Monday, 26 January 2015

Govan Law Centre and Children 1st launch new family support project in Glasgow

Govan Law Centre (GLC) has launched a joint project with Children 1st to improve the lives of over 60 ‘just coping’ families each year. We will provide legal services and money advice to families with young children who are already working with Children 1st in the Glasgow South.  The project is funded by the Scottish Legal Aid Board and will be led by Lorna Walker, senior solicitor at GLC, and Alison McLaughlin, money advisor with Children 1st (based at GLC).

GLC will work along side the many family and early years services run by Children 1st in Glasgow. Our  legal services will be aimed at families who are coping but whose debt and legal problems are in danger of becoming too much for them.  We will ensure these families can access appropriate  legal advice and representation alongside the intensive family support that the existing Children 1st services provide.

The project will also provide training to Children 1st staff so they can give basic advice and information, and ensure they have a basic understanding of the law as it relates to debt and benefits and that they are up to date with any changes.

GLC will run an advice service for family support workers and their clients; support family support workers who have complex cases; and take on legal case work referrals including defending evictions, appealing to social security tribunal and taking on judicial reviews and appeals to the Supreme Courts.

This is an exciting  innovative project and fits with GLC's aim to intervene early as we can before problems become even more stressful, complicated and expensive for our clients.  We will embed legal and advice services in existing models of family support, meaning we can intervene as early as we can to resolve immediate or escalating debt crises alongside other ongoing family issues, so that families can achieve the long term goals they are working towards with Children 1st.

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Saturday, 24 January 2015

Iain Nisbet appointed Convener to School Closure Review Panel in Scotland

The appointment of Govan Law Centre's Iain Nisbet as the first Convener of the School Closure Review Panel in Scotland has been confirmed.  Until now, school closure proposals that have been called in under the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 have been determined by the Scottish Ministers.  

Amendments made by the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 will change that process so that  school closure proposals that are called in by Scottish Ministers will be referred to the Convener of the School Closure Review Panels.  The Convener will be required to constitute a School Closure Review Panel to determine each individual case.

Mr Nisbet - is the Head of Education Law at Govan Law Centre, where he advises and provides training for parents, schools and education authorities on all aspects of education law.  He is the Chair of the advisory group on Additional Support for Learning, and a former Non-Executive Director with Education Scotland.  He was until recently, a member of the Parent Council of his local school.

This appointment will be for five years and will run from January 12, 2015 to January 11, 2020. This appointment is regulated by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland.

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Monday, 12 January 2015

First appointment to the Justice First Fellowship in Scotland announced

Deidre Flanigan
GLC is delighted to announce the first Scottish appointment of the Justice First Fellowship. The Justice First Fellowship is a prestigious new scheme established to support the next generation of students 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 social welfare organisations across the UK.

The first Fellow to be appointed in Scotland is Deirdre Flanigan. Deidre has an LLM in International Human Rights Law from the Irish Centre for Human Rights and an LLB in Law and a Diploma in Legal Practice from the University of Edinburgh. She was the Outreach Coordinator at the Scottish Human Rights Commission, her role was to assist civil society in taking a human rights based approach to their work and to engage more with the UN human rights system including treaty body reviews and Universal Periodic Review.
 
Deidre gained monitoring experience working for a human rights NGO in Nepal with a particular emphasis on the duty of the state to ensure accountability for human rights in a post-conflict society. She was a research consultant in developing Scotland's National Action Plan for Human Rights with a particular focus on economic and social rights including the right to an adequate standard of living.
 
She has also worked as an occasional case law reviewer for Oxford Publications of international criminal law cases and has additional experience with a criminal defence firm in Glasgow and a commercial firm in Argentina. She has volunteer experience in several fields including advocacy with a focus on the adequacy of living standards of temporary accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers.

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Monday, 15 December 2014

Back to the future? Scottish private sector tenancy reforms would leave tenants in a worse position than those in 1980

Govan Law Centre (GLC) has expressed dismay that the Scottish Government's proposed private sector tenancy reforms are considerably more regressive for tenants than the then Conservative Government’s introduction of the short assured tenancy in Scotland some 34 years ago.

The Government's proposals are set out in its document, 'Consultation on a new tenancy for the private sector'. The proposals appear progressive at first glance, with the suggestion of abolishing the 'no-fault ground' for eviction in short assured tenancies, however, when one reads further it becomes apparent the provision of greater security of tenure for tenants is wholly illusory as the Scottish Government set out eight new mandatory grounds of eviction that would enable landlords to choose to evict on the flimsiest of reasons.

In GLC's response to the consultation response we argue that the mandatory repossession grounds undermine the entire policy exercise:

In relation to rent arrears, the proposed ground 6 (three months’ arrears of rent) is in direct conflict with the will of the Scottish Parliament in legislating in the Homelessness etc., (Scotland) Act 2003 to provide a reasonableness defence for the current three months arrears of rent (ground 8, schedule 5, Housing (Scotland) Act 1988). Where is the evidence now that this defence should be repealed in relation to rent arrears which may be due to housing benefit errors or delays."

"The proposed new mandatory grounds 1 to 3 are couched in very weak language: the use of the word ‘want’ sets the bar very low. For example, it would not be necessary to provide evidence that a house was being marketed for sale, or that the mortgage lender had required a sale to repay the lending secured over the property.  Instead, all that would be required to evict a tenant in the private sector is that the landlord ‘wanted’ to move back in, or sell, or that their lender wanted to sell. In other words, there would be no need to establish an actual sale was taking place or that the landlord really did need to and was moving back into the property".

"Ground 4 is even more open to exploitation by landlords to the detriment of tenants: all that a landlord need say is that he or she intended to ‘refurbish’ to evict a tenant/family. What is ‘refurbish’? It might never materialise, or indeed it could be as little as painting a wall or installing a new sink. Why should this be a mandatory ground of eviction?"

"Ground 7 makes provision for a mandatory ground of repossession for ‘anti-social behaviour’. If the anti-social behaviour was a symptom of an illness or behaviour that had since been modified why should the tenant be subject to mandatory repossession? The requirement on the court to consider reasonableness is an essential requirement to ensure fairness and justice."

"Ground 8 enables a mandatory ground of eviction where the tenant has otherwise breached the tenancy agreement. Without the common sense protection of a defence of ‘reasonableness’ will tenants be evicted for the most minor contractual breaches?

Finally, we note PRS evictions will no longer be dealt with by the Sheriff Court and instead will be dealt with by the First Tier PRS Tribunal. This change in policy (for reasons of cost savings) does concern us because losing the roof over your head is such an important issue that it should be dealt with by an experienced and more senior judge.  We also question how can PRS Tribunals be seen to be genuinely impartial when their chairs are often part-time judges employed or engaged by landlords in private practice to undertake eviction actions?"
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Monday, 1 December 2014

Govan Law Centre welcomes FCA clamp down on payday loan 'brokers'

Govan Law Centre (GLC) has welcomed the Financial Conduct Authority's (FCA) new consumer credit rules for payday loan credit brokers as an essential measure to tackle the exploitation of consumers from a new breed of credit brokers  (the new rules will form part of the CONC rulebook with effect from 2 January 2015).

Customers across the UK looking for a payday loan online are regularly duped into thinking the company they are giving all of their personal information to is a payday loan company, when in fact it is a 'broker' who will typically charge a fee of £50 to £100 for passing on the customer's details to multiple third parties, who then often impose charges themselves.

GLC's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly said: "We believe payday loan brokers have been ripping people off for far too long in the UK. They mislead consumers into thinking they are the loan provider when in fact all they do is pass on data to the detriment of people who are then subjected to a series of unexpected charges taken from their bank account without informed consent, often from multiple third parties. We are confident the rules will protect most consumers - as once customers know the broker is proposing to charge them the equivalent of money for old rope, they will avoid these exploitative middlemen". 
Since July this year the Royal Bank of Scotland has reported that payday loan brokers have attempted to take money out of their customers accounts more than 1 million times - with 25,000 being successful - netting £1.1m, as against £60m if all attempts had been successful - for RBS/Natwest customers alone.  
The new FCA rules will ban credit brokers from charging fees to customers, and from requesting customers’ payment details for that purpose, unless they comply with new requirements ensuring that customers are given clear information about who they are dealing with, what fee will be payable, and when and how the fee will be payable.                                                 
The FCA’s concerns relate to:
  • a lack of transparency, resulting in consumers often not realising they are dealing with a broker rather than a lender;
  • fees being taken without informed consent, for example where terms and conditions are hidden or misleading;
  • consumers being misled as to the purpose of giving their payment details;
  • firms passing on consumers’ details, including their payment details, without informed consent, to other firms who also take a fee; and
  • consumers facing difficulty in identifying the firm that has taken a fee, and in obtaining a refund from the firm or a response to their complaint.
Thew new rules will also require credit brokers to:
  • include their legal name, not just their trading name, in all advertising and other communications with customers;
  • state prominently in all advertising that they are a credit broker and not a lender; and
  • report quarterly to the FCA listing their website domain names, if they charge fees to customers.
Consumers will also have a 14-day right of cancellation where credit broking contracts are entered into as distance contracts, for example online.
Over 40 per cent of consumer credit complaints received by the FCA relate to credit brokers, 80 per cent of which relate to firms who charge upfront fees. The FCA has also received relevant intelligence from consumer groups and others who are seeing increasing complaints from people who have had money taken from their accounts unexpectedly and often by more than one broker.
The FCA is investigating a number of credit broking firms; seven firms have been stopped from taking on new business and, to date, three further cases have been referred for enforcement action.

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