Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Paul Laverty discusses casework and social policy experiences with Govan Law Centre

Members of the team at Govan Law Centre (GLC) were delighted to meet Paul Laverty this morning to discuss a wide range of social and legal issues affecting many people across Scotland and the UK.

The discussion with the 'I, Daniel Blake' writer was far reaching and passionate; from zero hours contracts and the gig economy, the private rented sector and rising household costs, consumer credit and debt, self-employment, bankruptcy, repossession, eviction and homelessness.

Paul practised as a Scots lawyer in Glasgow before becoming an international award winning screenwriter working with Ken Loach and the production company Sixteen Films.  With outstanding films such as Carla's Song, My Name is Joe, Bread and Roses, Sweet Sixteen, and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, GLC staff were honoured to assist Paul's research for his new project.
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Friday, 21 July 2017

Consumer Action Group visits Govan Law Centre

(From right) Dee Flanigan, Candy Walker, Marc Gander,
Mike Dailly and Lynn Fraser
Marc Gander, founder of the UK online consumer self-help community the Consumer Action Group dropped into Govan Law Centre (GLC) today.
Marc met some of the team at GLC and discussed various issues of benefit for consumers across the UK, with GLC's Mike Dailly.

Mike and GLC had worked very closely with Marc and members of CAG throughout the UK unfair bank charges campaign from 2004 to 2008, with CAG producing excellent self-help materials, free online support to litigants and strategic assistance along with GLC in bank charges litigation across the UK, together with Ray Cox QC and MoneySavingExpert.com.

CAG has over 385,000 registered users online, providing essential free support and tools to consumers across Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England.  Marc also enjoyed an afternoon tour of some key Govan landmarks and local history.
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Monday, 10 July 2017

Secretary of State for Scotland asked to advocate for vulnerable Scots affected by Jobcentre Plus closures

Govan Law Centre (GLC) has written to the Secretary of State for Scotland, Rt Hon David Mundell MP, expressing concern over the impact that the closure of ten Jobcentre Plus offices will have for vulnerable Scots. Six of the offices to be closed are in Glasgow.

GLC has called upon the Secretary of State for Scotland to ask the Prime Minister to reconsider this decision, which failing for Mr Mundell to advocate for a robust  strategy to mitigate the impact of this decision.  In our view that means revising the Claimant Commitment so those people affected are not subjected to unfair and unethical benefit sanctions, and to place Universal Credit on hold in affected areas. The text of the letter is set out in full below.


Rt Hon David Mundell MP,
Secretary of State for Scotland
Dear Mr Mundell  
 
Impact from the closure of Jobcentre Plus offices in Scotland

I am writing to you on behalf of Govan Law Centre (GLC) following the DWP’s decision to close six Jobcentre Plus offices in Glasgow. The offices to be closed are Langside, Parkhead, Easterhouse, Bridgeton, Anniesland and Maryhill.  
 
Our concerns apply equally to those other parts of Scotland losing Jobcentre Plus offices: Port Glasgow, Broxburn, Alexandria and Edinburgh. 

We are deeply concerned that this decision will act as a barrier to vulnerable people in Scotland accessing the social security system. The consequence of this will be an increase in homelessness, mental illness and other health problems, poverty, and human misery in Scotland.

As Secretary of State for Scotland we would ask if you would be willing to make representations to the Prime Minister to reconsider this decision – even at this late stage – which failing to advocate for the introduction a robust strategy to mitigate the prejudicial impact of this decision.

For example, in the localities where Jobcentre Plus offices will be closed it will be necessary to revise the ‘Claimant Commitment’, otherwise claimants will be subject to unfair, unethical and punitive sanctions to social security benefits.  Sanctions which may be impossible to avoid due to the cost and additional travel time following new geographical considerations.

Likewise, it will not be feasible to apply for online Universal Credit as there will be no access to computers in those Jobcentre Plus offices which are closed. People cannot simply use library facilities as they are not confidential, are already in use for many other purposes, and are not designed for this specific function. Universal Credit should be put on hold in these localities.

I look forward to your response at your earliest convenience.

Your sincerely

Mike Dailly
Solicitor Advocate
& Principal Solicitor

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Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Three things to remember when making a homeless application in Scotland

Govan Law Centre (GLC) is circulating information across Glasgow in our Prevention of Homelessness Rights Hubs to try and help people avoid common pitfalls when making a homeless application.

We've seen an increasing pattern where some people are indadvertedly prejudicing their legal rights through common mistakes. We have put together three straightforward messages to try and counter this:-

Don’t be put off. You’ve a right to get somewhere to stay. You might be told about ‘housing options’ or that there is no temporary accommodation available so come back later. Don’t be put off. If you are homeless or threatened with homelessness you have a right to make a homeless application. If you are homeless you have a right to obtain accommodation until the council makes its final decision.

Only give up existing accommodation if it’s an emergency. If you leave your home without a good reason you might be ‘intentionally homeless’ which means the council don’t have to give you a tenancy.  Always take free legal advice before you decide, unless it’s an emergency in which case put your safety first.

Never refuse an offer of a tenancy without taking advice. If you’ve made a homeless application and get an offer of a tenancy never just refuse it. If you do the council can say they have ‘discharged’ their duty, which means they don’t have to help you anymore. Instead, you can appeal it. Govan Law Centre can provide free legal advice how to appeal.


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Friday, 23 June 2017

How we can make Scots law more fair for consumers

This article first appeared as a column in the Sunday Herald on 18 June 2017.  Here GLC's Mike Dailly explains how we can make Scots law more fair for consumers.

It goes without saying that any good legal system should treat everyone equally. But what happens when it’s stacked in favour of a particular group of people? This can happen by accident as opposed to unfair design.

Scotland’s legal system has a number of injustices that seriously disadvantage consumers. These would be easy to fix in a Scottish Government Bill, especially as the Government in Scotland has already been reviewing ‘diligence’ – the process of enforcing debts.

Here are just a few that are in need of fixing. Getting on the rung of the homeowner ladder is elusive for most people these days. In practice young people or students starting-out will generally look to rent in the private rented sector.

It’s not unusual for landlords to look for a ‘guarantor’ – usually Mum or Dad, who is asked to sign a separate agreement guaranteeing any defaults by their tenant son or daughter. Sounds reasonable, but these guarantee agreements generally have a clause allowing the landlord to ‘register them for execution’. This means they can claim any sum without having to prove the debt in court.

In practice this is misused. I dealt with a case recently where the landlord had registered the guarantee agreement in the ‘Books of Council and Session’ in Edinburgh, claiming thousands in rent and damages to the flat. It was nonsense, but registration allows the landlord to obtain the equivalent of a court order.

This is clearly unfair. It’s completely one-sided, with no opportunity for you to challenge what could be an entirely fictitious claim. The first you might know about anything is when sheriff officers knock on your door.

In theory this could lead to you being made bankrupt, or worse still threaten the loss of the roof over your own head. In the case I was involved in, a court action had to be raised to interdict the use of the registered agreement, and ask a judge to reduce or cancel it. But the point is no private creditor should be able to get the equivalent of a court order on nothing more than their own say so.

This doesn’t only occur with guarantee agreements, it can happen to any homeowner in Scotland who has a dispute with their factor or neighbour. Under the 2004 Tenements (Scotland) Act, a property manager or neighbour in a tenement can register a ‘Notice of Potential Liability’ of a debt in the Land Register.

There is no need to prove the debt. The fact it’s registered against your title deeds means it is unlikely you will be able to sell your home without paying it. This system is open to abuse without any requirement for independent scrutiny. It was only three years ago the Scottish Government got round to introducing a form for the notice to be removed.

One of the most ubiquitous forms of injustice can occur with council tax disputes. You may be entitled to a single person discount, or council tax benefit, or perhaps the figure has just been miscalculated. Disagreements over council tax can hang around someone’s neck like an albatross.

Your local authority will often simply proceed to send what they think is your bill, together with a 10% surcharge to the sheriff court, who will issue a ‘summary warrant’. This is like a court decree. Since April 2008, you can now apply to the court for time to pay if you accept the debt.

But if the figure is wrong, technically you have a right to apply to the local Valuation Appeal Committee. Most people aren’t aware of this route, although even if they are it’s not fast, and doesn’t help if your council has passed the warrant to sheriff officers who are threatening various forms of recovery.

Local authorities in Scotland are also the worst offenders for making people bankrupt for arrears of three thousand pounds or more – even if they are disputed. Once bankrupt, with legal and trustee fees, plus 8% statutory interest, a debt of £3,000 can mushroom into £15,000 to £20,000. This isn’t in the public interest, especially, if the original debt was wrong.

A final example of an area of law in need of reform must be the Scottish Government’s Debt Arrangement Scheme. It was designed to enable people in financial difficulties to obtain respite to make payments to their creditors in a manageable way.

In practice, people who use the Scheme end up paying back 100% of their debts over 7 to 8 years. Once discharged from the Scheme their credit rating may be affected for up to six years. Contrast this with trust deeds, which you can access from private firms. You can pay back as little as 10% of your debts over four years.

Why do we have a public scheme that offers no real incentive to Scottish consumers, giving them an impaired credit rating that could last as long as 14 years? The balance is wrong. There is an easy fix these problems. It just takes the will to do it.

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