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.