Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Scottish campaign launched for the first African law centre

TWO WELL-KNOWN SCOTTISH SOLICITORS have launched a campaign to raise funds to create the first community law centre in Africa.

Govan Law Centre’s Mike Dailly and past Law Society of Scotland President Austin Lafferty, want to see Scotland’s successful law centre model help provide access to justice and drive positive social change in Africa, with the first centre operating in Bamenda, the capital of the North West Region of Cameroon.

Human Rights Commissioner in Cameroon, Ms Laura Anyola Tufon said: “This project will be a life time reward to our poverty-stricken, legally uneducated and destitute populations in demand for justice. It will help curb corruption to a remarkable level as the target populations will be knowledgeable to work to uphold human rights and abusers will be brought to justice. My dream of rights conscious citizens and peace abiding people with ambition to contribute to sustainable development and make life worth living may be met in my life time”.

Mike Dailly said: “I’ve already undertaken an extensive scoping project in Cameroon and helped secure initial funding for a Child Protection Unit from the British High Commission in Yaoundé, operated by local justice activists in Bamenda. That project helped reunite victims of human trafficking with their families. Child and adult trafficking in Cameroon is most prevalent in the North West Region of the country.  The law centre would help tackle human trafficking, secure criminal prosecutions, recover unpaid wages and protect the rights of women and children”.

Austin Lafferty said“There is an overwhelming need and widespread national support for a community law centre in Bamenda. Scottish solicitors have trail blazed legal remedies and campaigns which have benefited Scots, and I’d like to see those successes replicated in Africa. The project would provide a pilot to demonstrate the value of the model with a view to securing repetition in the country, continued funding from alternative sources, and the viability of law centres being deployed in other sub-Saharan African countries”.

The service would be supervised by the co-ordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission in the North West Region, Ms Laura Anyola Tufon, who is also a Human Rights Commissioner in Cameroon. It would be supported and independently audited by Govan Law Centre. This is a bold project with the ability to lead to transformational social change locally, nationally, and much further afield if successful outcomes can be evidenced and demonstrated.


Monday, 14 April 2014

GLC's launches free illegal eviction 'advice card' to prevent unlawful evictions in Scotland

Govan Law Centre (GLC) has produced a handy pocket-sized card for tenants in the private rented sector in Scotland to advise them of their rights against unlawful eviction and harassment. The card is for use by Police Scotland, tenant advisors and representatives, and private sector tenants.

GLC is aware of particular problems of unlawful eviction and harassment in many parts of Glasgow, but the problem itself is of course widespread across Scotland in the private rented sector. Removing a tenant from their home - changing the locks - without a court order is not only a civil wrong but a criminal offence under section 22 of the Rent (Scotland) act 1984.

GLC is working with Police Scotland to avoid any misunderstandings and confusion in practice, where private landlords break the law and often go unpunished, while tenants are illegally removed from their tenancies.

Our card was written by GLC solicitor Christine McKellar, Govanhill Law Centre solicitor Rachel Moon, and GLC's Prevention of Homelessness Project's Garry Burns.

Monday, 31 March 2014

New national advocacy service launched in Scotland for children and parents

A new national advocacy service, Let’s Talk ASN, to be run by Govan Law Centre (GLC) and charity Kindred, will be launched tomorrow (1 April 2014) to replace the existing Take Note service. As reported in TES, the centre expects a “significant increase” in referrals regarding ASN issues, the most serious of which can mean that children end up missing school for several months.

Calls to GLC's own education law helpline have risen from 638 in 2011-12 to 1,159 after only 11 months of this financial year – and the vast majority have been related to ASN issues. The final figure is expected to reach up to 1,400 calls.

GLC's Iain Nisbet, head of education law at the centre, said that calls frequently came from parents or disability groups concerned that a service had been withdrawn after funding had disappeared or a staff member had been redeployed.

Calls covered the “full spectrum” of needs, he explained, and might mean that a child with a sensory impairment could not follow a teacher’s instructions, or that a student with complex medical needs would no longer have someone to assist with taking medicine. In one case he knew of, a child who required oxygen to be administered lost specialist support and subsequently missed two months of lessons, returning later only on a part-time basis.

“A child can end up missing months of school or there may be a requirement for the parent to come in and effectively do the job, which is not possible in every case,” Mr Nisbet said. Another common issue was insufficient support as disabled teenagers moved into adulthood, with some councils neglecting their duty to plan for that transition. “We get a lot of calls from people in May or June saying ‘My child’s leaving school in a month and we don’t know what they’re going on to’,” he said.

The new service’s recruits include Glasgow’s former head of special educational needs, Margaret Orr. It is now seeking volunteer advocates, including teachers, to deal with demand. But Mr Nisbet stressed that there were “plenty of examples of good practice” around ASN education in Scotland. “Certainly, we’re not saying that the system is universally bad,” he said.

Dave Hayhurst from Tain, in Highland, went to Govan Law Centre when he and his wife were unable to get their severely disabled son, Alfie-Ray, into what they believed was the best school for him. Alfie-Ray, 6, has autism, sensory processing disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and is almost entirely non-verbal. His parents were told just before Christmas that no space was available at the school, but in late February a place materialised after the centre intervened.

“We would fight to the death for our son, but other parents, like single parents, don’t have the time or the energy to get into a battle – I feel very sorry for them,” Mr Hayhurst said.

Monday, 10 March 2014

No evidence to justify discrimination on the grounds of age in the allocation of Scottish social housing

Scottish Housing News has reported today that the Chartered Institute of Housing, SFHA, COSLA, and ALACHO and the Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations have rejected claims that allowing social landlords to allocate housing based on age, will not lead to unfair discrimination in the allocation of social housing in Scotland for certain age groups.

The trade bodies for social landlords and local authoritities have rejected claims made by Govan Law Centre, Shelter Scotland, and a number of other national homeless and children charities, that removing the current restriction against taking age into account in the allocation of social housing (in section 20(2) of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987) would lead to young people being unfairly discriminated against in the allocation of social housing.

In dismissing the claims made by Scottish charities who represent the interests of tenants, David Bookbinder of the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland was reported to have said the concerns "were not backed up by evidence" and claimed "this measure will help deal with very specific situations and won’t in any way lead to social landlords ignoring their important duties under the Equality Act 2010. The Bill actually reinforces the requirement for landlords not to unfairly discriminate on the grounds of age".

Govan Law Centre's view is clear. We believe: "There is no independent evidence that removing the ban on taking age into consideration in allocating social housing would serve any useful purpose. Moreover, the Scottish Government did not consult on this proposal, and it appears to have by-passed the normal democratic route for open scrunity in the development of public policy in Scotland".

"We can understand why trade bodies representing social landlords are backing the right of their members to be able to refuse to allocate social housing to a tenant based on age, but unlike them we don't represent the interests of landlords; we only represent the best interests of tenants of all ages. Allowing discrimination based on age is a regressive and unnecessary step in Scottish housing law".

Friday, 21 February 2014

Tribunal finds Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs in contempt of court as Govanhill Law Centre recovers £20,000 in tax credits for client

Govanhill Law Centre - part of the Govan Law Centre Trust - acts on behalf of a number of A8 and A2 nationals in the field of social welfare law. In December 2011 we published a report ‘Unequal and Unlawful Treatment: Barriers faced by the Roma Community in Govanhill when accessing welfare benefits and the implications of section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.’

A particularly difficult case relates to a Slovakian National who has resided in the UK since September 2007.  She is a single parent with two dependant daughters, born July 2002 and April 2004. Our client received tax credits in 2008.  In or around July 2010 tax credits were withdrawn. 

Our client appealed against the decision to terminate payment of tax credits. Correspondence became increasingly protracted, information was sought and supplied by our client, however, HMRC declined payment and continued to request the same information over and over.

HMRC would not accept that our client had qualifying children and repeatedly refused her application for tax credits in spite of birth certificates, national identity cards and letters from the local school confirming the same.  In November 2011 our client was advised that she would receive tax credits, however this was then withdrawn.  Correspondence continued, however no progress was made. 

The opinion of advocate Joe Bryce was sought in an effort to assist this particularly vulnerable client.  There has been chronic maladministration by HMRC, particularly in dealing with A8 Roma. There have been unreasonable information requests, unlawful retention of documents, a presumption of fraudulent behaviour, the imposition of different and unnecessary procedures and inordinate delay.

There was no progress in this case since the April 2012 when an appeal against the March 2012 decision because HMRC has never referred the appeal to the Tribunal.

GhLC solicitor Donna Morgan said: "Counsel was of the view that the client did not need to wait for the HMRC to notify her appeal to the Tribunal; she could do it herself, with our assistance. The Tax Credits Act 2002 permits this unusual approach, so far as we are aware this is the first successful appeal from an individual direct to the tribunal".

"Many direction notices were issued by tribunal services giving HMRC the opportunity to respond, which they failed to do to such an extent that HM Tribunal and Court Services found HMRC in contempt of court".

GhLC caseoworker, Jitka Perinova said: "Shortly thereafter HMRC issued letters confirming that backdated payment would be made from November 2010 to February 2013 would be paid.  Substantial sums totallling almost £20,000 have now been paid to our client improving her quality of life and that of her two children".