Saturday, 26 April 2014

Housing (Scotland) Bill must be amended to protect tenants and prevent homelessness in Scotland

This week the Housing (Scotland) Bill received approval at Stage 1 in the Scottish Parliament, however, Govan Law Centre believes the bill contains some regressive and unnecessary provisions, but most of all is a missed opportunity to provide meaningful protection for tenants, especially in the private rented sector, and prevent needless homelessness in Scotland.

We believe the bill can be amended to deliver real protection and positive change for Scottish citizens, and we will be working with MSPs across all political parties to try and achieve this. In addition, we believe more research and work is required to resolve some particularly acute housing problems in Scotland, which we have identified. Below is a summary of our calls, which are more fully set out in our Parliamentary Briefing on the Housing (Scotland) Bill available here as a PDF. If you support any of these calls, please write to your local MSP(s) and ask them to support them please.

1  Age/Allocation
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 scrutiny in the development of public policy in Scotland. GLC hope to work with MSPs to bring forward an amendment to protect young persons from less favourable treatment in the allocation of housing by reason of their age.

2  Tenancy Support/Prevention of Homelessness
When a family or person becomes homeless there are support services put in place in order to help them through their homelessness journey. At GLC we do provide excellent interventions in relation to stopping evictions across Glasgow however we feel that there is more which can be done to help stave off homelessness. Govan Law Centre believes there is considerable scope for requiring local authorities and registered social landlords to support and facilitate access to independent sources of advice and support for their tenants not only prior to court action but also during court proceedings. We believe such duties should be backed up by primary legislation.

3  Private Landlord Registration (PLR)
The PLR scheme is a registration facility for private landlords. Currently it would appear that their main focus appears to be about registration with almost no enforcement powers at their disposal. Most PRS landlords that come to GLC attention are in fact registered but this does not modify their behaviour in acting poorly as a landlord with many cases showing they at times act illegally.  We believe there is scope for a national statutory body to be given additional powers and resources to regulate and better enforce and co-ordinate the PRS. It would be possible to give such a role to an existing national statutory body in Scotland in order to minimise cost implications.  However, we believe our suggestion would ultimately lead to major cost savings on the public purse by preventing unlawful activity and homelessness in the PRS.

4  Private Rented Sector
We also believe that private rents are excessively high for tenants, particularly if they are on low or modest incomes. The rights of private sector tenants need to be strengthened. The Scottish Government should carry out a review of the PRS in Scotland with a focus on unaffordable housing, and tenancy arrangements which create instability for those who are living with Short Assured Tenancies.

5  Recording those who disappear from the system
The most recent report on homelessness carried out by the Scottish government show that between 9%-10% of all applications "lost contact before assessment, withdrew or were ineligible". GLC would like to see these figures recorded in a more accurate way so that a true picture of those who lose contact is recorded.  GLC calls on the Scottish Government to carry out a review on this matter urgently so that local authorites are not failing in their statutory obligations, and vulnerable people do not lose out in relation to their statutory rights.

6  Private Hostels
Many of our most vulnerable and chaotic citizens are stuck living in very poor conditions in private hostels. Such establishments are well known to those who live in Glasgow, particularly those who work in homelessness and it is a Victorian response to a homelessness problem in 2014. GLC calls on the Scottish Government to use the current Housing Bill to introduce a scheme of registration and regulation for these types of private hostels. At present these hostels do not come under the Care Commission’s remit. We think they should. This would drive up standards in the sector, and ensure that those who were not fit to run such establishments were unable to do so. 


Thursday, 24 April 2014

GLC publish free schools 'Placing Request Appeal Toolkit' for parents and young people in Scotland

Govan Law Centre's Education Law Unit has published a 'Placing Request Appeal Toolkit' as a free self-help guide for parents and young people in Scotland who are not happy with a decision from their local council in relation to a school placing request.

The GLC self-help toolkit provides a step-by-step guide on how to challenge a council's decision, how to make an appeal to a local authority Education Appeal Committee, how the procedure operates, and explains the different types of arguments, providing an illustrative appeal letter, and where to go for additional legal help.

Please note GLC does not have the resources to undertake mainstream placing request appeals, as its Educational Law Unit is focused on cases involving children and young people with additional support needs. The guide was written by GLC's education law solicitors Iain Nisbet and Sarah-Jane Kissock. 

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.