Saturday, 3 December 2016

Thousands of consumers in Scotland go bust despite "protection" - GLC's Personal Insolvency Law Unit report

Many consumers in Scotland enter into personal insolvency solutions believing that they will resolve their financial difficulties and secure much needed light at the end of a dark tunnel of unmanageable debt.

The aim is to take back control, repay debts as best as possible, and provide financial rehabilitation and a fresh start for those who have generally been through life crises. In many cases insolvency solutions work reasonably well, but there are far too many cases where things go horribly wrong. In our experience, both consumers and creditors lose out.

Govan Law Centre (GLC) was concerned with the high incidence of poor outcomes for extremely vulnerable consumers, which is why we appointed Alan McIntosh to head up the first ever pilot Personal Insolvency Law Unit in Scotland. The project has so far been self-funded by GLC on a pilot basis in order to properly assess the scope, and need, for a dedicated and free specialist service in Scotland.

Our Personal Insolvency Law Unit Unit has been ingathering evidence from casework in Scotland since the summer, and today we publish our interim findings. You can download our report here (opens as PDF).  We provide evidence of widespread mis-selling of protected trust deeds across Scotland. A failure of regulation in Scotland's personal insolvency market which is costing Scottish consumers millions of pounds for virtually no real service.

Our report, written by the Unit’s Project Manager, provides compelling evidence that there is an overwhelming need for a dedicated free specialist service; a service that can provide both second tier support to front line advice agencies but also undertake complex and contentious casework for consumers.  Our report evidences a number of important market and systemic failures, including a high level of failed protected trust deeds and the failure to protect a consumer’s home from repossession. 

We agree with today's editorial in The Herald. The Scottish Government needs to reconsider protection for debtor's homes, and review the licensing and regulatory framework for those who sell trust deeds in Scotland. This is a devolved matter.
protected trust deed failure rate of 9 out of 10 must send alarm bells ringing to members of the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament. As The Herald says, the evidence is "disturbing". Behind the statistics are human tragedies. Insolvency can and does happen to anyone.  The prospect of paying thousands of pounds for a service that all to often is doing nothing to help either consumer or creditors in Scotland is unacceptable.

Read further coverage of this story in The Herald here.


Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Celebrating #BIGScotland funding: GLC's Private Rented Tenants Project

Govan Law Centre (GLC) is delighted that the Big Lottery Fund Investing in Communities Programme is providing a grant over three years to establish our Private Rented Tenants Project, providing vital work on behalf of tenants throughout Glasgow.

The project is made up of dedicated solicitors, housing caseworker/coordinator, financial inclusion and capability caseworkers and a welfare rights worker.  At a time of forthcoming legislative changes and considerable increase in private renting use in Scotland, our project is providing valuable support to individuals and families faced with challenging situations.  

We have developed our service by setting up city-wide ‘Rights Hubs’ as well as a dedicated email box to ensure easy and accessible routes to help for tenants all over Glasgow who are experiencing difficulty with their private tenancy, landlord or letting agency putting them at risk of homelessness.

Tenants who would normally feel powerless, ignored or in a hopeless position are seeking our specialist help to have their voices heard and find long term solutions to their housing situation. Here is one example:   

GLC solicitor and caseworker with a client
Craig’s financial problems meant that his landlord was taking action to evict him.  Our project was able to advocate for him with his landlord and maximise his benefits income to sustain him in the property.   Craig says “I feel that I am really getting the help I need now.   I would normally rely on family to help, but they could not help with this.   I feel my stress levels have gone down and I am getting more money now due to my disabilities. I really appreciate having this support". 

We are continuing to develop and expand our service to ensure more tenants can benefit from our help and learn some key skills for gaining financial stability.

GLC's Principal Solicitor Mike Dailly said: "The grant from the Big Lottery Fund Investing in Communities Programme provides Govan Law Centre with the vital resources to set up our city wide Private Rented Sector (PRS) Tenants Project which will work on behalf of Private Rented Sector Tenants who are at risk of homelessness through the actions of their landlord or letting agency".  

Mike Dailly
"This comes at a time when the private rented sector has doubled since 2001 and where PRS households make up 15% of all households in Scotland.  It is also a time of legislative change with the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 in the process of being implemented; the new Act has the potential to make PRS tenancies more insecure". 

GLC's Prevention of Homeless Senior Manager Alistair Sharp said: "GLC’s Big Lottery Funded PRS research presented the voice of tenants living in the private rented sector in Glasgow and revealed that many feel Powerless with no expectation, choice or security; a private rented sector where a tenant’s right to a safe, secure, maintained and affordable home are too often ignored by letting agencies and landlords".
Alistair Sharp

"We will fight for tenants’ rights and provide financial inclusion and capability solutions that ensure the tenants voice is heard and that their rights as tenants are not ignored and will ensure tenants are empowered, are secure, are able to choose, can expect to live in a safe, well maintained, secure and affordable home and that Govan Law Centres Private Rented Sector Project dedicated city wide team will fight for them and with them to secure their rights".

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Why wait five years to reduce poverty in Scotland?

Jeane Freeman, Minister for Social Security
Govan Law Centre is concerned with the current debate on the Scottish Social Security Bill and we are calling on anti-poverty groups to back us to get this debate moving from “techno-speak”, to what is really important for Scots.

The transfer of social security powers to the Scottish Parliament should at very least prompt a national debate on poverty, low incomes, and re-distribution of income. And what we are going to do about it.  To date the debate has been about new government agencies, IT systems, inter-government wrangling, power transfers, and language. 

What poorer families need now, is cash in their pockets.

The working Group on Child Poverty urged ministers to use new social security powers at Holyrood to fund an increase in child benefit. The group said an increase of £5 per child per week would lift 30,000 children out of poverty in Scotland, at a cost of £256m a year.  

This is a start. So let’s do it.  Or at very least let us debate it in the Scottish Parliament. 

We need MSPs from all parties to back an amendment to the social security bill or a private members bill which proposes serious increases to benefits for vulnerable people in Scotland. 

Otherwise what is the point. Scots gain nothing from administering benefits in Stirling rather than Blackpool. It makes no difference to their lives where laws are made, decisions adjudicated or benefits paid. As long as decisions are accurate, quick and without fuss, and benefit rates are increased.

Why, for example, has the Scottish Government not produced a report and recommendations into the inadequacies of the social security system? How we can increase the incomes of vulnerable people in Scotland, as soon as we possibly can. We thought this is what it was all about. Is it because the Scottish Government don’t want to start this debate in Scotland? Is there no appetite to spend money on the poorest and tax the wealthy to pay for it?  This is our chance to start building the Scandinavian social model many say we need and want. 

Any new system needs be efficient to treat people with respect use the right language and make decisions quickly. And it will be complex to set up. It will need an IT system. But the Scottish Government have known this for a long time.

People in poverty cannot wait for years for a central administering agency to be set up in Scotland. We all know this will take years, and we will no doubt get a myriad of IT problems as we always do. But those on low incomes in Scotland need to know we are at least planning to make a step change increase in their incomes. Scottish ministers must get on top of this and lead the debate now. There is no excuse The Scottish Government has had years to prepare. They need to show people what can be done.

We need a substantive government report about how we can administer real increases in benefits in the meantime, while they set up a Scottish Social Security Agency. 

Local government can administer payments, they already administer housing benefit and council tax benefit - even though policy was set centrally by UK statutes. Surely they can do the same for any other benefit using Scottish statutes? They have everyone’s name and address.

Social work has powers under social work acts to make cash payments and arguably to set up benefits. They could be asked to make cash payments to disabled people who come within their care. We can use our imagination to make payments through self-directed care or other social work structures.

GLC’s worry is that rather than having an exciting debate about increasing incomes, redistribution, poverty reduction and inequality, we are having disappointing debate about where powers lie, new government agencies, IT systems and difficulty ministers are having.

If we need to we can phase in benefit increases but let us start on what those increases should be, and how we will pay for them in the interim and long term. When introducing child benefit in the 1970s the UK had similar problems, but they passed legislation and phased in child benefit over a few years.

That is what we need to do this in Scotland.

This is important. We need to set the tone of the debate now. Those who have the powers to improve the lives of the most vulnerable must be held accountable. The Scottish Parliament will have power over at least eleven social security benefits. Much more if they use their imagination and put their minds to it. We can choose a different social model. Our Scottish Government wants the whole social security system, we need to hold them to account and ask if this is the debate we can expect to have then why bother?

It’s not difficult. It’s about political will. Govan Law Centre proposes a campaign that everyone can join to get this into the Scottish Parliament. Here’s one example we’ve thought of that could be done quickly; there are many more which could immediately help the lives of people in Scotland.

A proposed Increase in Child Benefit (Scotland) Act 2016

1  Scottish Child Benefit
(1) There shall be a benefit to be known as Scottish child benefit.

(2) Subject to the provisions of this Part of this Act, a person who is treated as responsible for one or more children under the Child Benefit Act 2005 and is resident in Scotland, and whose child is resident in Scotland shall be paid an increase in child benefit called “Scottish child benefit”.

(3) Scottish child benefit shall be paid by Scottish ministers from moneys provided by Scottish Parliament.

2  Meaning of “child” and “person responsible for a child”
(1) For the purposes of this Act a person shall be treated as a child for any week in which he is treated as a child by the Child Benefit Act 2005.

(2) For the purposes of this Act a person shall be treated as responsible for a child for any week in which he is treated as a responsible by the Child Benefit Act 2005.

3  Rate of increase for Scottish child benefit
(1) Scottish child benefit shall be payable at such weekly rate as may be prescribed by Scottish Government ministers. 

(2) The weekly rate of child benefit will be no less than £5 per week per child.

(3) Rates may be prescribed in relation to different cases, whether by reference to the age of the child in respect of whom the benefit is payable or otherwise.

(4) The power to prescribe different rates under subsection (2) above shall be exercised so as to bring different rates into force on such day as the Scottish Ministers may by order specify.

(5) The power to introduce Scottish Child Benefit above shall be exercised on such day as the Scottish Ministers may specify by regulations.


Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Can you sue the Private Rented Housing Committee in Scotland?

Can you sue the Private Rented Housing Committee in Scotland?  GLC are currently acting in an appeal to the Inner House of the Court of Session against a decision of the Private Rented Housing Committee (PRHC). 

The question of law in issue is whether it was lawful for the PRHC to increase the rent of the tenant of a charitable, registered social landlord by 77% per month, by using private rented sector comparators in Glasgow.

The President of the Private Rented Housing Panel (PRHP) has responded by asserting that it is not competent to appeal against the PRHP or PRHC, and that any appeal should be against the social landlord. Reliance was placed on the Inner House opinion in Dundee City Council v. Dundee Valuation Appeal Committee and Fleming Hanson (2011) CSIH 73, and paragraph 37 of schedule 1 to the Tribunal and Inquiries Act 1992 (the 1992 Act). All of which would mean an appeal against the PRHC was incompetent.

GLC are quite clear that the President of the PRHP has failed to consider the consequential changes made to the 1992 Act by paragraph 17 of schedule 6 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006. Paragraph 17 amends paragraph 59 of schedule 1 of the 1992 Act to expressly include the "Private Rented Housing Committee". 

Section 11(7)(b)(i) of the 1992 expressly refers to a decision of a tribunal in paragraph 59 being one which can appealed against to the Court of Session.  Valuation committees are not so expressly mentioned, and therefore the Dundee City Council decision is of no relevance.

Accordingly, it would appear the PRHC can be appealed against in Scotland. The appellant is represented by GLC's Mike Dailly, Solicitor Advocate.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Overwhelming unmet need for specialist personal insolvency advice in Scotland: update on the work of the Personal Insolvency Law Unit at GLC

Here, Alan McIntosh, Project Manager of Govan Law Centre's (GLC) Personal Insolvency Law Unit provides a brief update on some of the innovative work of our new service.

Over the last few months we have found that there is a overwhelming unmet need for specialist advice and support for clients in Protected Trust Deeds (PTDs) and who are bankrupt in Scotland. It has found many debtors are failing to obtain appropriate advice and representation in relation to:
  • Protecting their homes in PTDs and Bankruptcy; and
  • Obtaining advice and representation when their PTDs are at risk of failing.
The majority of cases that our specialised Personal Insolvency Law Unit has been dealing with have involved the debtor’s home when they have been threatened with being sold. Sometimes this has been as creditors have made the debtor bankrupt, but increasingly also involves cases where debtors have sought advice from advice services, like Citizen Advice Bureaux and insolvency practitioners and entered into solutions on their advice.

In one case Renfrewshire Law Centre working alongside with GLC's Personal Insolvency Law Unit, was able to make an offer of composition which was accepted by creditors, after an application to eject the debtors from their home had been in front of the sheriff for over a year. The PTD had been granted almost ten years earlier, despite initially only being expected to last three years.

Alan McIntosh, Project Manager
The problem with this case was when it was signed the proposal was that the debtor would not deal with the property to the end of the Protected Trust Deed, at which point they could re-mortgage. However, in that time the credit crunch occurred and clients were not able to re-mortgage, meaning despite continuing to pay their mortgage they lived with the threat of losing their home over that period.
In a similar case, granted around the same time, the £27,321 of debt the client granted the Trust Deed for grew to £52,507, due to statutory interest of 8% per annum being added. The case is still ongoing, however, when the client signed the Trust Deed he was advised he could re-mortgage at the end of the three years, but was not able to. Since then, with three children still living in the home, the mother of the family has passed away.
Another cases involved a client who had been referred onto an insolvency practitioner by a Citizen Advice Bureaux, in 2010, after the credit crunch, with the proposal being that the client could re-mortgage at the end of the Protected Trust Deed and deal with their equity then. The Trustee is now raising court action to sell the home, as the client has predictably struggled to re-mortgage in the current financial environment and with the credit rating they now have.

There have been other successes, however, with some lenders being prepared to show forbearance to debtors when the client’s circumstances have been explained, including that there have been disability issues in the family. However, even when these lenders are majority lenders in the bankruptcy, this has not always provided a solution and there is a number of on-going issues in such cases relating to technical procedural matters, that may still prevent a satisfactory solution being found.

The reality is personal insolvency law in Scotland is extremely complex and many debtors who are now trapped in solutions are struggling to source the specialist help they require to provide them with advice and assistance. Nearly all of Scotland’s free sector advice services are designed to advise clients on how to enter into bankruptcy and protected trust deeds, often with as we have found disastrous consequences, but there are no specialist services available to help people when things go wrong.
We aim to publish an interim report on our findings, based on our case work and relevant empirical evidence.  In the short time our Unit has been operating, it is clear there is a dearth of specialised advice available to clients who are in personal insolvency solutions, despite the serious consequences it can have for clients, risking their homes, often after they believed they had received best advice by people that should have been helping them.  

Sadly, all too often the initial advice given to clients was wrong, not impartial and the administration of the case has been flawed and contributed significantly to the risk of the case failing or the debtor losing their home.


Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Report on Glasgow's 'Rights Hubs': helping homeless people in times of crisis

Our 'Rights Hubs' are a joint initiative with Glasgow City Council welfare rights services and Govan Law Centre. We target some of Glasgow’s most vulnerable citizens who need urgent crisis intervention because they are sleeping rough or at risk of homelessness. We have published a short report about our work here (opens as PDF).

We provide our services in Glasgow City Mission and The Marie Trust in alternative weeks. We have held over 42 hubs so far, that's 168 hours of legal and welfare rights services to 263 people. At least 90% of people who come and see us get accommodated, everyone gets a benefit check and we have increased the incomes of around 250 people. This is a real difference to people's lives. 

This is a model of legal advice we have been developing for some time. Govan Law Centre has long believed it is not enough to wait for people to come to us. We need to go to them. We are continuing to look at ways to ensure our rights hubs can expand and improve. Our experience is that by providing a holistic package of services - welfare rights, financial inclusion, financial capability, money advice and housing and homelessness advice with full qualified solicitor services  at the first point of engagement - we are able to do so much more for people who really need our assistance.

These hubs have had a significant positive impact and improved the outcomes for hundreds of people in Glasgow. We hope this short report explains the work we do and gives you a flavour of the impact we are making.

Monday, 10 October 2016

On World Homeless Day we call on the Scottish Government to ensure homeless people know their statutory rights

It's one of the best kept secret in Scotland: housing options interviews are routinely used to deny homeless people their statutory rights.
Housing options interviews are provided when a person presents to a local authority's homelessness service. This is usually the initial interview the applicant receives instead of being offered a full statutory homelessness assessment.
This creates a false sense of security in terms of homelessness statistics in Scotland and provides statistics that don't represent the true extent of homelessness in Scotland. It gives a false impression that homelessness is decreasing as a result of housing options.    
The reality is that the true extent of homelessness is hidden by the use of housing options, and homeless people are being diverted from being properly assessed as homeless under the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987.
Councils in Scotland are telling homeless people to stay where they are; in unsatisfactory and inadequate housing, sleeping on a friends couch, and staying in situations that put them at risk of harm or exploitation. In other words, to go away while other options are considered.
The point is that a homeless person and their family have the right to be re-housed now! That statutory right should be implemented, and also recorded as homelessness statistics. 
The Scottish Government must act now. Govan Law Centre have been warning about these practices for years.

We need a new drive to enforce peoples rights and end homelessness in Scotland.  We are calling for the use of ‘Housing Options Interviews’ to be clearly set out in the statutory Scottish Code of Guidance on Homelessness. For all people to be given a statement of their statutory rights in the same way that you are with consumer protection rights or public health warnings:

"You have a right to a full homeless assessment. This housing options interview does not effect your statutory rights to a homeless assessment. Your housing options interview will help you look at all your housing options and what other support we might be able to offer you. However, you can make a homeless application and have the right to be treated as an homeless person, with a full assessment, and offered at the very least temporary accommodation while we assess your claim for entitlement to permanent accommodation"


Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Govan Law Centre's 2015/16 annual report: everyone deserves the best professional legal services

Govan Law Centre has published its annual report on its legal work for the year 2015/16. You can download our report here (opens as PDF). 

We continue to help more people every year: preventing homelessness, improving the quality of homes, leading law reform and innovation in service delivery, increasing incomes of local people and helping them access life opportunities; and enforcing their legal rights.

Govan Law Centre is founded on the belief that everyone, not just those who can pay for it, deserve the best professional legal services. We believe the law can play a substantial role in delivering social justice and strong communities. It is these values that we continue to strive for improvement; to achieve better outcomes for the people we serve.


Saturday, 17 September 2016

Peoples Assembly Scotland: GLC speech on austerity, poverty and the private rented sector

The Peoples Assembly Scotland met today in Glasgow and heard from a range of Scottish trade unionists and campaigners in Scotland and the UK.  Govan Law Centre's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly, was invited to speak on austerity, poverty and private rented sector housing - his speech is available here (opens as a PDF).

The People’s Assembly Against Austerity was launched in June 2012, London. It was a call to all those millions of people in Britain facing an impoverished and uncertain future with wages, jobs, conditions and welfare provision under renewed attack by the UK government.

The People’s Assembly Scotland was launched in Scotland in January 2014 to bring together campaigns against cuts and privatisation and trade-unionists, in a movement for social justice. The People’s Assembly in Scotland aims to develop a strategy for resistance to mobilise people against the UK government.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Update on judicial review and social work law decisions in Scotland

Govan Law Centre has secured permission for a petition for judicial review to proceed which challenges a decision of a social work complaints review committee that was subsequently ratified by a local authority.

Counsel for the local authority had argued before Lord Pentland on 29 July 2016 that the petitioner had failed to exhaust his remedies and ought to have complained to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO). The failure to do so, it was argued, rendered the petition for judicial review incompetent, and therefore it fell to be dismissed.

The defender relied on the cases of W v. Scottish Ministers 2010 SLT 65 and McCue v. Glasgow City Council 2014 SLT 891 - none of which addressed the specific issue of the SPSO.

The petitioner argued that having regard to the terms of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002 and the jurisdiction and powers of the SPSO thereunder, and the SPSO's own guidance on social work complaints, it was clear the SPSO could not deal with the subject matter of the petition - which claimed the council's decision was Wednesbury unreasonable and irrational in law - nor could the SPSO provide the remedy of reduction, which the petition sought.

Lord Pentland rejected the local authority's arguments on this point, and held that the SPSO did not oust the jurisdiction of the Court of Session in a petition for judicial review that claimed a social work decision decision was unlawful; and sought reduction of that decision.

Permission was granted and a substantive hearing was assigned.  GLC's Mike Dailly appeared for the petitioner; and Ms Martin-Brown appeared for the local authority.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Improving people's lives and safeguarding their rights: Govan Law Centre's 2015/16 annual report

We will be publishing our 2015/16 annual report in full shortly, but meantime we have set out some headlines below. It's been a remarkable year of growth for Govan Law Centre where we been able to help improve the lives of more people in Scotland through our casework and campaigns. In 2015/16
we have:

   Launched 3 innovative projects
   Successfully campaigned on growing problems in the private rented sector including the Scottish Parliament accepting some of our proposals and them being included in the new Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016
   Agreed to join the Scottish Governments advisory group on the implementation of the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016
   Report submitted to United Nations on rights of tenants, homeless people and asylum seekers in Scotland
   Over a 1,000 people prevented from being made homeless in Glasgow
   Over £5m housing debt cases dealt with in Glasgow alone
   In over 9 in 10 cases we prevent homelessness saving families misery and the public purse £millions every year
   600 people got a benefit check, almost 200 benefit appeals taken on.
   We represent in Ayr, Glasgow, Kilmarnock sheriff courts every week; and Scotland's Supreme Court, the Court of Session
   We provide a dedicated home visiting service provided to carers in the North East of Glasgow
   We have gained our clients in Glasgow almost £500,000 contributing to the local economy
   8 in 10 of clients in our busy Govanhill office are from BME community.
   75% of clients in our Govanhill office speak English as a second language or need an interpreter
   We worked with Scottish Government to improve the rights of children within Education (Scotland) Act 2016.
   We run community rights hubs in homeless day centres and NHS mental health services across Glasgow. Meeting the needs of some of the most vulnerable people in our city

Growing GLC
We have three new projects: a new project to tackle the growing problems in the Private Rented Sector funded by the Big Lottery Fund, a new Public Interest Litigation Unit which takes on cases with a wider public benefit and a Personal Insolvency Law Unit which is the first project of its kind to take an ethical approach to supporting people through serious debt/bankruptcy. We have had to take on new office space to accommodate our growing organisation.

Campaigning GLC
We successfully campaigned on Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 to improve the rights of growing number of people forced to rent in the private sector. A number of recommendations were supported by a Parliamentary Committee, which were reflected in Scottish Government amendments to the Bill at Stages 2 and 3. 

We have agreed to join the Scottish Governments advisory group on the implementation of the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016. Our recommendations were backed up by our Big Lottery funded research Powerless: no expectations, choice or security.

We were successful in our campaign against social landlords seeking up-front rent payments from homeless persons who are legally entitled to an offer of a permanent tenancy.

We have been successful in improving the rights of ordinary homeowners through our strategic test case and court work has improved the rights of homeowners mortgage companies will have to ensure borrowers are properly protected when they issue short term interest only mortgages.

We represented 4,000 Govan residents at a Public Hearing in their campaign against parking restrictions in Govan since the building of the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

Glasgow City Council Contract
Our Glasgow City Council contract runs to 2018 and last year 474 clients were prevented from homelessness, we dealt with £5,478,711.74 of housing debt, £481,764.24 of financial gains were achieved and we made143 home visits to provide a service to vulnerable clients.

Justice Fellowship
We have participated in the launch of the Justice Fellowship for trainee solicitors to undertake innovative projects. Funded by Legal Education Foundation and Royal Bank of Scotland. We produced a report for United Nations on housing conditions and rights of tenants, homeless people and asylum seekers in Scotland, and how this impacted on the quality of life of our clients. We have been undertaking a wide range of housing and social welfare casework to develop an innovative access to justice project in Glasgow.

Govanhill services
   6 in 10 of our clients are in the private rented sector
   6 in 10 of casework deals with evictions, illegal evictions, and properties below the tolerable standard
   3 in 10 of our clients are disabled
   8 in 10 of our clients are BME and over
   7 in 10 have English as a second language or require an interpreter

We provide a dedicated home visiting service provided to North East carers

Ayrshire services
Ayrshire homelessness prevention project provides representation and support in mortgage repossession case. It runs monthly surgeries in Ardrossan and weekly representation in Kilmarnock and Ayr Sheriff court. We have taken on almost 50 new cases.

National Education Law Unit
      Over 500 cases dealt with on helpline
      We took on almost 96 new tribunal cases, and we took on 31 new cases with strategic litigation importance.
      ELU worked closely with Scottish Government in developing the proposals for extending childrens rights within the tribunal process.  This resulted in Part 3 of the Education (Scotland) Act 2016.

Prevention of homelessness project
   We have a  95% success rate in preventing homelessness
   Over christmas and new year winter period we carried out 32 - or over 100 hours of - rights hubs in Glasgow which resulted in 200 legal letters sent out on behalf of clients, 198 people getting re-housed,  and 6 successful judicial reviews in Edinburgh at the Court of Session
   We did 595 benefit checks.
   We challenged 163 benefit claims using appeal and review systems 94% were successful.

   Private rented research project was a voice for growing private rented sector tenants. Our report confirms that far too often tenants in Scotlands private rented sector are getting very poor value for money, they have very little choice and feel powerless to do anything about there predicament.


Friday, 22 July 2016

Concern over the practice of buying & selling of older consumer credit debts; court action dismissed for absence of proof

Govan Law Centre has successfully defended an ordinary cause action at Glasgow Sheriff Court for an alleged consumer credit debt of £7,500.  Cabot Financial UK Ltd claimed they had purchased the debt from OPUS Credit Card (a trade mark of SAV Credit Ltd) in September 2011.  Our client had no recollection of ever having this credit card, and had no paperwork in relation to this credit agreement.

The action was defended upon the basis the defender was not due the debt. The pursuer was called upon to lodge in court the original regulated consumer credit agreement, a statement of how the debt was accrued and a copy of the assignation agreement of the debt. They failed to do so, and agreed to dismiss the action against our client with no expenses.

Our client's solicitor, GLC's Mike Dailly said:
"This case raises wider issues in relation to the general practice of the buying and selling of consumer debts in Scotland and the UK. Court actions are being raised when the purchaser of the debt would appear not to have proof of the legal constitution of the debt - that shouldn't happen. We are also concerned that debts are being pursued which have 'prescribed' and been extinguished in law. If you are being pursued for an old debt you should take advice from a local law centre, advice agency or solicitor as to your legal rights and liabilities".

In Scotland, consumer credit debts can prescribe and become unenforceable in law where no payments have been made for five years, and where the debt has not been subject to court or other legal proceedings, or been "relevantly acknowledged" by the debtor.  The relevant rule is set out in section 6 of the Prescription and Limitation (Scotland) Act 1973.

"Relevantly acknowledged" is defined by section 10 of the 1973 Act to mean where the debtor performs the obligation (e.g. by making a payment arrangement) or writes to the creditor and admits the obligation exists. A relevant acknowledgement means the five year time period begins again. If in doubt you should take independent legal advice to know whether a liability to make payment exists or not.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Time to end the unfair financial windfall of creditors from Scottish debtors

Govan Law Centre (GLC) has written to the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy in Scotland, Mr Paul Wheelhouse MSP, expressing our concern that many creditors are gaining a massive financial windfall at the expense of financially vulnerable people in Scotland who are finding it tough to make ends meet.  

The financial windfall for creditors occurs because of a lacuna in the law. Scotland's judicial rate of interest has remained at 8% per annum, at a time when inflation has been at a historic low for many years; as has the Bank of England's base rate, which remains at 0.5%.

To give a practical example. GLC has a client who entered into a protected trust deed just over a decade ago with a mix of unsecured loans, credit cards and overdrafts in the sum of £27,321. Our client owns a house in Glasgow South West with equity, has four dependent children and his wife has recently died from cancer. This family now face repossession. 

Our client made his monthly payments over the years without fail to the trustee, and was advised by the insolvency firm to enter into this arrangement with a view to re-mortgaging at a later date, however, this was prior to the financial crisis. Just over a decade later and our client owes those creditors a staggering £52,507. We believe this is grossly unfair. 

A further additional £14,736 is owed for the fees of the trustees and their solicitors (the overall sum due is £75,474 on a debt of £27,321; and this sum is growing daily).

 GLC's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly said:
"Any member of the public investing savings in an ISA or savings vehicle would expect to gain interest of 0.5% to 1%. Yet, creditors are entitled to 8% interest on debts which are subject to a protected trust deed or sequestration. We believe this is an unjust windfall, and a lacuna in the law which could easily be rectified by the Scottish Government reducing the judicial rate of interest on debts to a percentage more aligned to the base interest rate by way of a Scottish statutory instrument".

"We would be happy to meet with the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy and/or his officials to provide further examples, and discuss how this issue could be best addressed to minimise the need for avoidable repossessions, and striking a fair and equitable balance between the interests of creditors and debtors in Scotland".