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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Thursday, 15 June 2017

Challenging decisions to reduce social care in Scotland

In a judicial review permission hearing today (15 June 2017), Glasgow City Council (GCC) gave an undertaking to the court that they would not implement a decision to reduce the care of a severely disabled elderly lady residing in Glasgow South West.

The concession made before Lord Ericht by Anna Poole Q.C., counsel for GCC was with respect to a decision to reduce the provision of 24/7 care workers for a 74 year old lady with cerebral palsy by up to three hours a day. The petitioner was represented in court by Govan Law Centre's (GLC) Mike Dailly.

The Council had decided that the provision of a care worker would be replaced with "tele-care", a remote contacting system, notwithstanding medical evidence confirmed that the petitioner's health had deteriorated and her care needs had in fact increased.  Accordingly, with the undertaken given, the petition was dismissed with no expenses.  It is important to note that any challenge to the provision of social care will turn on the individual facts and circumstances of each case.

From 1st April 2017 the "Social Work Complaints Review Committee", established under section 5B of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, has been abolished.  This system still applies for pre-1 April 2017 complaints on a transitional basis.  More details of the new regime is available here: http://www.valuingcomplaints.org.uk/handling-complaints/complaints-procedures/social-work

Under the new system the first stage is to lodge a complaint to the local authority. They may simply decide the complaint on the papers, or agree to an investigation and then issue a decision.  If a service user remains dissatisfied they can complain to the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman (SPSO). The SPSO can now also consider complaints on professional judgments made by social workers.

This is a complex area of law, and if you live in the Southside or North East of Glasgow you can contact GLC for help, advice and representation where appropriate. Contact us on 0141 440 2503. Alternatively, if a case is within Scotland  and it raises an issue of wider strategic public interest and importance, we may be able to assist - please contact pilu@ govanlc.com
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Wednesday, 7 June 2017

govanlawcentre.org - our new website goes live

Govan Law Centre (GLC) has launched a new website which you can find at govanlawcentre.org

Our aim is to set out detailed information on the work that we do at the law centre - our various projects that serve Scotland and beyond, our campaigns, policy and law reform work, and public interest strategic litigation and test case work. As well as showcasing particular initiatives that may be of wider interest to the public and/or advisors.

This blog will continue meantime, but if you want to find out what we are all about please bookmark and visit govanlawcentre.org We will be updating the new site, and adding greater functionality to it, as well as utilising video and audio where appropriate.
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Wednesday, 17 May 2017

GLC Principal Solicitor interview in The Herald, 17 May 2017

Below is an extract of an interview with our Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly, with The Herald's personal finance editor and business correspondent, Margaret Taylor, published on the 17 May 2017. A link to the full article is reproduced below.
IT IS somewhat fitting that the converted cells of Govan’s old Orkney Street Police Station are now home to Govan Law Centre, given that the man who runs it - principal solicitor Mike Dailly - takes no prisoners when it comes to fighting for justice.  When you consider the type of work he and his colleagues do - defending mortgage repossessions, fighting eviction cases, advising on money matters and welfare rights - you can understand why. With little or no voice of their own, Mr Dailly’s clients depend on him to fight their corner for them. “Our work is about enforcing people’s rights and enabling them to access those rights and access justice,” Mr Dailly said.(read the article on The Herald's online site here).

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Thursday, 11 May 2017

Govan Law Centre to launch Glasgow Asylum Seekers Project

Dee Flanigan, Glasgow Asylum
Seekers Project solicitor
Govan Law Centre (GLC) is delighted to announce that with the support of The AB Charitable Trust we are now in a position to launch a Glasgow Asylum Seekers Project with a particular focus on housing, health and the living conditions of asylum seekers and their families and children in Glasgow.

There are approximately 10,000 refugee and asylum seekers in Glasgow. Asylum seekers have no right to work, cannot access the benefit system and rely on public services. Failed asylum seekers are exploited and are often living in very poor conditions. Many are destitute. 
 
Research by both the Glasgow Caledonian University and Scottish Refugee Council show 96% of refugees experience homelessness at some point after receiving their status. Many slip through the net and spend time ‘sofa-surfing’ and rough sleeping. The research also showed that half are unhappy with their living conditions. Lack of basic knowledge of services, rights and opportunities means clients do not know what to do to improve their situation.

GLC's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly said: "We are convinced there is much unmet legal need amongst asylum seekers and refugees in Glasgow. We will use the law to inform, enforce rights and opportunities, and ensure full access to public services to improve the lives of refugees and asylum seekers in Glasgow".  

GLC's Glasgow Asylum Seekers Project will work with a number of partner organisations, including the Asylum Seeker Housing project.  Our project will be headed up by Dee Flanigan, solicitor at Govan Law Centre. 
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Sunday, 7 May 2017

Significant increase in Govan Law Centre's casework in the last financial year

Govan Law Centre's (GLC) Annual Monitoring Report to Glasgow City Council has revealed a significant increase in legal casework, and gains secured for clients across Glasgow's South and North East communities.  The Annual Monitoring Report is a requirement of the local authority's Integrated Grant Fund. GCC funding to GLC represents almost one quarter of the law centre's income.

GLC believes not only do we provide a service four times the size of that vital investment, but much greater added value when the quality and specialist nature of legal work is considered, together with the law centre's work in the fields of social policy and best practice, law reform, public interest litigation and test case work. Key statistics and highlights from our legal work in Glasgow during 2016/17 include:

⧫  A 20% increase in "type 3" cases (cases which involve sheriff court or tribunal representation) from 798 cases in the last financial year to almost 1,000 this year

⧫  1,353 new clients

⧫  Resolved or prevented homelessness for 600 clients in Glasgow, and issued 1,200 "section 11" prevention of homelessness contacts

⧫  Improved living conditions for 292 clients, and ensured better affordability in living costs for 138 clients

⧫  A 10% increase in the City-wide housing debt handled by GLC's solicitors and caseworkers from almost £5.5m in the last financial year to almost £6 million pounds this year

⧫  Secured direct financial gains for clients in the sum of £412,747

⧫  GLC gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Economy Committee and helped persuade the Scottish Government to withdraw the draft Bankruptcy Fees (Scotland) Order 2017, which would have seen some fees against homeowners increase by almost 200%.

⧫  In addition to working with the Scottish Bar in cases, we also provided an in-house Solicitor Advocate service for clients undertaking urgent petitions for judicial reviews in the Court of Session against HMRC, the Scottish Government and local authorities, together with actions for suspension and interdict. We also undertook in-house appeals to the Inner House of the Court of Session in relation to issues concerning fair rents, and housing grants.

⧫  We established a pilot Women's Rights legal service in partnership with Tea in the Pot

⧫  We established and funded a Scottish Personal Insolvency Law Unit

⧫  We launched a City-wide dedicated Private Rented Tenants' Project for Glasgow with almost half a million pounds in funding from the Big Lottery Fund's Investing in Communities Programme



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Friday, 21 April 2017

Govan Law Centre and Mike Dailly provide financial support to Govan's Tea in the Pot

Mike Dailly, Anne Keegan, Tommy McMahon,
Chris Stephens MP, Lorna Walker, and Alistair Sharp.
An essential local service for women and children in Glasgow was faced with possible closure in July this year when their funding for rent, heating and lights was due to run out.

The service - Tea in the Pot - now has more time to identify long term funding thanks to donations today of £3,000 from Glasgow's Govan Law Centre (GLC), and a personal donation of £1,000 from GLC's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly. 

Tea in the Pot is a Drop-in & Support Service for women, and is run by women, for women. The service provides a safe relaxing atmosphere where women can meet up with old friends and make new friends.

Tea in the Pot supports women to become actively engaged in their community; enables women to identify and value their skills, experiences and talents - and to feel empowered and confident to share these with others.  It helps those coping with difficulties, under stress, or with health issues, or simply women who feel isolated with no one to talk to.

Since 21 November last year, Govan Law Centre's senior solicitor Lorna Walker has been providing a free drop-in legal surgery at Tea in the Pot on a Monday morning from 10:30am till approx. Women have been able to speak to a female solicitor in confidence, on issues affecting them, including Welfare Rights, Housing, Insolvency Issues, Community Care, Personal Injury, Criminal Injuries, Employment Law. 

GLC aims to work with Tea in the Pot, to develop our partnership services, and help secure long term funding for their essential services in the local community.
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Wednesday, 5 April 2017

GLC response to Trump International's statement on the judgment in Beyts v. TIGCS Ltd

TIGCS statement in quotes "We are satisfied that justice has prevailed. The disingenuous claim by Rohan Beyts was a perversion of the truth and nothing more than a poor attempt at self-publicity in an effort to garner support for her anti-Trump, anti-business propaganda. It's a disgrace that valuable time and money has been wasted defending a genuine north east business and its honest, hard-working personnel from this nonsense".

GLC comment: The defender lost on ALL of the facts in this case. Sheriff Corke found that the criminal charge against Rohan Beyts was frivolous. He ruled that she was entitled to hold her environmentalist and political views and opposition to the defender's golf course at Menie. There was no finding by the court of "self publicity" and in fact, the Sheriff held Ms Beyts was a credible and reliable witness. 

"Rohan Beyts is a shameless activist with a history of antagonistic behaviour. She came onto our property with a hostile opponent of the project looking for trouble. We are a fully operational golf and leisure resort, with public restrooms. Had her intentions been honourable she would have used the facilities available to her". 

GLC comment: There was no finding in court of a history of antagonistic behaviour by Ms Beyts. There was no finding of hostile behaviour by Ms Beyts. Trump International has previously claimed Ms Beyts was very close to their clubhouse when she urinated. This was found to be untrue. She was in the Dunes near the beach in marram grass. She acted responsibly in terms of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Their employee admitted in his evidence that he often sees golfers relieving themselves on the course. 

"She is insincere about her motives for being on our land and needs to take accountability for her actions. Members of our green-keeping staff were flabbergasted at what they witnessed and reported the incident to the police. It should have come as no surprise to her that she was charged for publicly urinating on golf course land".

GLC comment: The court found that Ms Beyts was on the Trump International course exercising her public right of access in terms of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. Sheriff Corke held that Trump International should never have photographed our client urinating. The court said 'I have to emphasise that officious bystanders taking pictures of females urinating in the countryside put themselves at very real risk of prosecution whether for a public order offence or voyeurism'. Sheriff Corke considered the criminal charge against Ms Beyts as 'frivolous'. 

Mike Dailly Solicitor Advocate said: "Trump International Golf Links Scotland would do well to now stop undertaking surveillance of walkers exercising their legal right to roam across their land. Taking footage or photographs of walkers urinating responsibly in accordance with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code may well be a criminal offence according to today's court ruling, and could potentially result in Trump International being subject to further litigation for breach of the Data Protection Act principles. Today's case was lost on a technical point in relation to the Act but no doubt future litigants would learn from this case".

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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Govan Law Centre's evidence to the Economy Committee on the draft Bankruptcy Fees (Scotland) Order 2017

Mike Dailly, David Menzies (ICAS), Alan McIntosh
On Tuesday 21 March 2017, representatives of Govan Law Centre gave evidence to the Scottish parliament's Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee on the draft Bankruptcy Fees (Scotland) Order 2017, along with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland.

We were all in agreement that the proposed regulations were ill-advised, unfair and should be rejected pending a full review of how the Accountant in Bankruptcy is funded, and operates, particularly in relation to duplicate or unnecessary roles, and conflicts of interest.

You can watch a video of the Committee hearing here (which also includes evidence from the AiB, and the Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills). It is understood the Committee has deferred consideration of the draft Order until next week.
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Friday, 17 February 2017

Govan Law Centre's new 'Financial Health Reports' for tenants

The Private Rented Tenants Team at Govan Law Centre, is now offering its clients Financial Health Reports. 

The Team was set up in September 2016 and provides a comprehensive, unique and dedicated service to Tenants of Private landlords in Glasgow.  Along with providing vulnerable tenants with their statutory rights and tackling unmet needs the project has a focus on Financial Inclusion and Financial Capability. 

We have developed the Financial Health Report (click here for an example) as a way to identify and tackle the complex mix of factors that affect tenancy sustainment and create barriers to financial stability. 
The reports will provide tenants with:
·         a breakdown of their income by source and an analysis of their expenditure;
·         an insight into their household fuel use and an indication of whether they are suffering fuel poverty;
·         an analysis of their debts and monthly debt payments as a percentage of their net monthly income;
The reports will provide our clients with an insight into their own financial circumstances, with recommendations on how they can maximise their finances and minimise their expenditure.  It will enable clients to target those areas of expenditures that can produce real savings for them and recommend financial targets they should aim for to create more financially healthier lifestyles.    Key to the success of our work with vulnerable tenants is to provide a holistic model of support which provides easy to understand, practicable and realistic solutions.
Our Financial Health reports analysis helps us to understand the types of issues that private rented sector tenants are struggling with and discover trends, such a higher vulnerability to fuel poverty.   Already, our findings show there are a higher number of our clients who are suffering from fuel poverty.   This means that they are paying more than 10% of their disposable income on their household fuel.   The factors influencing this are usually low income, increased fuel costs, poor insulation, the home not fully wind/watertight and low energy efficiency.   

The Private Rented Tenants Team are offering these new personalised Financial Health Reports to all our clients.    It provides an immediate response to problems private renters experience with managing their finances, and in doing this work we aim to help our clients with; reducing rent arrears, prevent homelessness, improve living conditions, maximise income and achieve financial stability.  

The Team also provides advice to private sector tenants on all other housing related issues, such as rent arrears, dampness, court action, overcrowding, disrepair, benefit entitlements,  appeals and sanctions.
Govan Law Centre’s assertive outreach model helps us engage and connect with private tenants at our city-wide outreach hub’s.    A list of the times and place where advice can be obtained from us, is available here along with the details of how to get an appointment for our specialist advice.

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Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Manifesto for Scottish Local Government

Govan Law Centre (GLC) believes in the following inalienable human rights for Scots and asks that Scottish MSPs and MPs endorse and implement these human rights in Scotland

No one in Scotland will sleep rough.  Local councils must be given the resources and power to ensure that no human being has to ever sleep on our streets.

No one in Scotland will go hungry.  We must empower and resource local government so that no child or adult in Scotland ever suffers from hunger and malnutrition.

Every child in Scotland will have the best education that life offers.  Local councils must be resourced to make this happen. The Scottish Government should enforce and ensure good outcomes for young Scots.

Vulnerable Scots have access to justice. Women fleeing domestic violence shouldn’t become homeless, nor should private rented sector tenants be unlawfully evicted. Councils should be resourced and mandated to protect vulnerable Scots.

 Disabled Scots should not be charged for being disabled. We need to end council fee charging for social care and pay our carers.  

The Scottish Government should lobby to devolve employment law so we can protect workers rights in Scotland. The enforcement of employee rights should be devolved to councils. 

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