Thursday, 27 August 2015

In rooting out slum private landlords, Glasgow needs contingency plans to accommodate displaced occupiers in Govanhill

A £9.3m ‘buy-out’ scheme that will bring substandard private rented sector housing into social ownership in Glasgow's Govanhill was discussed on STV Glasgow last night by Govanhill Law Centre's Senior Solicitor, Rachel Moon, and Anne Lear, Director of Govanhill Housing Association. Govanhill Law Centre (GhLC) is part of GLC.

The Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council initiative is part of a two year program whereby funds will be used to buy around 80 properties through Govanhill Housing Association. Initial stages have been to build a team of staff to investigate who is living in the properties, and public meetings have been held at some of the worst addresses to gauge the interest of landlords in selling to the housing association.

When asked about criticisms that the scheme would miss the main people it was trying to target without compulsory purchase powers, Ms Lear advised that whilst they were trying to go along the route of voluntary sales in the first instance, the council had confirmed that compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) was not ‘off the table’. The issue of using CPOs was the first case GhLC took on when it launched on 19 November 2008 in Govanhill on behalf of the then Leader of Glasgow City Council, recognising the need to tackle substandard housing in private landlord ownership. 

GLC welcomes the public money to be spent in Govanhill. All too many private landlords in the area act with impunity and exploit vulnerable residents. However, GLC believes provision must be made for those existing tenants and residents. Many of the properties targeted are in a state of disrepair, and overcrowded and existing occupiers will be displaced by the buy-out. 

Many displaced residents will have to apply for alternative accommodation through applying for a housing association property (many of whom have long waiting lists) and many will be forced to present as homeless for emergency accommodation. In the long term, hopefully there will be more sustainable and more suitable housing for the most vulnerable families in the community, but the short term consequences should not be ignored in GLC's view.  

It is understood Govanhill Housing Association share these concerns, and Govanhill Law Centre looks forward to working with the Association and other stakeholders to bring about a contingency strategy for these tenants to make sure that they don’t slip through the net.

Glasgow City Council has applied for Govanhill to obtain ‘Enhanced Enforcement Area’ status. This would give the local authority greater powers to enter and take action against recalcitrant landlords. We support this. GLC hopes that all local organisations can work together to root out the slum private landlords in the area.

Tenants are subjected to extreme disrepair, infestation and lack of services and extortionate amounts are being paid to landlords. Letting agents exist which are not real organisations. Names are registered on the Private Landlord Register which bear no resemblance to the tenancy agreement. People are being illegally evicted in increasing numbers. It will take strategic and targeted action to make sure that these private landlords are rooted out. 

We are working closely with the police to ensure that those landlords and letting agents are brought to justice under the Rent (Scotland) Act and there are a number of cases which have been reported to the Procurator Fiscal in recent weeks after a targeted approach.
  
Despite the high levels of public investment through housing benefit, and the effect on communities and tenants health and employment opportunities, there is no effective regulatory body to act as a check on the Private Rented Sector in Scotland. This is why Govan Law Centre has called upon the Scottish Government to introduce legislation to create a national regulatory body with legal teeth to raise standards and prosecute landlords and letting agents who break the law.


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Monday, 13 July 2015

GLC's Principal Solicitor admitted as a solicitor advocate

Mike Dailly (far left), Christine McLintock,
President, Law Society of Scotland (centre) and
newly admitted solicitor advocates in Scotland
Govan Law Centre (GLC) is delighted to announce that Mike Dailly has been admitted as a solicitor advocate with extended rights of audience in the Court of Session, UK Supreme Court and Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in civil cases.

Mike has been Principal Solicitor at GLC since September 1999, and has worked with the Board and colleagues to grow the law centre, and develop the range of specialist legal services which it now provides across Scotland.

He has a strong interest in several legal areas, including housing, public law, human rights, financial services and consumer rights law and regularly undertakes contentious litigation on behalf of GLC clients. The ability to represent clients in the superior courts, and the skills acquired during the extended rights of audience course, has already benefited GLC's clients, and will also assist GLC as it takes its new Public Interest Litigation Unit forward working with key stakeholders and partners.
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Friday, 26 June 2015

GLC's Public Interest Litigation Unit gets underway in Scotland

Govan Law Centre has been working to establish a Public Interest Litigation Unit which aims to offer a new service to advice agencies, charities, community groups and campaigners across Scotland. 

We have already identified some significant test cases affecting tens of thousands of vulnerable Scots which we are currently progressing, in partnership with a national charity in Scotland.

Our Public Interest Litigation Unit (PILU) seeks to advance human rights, equality and financial inclusion through the use of strategic public interest litigation in Scotland.

We will have a particular focus on mitigating the impact of the austerity agenda, with its resultant cuts to welfare benefits and essential public services. Public interest litigation is the use of legal action which seeks to advance the cause of minority or disadvantaged groups or individuals, or which seeks to progressively advance issues of significant public concern.

PILU's remit cuts across all areas of unmet legal need (for example, public law and judicial review, disability and welfare rights, social work law, consumer credit and financial services, housing, health and education law, to name just some legal areas).

Where an advice agency, charity, community group or campaigners think they may have a potential issue/case where there is an injustice with a wider public interest we may be able to help.

Our criteria for undertaking research and litigation will include our assessments on whether there is (a) an unmet legal need (b) strategic public interest in Scotland or the UK (c) a stateable legal case and (d) whether we have sufficient funding for litigation.

We will be able to offer access to in-house solicitor advocates and a range of specialist in-house legal experience. Services will include identifying strategic legal arguments supported by case law, producing legal opinions, developing test case strategies, working with solicitor advocates and advocates in the progress of test cases, and developing and supporting wider campaign plans.

To discuss whether our PILU may be able to assist please e-mail in the first instance Deirdre Flanigan on pilu @ govanlc.com The PILU is headed up by our Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly, with the support of the legal team at Govan and Govanhill Law Centres.

We are also interested to hear from any advocates, and solicitors in private practice, who may be interested in giving up some time to work with our PILU, or any other ideas that you may have to co-operate in the development of more effective strategic public interest litigation in Scotland. Please feel free to e-mail pilu @ govanlc.com as the first point of contact.


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Thursday, 25 June 2015

Financial barriers by housing associations puts prevention of homelessness at risk in Scotland

Govan Law Centre (GLC) is concerned that some social landlords in Scotland have now introduced major financial barriers which are stopping homeless people from accessing their statutory rights to permanent accommodation.  See the Evening Times article on this issue here.

For example, it is now common place in Glasgow for a homeless person - legally entitled to an offer of a permanent tenancy from a housing association - to be told he or she will only be granted a lease by the association if they pay the first month's rent 'up-front'.  This is an insurmountable barrier for many homeless people, who are either in receipt of benefits or low wages - both of which are paid in arrears - and trying to cope with the mental and physical stress and anguish of homelessness.

GLC believes that this change in policy by some registered social landlords has and will undermine the Scottish Government and COSLA's progressive strategies to prevent homelessness in Scotland.  The policy change also demonstrates a failure by some housing associations to properly consider the needs of vulnerable people. 

GLC's Prevention of Homelessness Senior Manager, Alasdair Sharp, said: "While it is standard practice in the private rented sector for one month's rent to be required in advance; Scottish housing associations receive significant public subsidy, enjoy charitable status and numerous statutory powers".

"The reason for is, is because the Scottish Government and Parliament recognises the fundamental need for social housing in Scotland - and that fact it has a different role to play than the private sector. Social landlords enjoy a privileged position to ensure that the most vulnerable and less advantaged in our society are treated justly and fairly. GLC believes that demanding advance rent from homeless households is at odds with the ethos and role of social landlords. More worryingly, it undermines prevention of homelessness and financial inclusion strategies in Scotland".

GLC believes the Scottish Government should give consideration to using its delegated powers to issue statutory guidance (under section 5(7) of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001) to clarify that it is not acceptable to require an advance payment of rent as a condition of a person being accommodated as a homeless person; as well as putting the issue beyond any doubt by inserting an appropriate ancillary clause in the forthcoming Housing (Scotland) Bill to amend the 2001 Act accordingly.


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Tuesday, 26 May 2015

GLC research reveals systemic failure of councils to meet education duties for 'looked after' children in Scotland

Research conducted by Govan Law Centre has revealed widespread failure by Scotland’s local authorities to meet their education law duties for looked after children.
 
In terms of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, every looked after child with additional support needs must be assessed for a Co-ordinated Support Plan (CSP). There is a legal presumption that looked after children do have additional support needs (unless the reverse is proved).
 
Figures from freedom of information requests sent to all 32 local authorities in Scotland show that:
 
• Of 12,533 looked after children with additional support needs, only 6,374 have actually been assessed for a CSP, leaving almost half – 5,799 unassessed
 
• Of the 6374 who have been assessed, only 368 have been deemed as requiring a CSP. This is only 2.9% of looked after children with additional support needs – a drop from 5.1% in 2013
 
• Despite having a right of appeal, none of the 6,374 cases local authorities claim to have assessed have been appealed, calling into question both the robustness of the process and whether local authorities are respecting the rights of children in their care.
 
• The number of looked after children after assessment deemed as requiring a co-ordinated support plan varies greatly, from 46.7% of those assessed in Highland to only 0.7% in East Ayrshire.
 
Iain Nisbet, Head of Education Law at Govan Law Centre said:
 
“These duties have been in force for nearly 5 years and local authorities are still failing to live up to their legal duties towards looked after children. In fact, we suspect that many of those the authorities claim to have assessed have not been given their full legal rights, illustrated best by the total absence of any appeals.  The system is failing thousands of children right across Scotland, leaving them to the poorer educational outcomes and life chances we know looked after children face.”

“The reason these duties were introduced by the Scottish Parliament is that often looked after children do not have effective parental advocates to stand up for their rights. Govan Law Centre pointed out these failings to Ministers, who have oversight and powers of direction over Councils, in 2013 and we are doing so again now to highlight that little has changed in the intervening years.  Our figures show that too few authorities are respecting the rights of looked after children, and it is now time for the Scottish Ministers to do so instead.  We are calling for an urgent meeting with the Cabinet Secretary and for swift and robust action to tackle the repeated failures of Scottish Councils.”


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