Government).
£24,738 per annum
34 hours per week
Contract : Fixed Term until 31 March 2017

As part of the Let’s Talk ASN national advocacy service (delivered in partnership with Kindred), you will provide advocacy and support to parents and young people with educational issues that may require to be determined by the Additional Support Needs Tribunals for Scotland.  Experience in working with children and young people with additional support needs and their families and in advocacy in a Tribunal context highly desirable.

CV and covering letter to Govan Law Centre, 18-20 Orkney Street, Glasgow G51 2BZ or admin@edlaw.org.uk
Deadline: 4pm on 18 June 2014.  Job and person specification (opens as a PDF).