Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Tenant's survey 'offensive to landlords' say Morrisons

We have to say Govan Law Centre are a bit disappointed with Morrisons. We sent the supermarket a letter to ask if we could carry out some important research. We just want to know how many people in our catchment area live in private rented accommodation, why they are living there, do they enjoy it, and what’s their general experience.

We are seeing many more families in housing need or even homeless who are living in private rented accommodation. We need to understand why?  We approached Morrisons Cardonald  ‘Community Champion’ asking if we could carry out the research within the entrance atrium in their Cardonald store. We intended to ask a few survey questions of shoppers. Just to seek the views of local people. This work will help Govan Law Centre meet the needs of vulnerable people.
Morrison’s in Cardonald is a perfect place to carry out this work. Its a popular shop and the surrounding area has a high level of private rented sector tenants. We were delighted that Shawlands Arcade, Govan Shopping Centre, Glasgow City Council, the Pearce Institute and others have all welcomed us.
But Morrison’s Cardonald Store spokeswoman said that although she ‘welcomed the idea of a tenants survey’ she ‘would not allow Govan Law Centre research to be carried out on Morrison’s premises because ‘the survey would be offensive to private landlords, and as a business Morrisons would not want to offend customers who were also private landlords’.
The questionnaire forms part of a more in depth piece of research which will help us improve our prevention of homelessness services. We would be delighted to hear the views of private landlords as well.
It’s vital that organisations like Govan Law Centre can carry out this type of work so that the voice of tenants is heard. Private landlords are already represented by the powerful lobby group the Scottish Association of Landlords. This organisation has the ear of the Scottish Government. Scotland has 330,000 private sector tenants who do not have any such lobby. We need to talk to them so we can better meet their needs.

Morrisons pride themselves in providing a 'fantastic service'.  On this occasion we don't believe this has happened.

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Monday, 26 January 2015

Govan Law Centre and Children 1st launch new family support project in Glasgow

Govan Law Centre (GLC) has launched a joint project with Children 1st to improve the lives of over 60 ‘just coping’ families each year. We will provide legal services and money advice to families with young children who are already working with Children 1st in the Glasgow South.  The project is funded by the Scottish Legal Aid Board and will be led by Lorna Walker, senior solicitor at GLC, and Alison McLaughlin, money advisor with Children 1st (based at GLC).

GLC will work along side the many family and early years services run by Children 1st in Glasgow. Our  legal services will be aimed at families who are coping but whose debt and legal problems are in danger of becoming too much for them.  We will ensure these families can access appropriate  legal advice and representation alongside the intensive family support that the existing Children 1st services provide.

The project will also provide training to Children 1st staff so they can give basic advice and information, and ensure they have a basic understanding of the law as it relates to debt and benefits and that they are up to date with any changes.

GLC will run an advice service for family support workers and their clients; support family support workers who have complex cases; and take on legal case work referrals including defending evictions, appealing to social security tribunal and taking on judicial reviews and appeals to the Supreme Courts.

This is an exciting  innovative project and fits with GLC's aim to intervene early as we can before problems become even more stressful, complicated and expensive for our clients.  We will embed legal and advice services in existing models of family support, meaning we can intervene as early as we can to resolve immediate or escalating debt crises alongside other ongoing family issues, so that families can achieve the long term goals they are working towards with Children 1st.

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Saturday, 24 January 2015

Iain Nisbet appointed Convener to School Closure Review Panel in Scotland

The appointment of Govan Law Centre's Iain Nisbet as the first Convener of the School Closure Review Panel in Scotland has been confirmed.  Until now, school closure proposals that have been called in under the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 have been determined by the Scottish Ministers.  

Amendments made by the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 will change that process so that  school closure proposals that are called in by Scottish Ministers will be referred to the Convener of the School Closure Review Panels.  The Convener will be required to constitute a School Closure Review Panel to determine each individual case.

Mr Nisbet - is the Head of Education Law at Govan Law Centre, where he advises and provides training for parents, schools and education authorities on all aspects of education law.  He is the Chair of the advisory group on Additional Support for Learning, and a former Non-Executive Director with Education Scotland.  He was until recently, a member of the Parent Council of his local school.

This appointment will be for five years and will run from January 12, 2015 to January 11, 2020. This appointment is regulated by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland.

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Monday, 12 January 2015

First appointment to the Justice First Fellowship in Scotland announced

Deidre Flanigan
GLC is delighted to announce the first Scottish appointment of the Justice First Fellowship. The Justice First Fellowship is a prestigious new scheme established to support the next generation of students committed to public interest and social justice issues who want to pursue a career in social welfare law. The scheme has been established by The Legal Education Foundation in partnership with Govan Law Centre and other social welfare organisations across the UK.

The first Fellow to be appointed in Scotland is Deirdre Flanigan. Deidre has an LLM in International Human Rights Law from the Irish Centre for Human Rights and an LLB in Law and a Diploma in Legal Practice from the University of Edinburgh. She was the Outreach Coordinator at the Scottish Human Rights Commission, her role was to assist civil society in taking a human rights based approach to their work and to engage more with the UN human rights system including treaty body reviews and Universal Periodic Review.
 
Deidre gained monitoring experience working for a human rights NGO in Nepal with a particular emphasis on the duty of the state to ensure accountability for human rights in a post-conflict society. She was a research consultant in developing Scotland's National Action Plan for Human Rights with a particular focus on economic and social rights including the right to an adequate standard of living.
 
She has also worked as an occasional case law reviewer for Oxford Publications of international criminal law cases and has additional experience with a criminal defence firm in Glasgow and a commercial firm in Argentina. She has volunteer experience in several fields including advocacy with a focus on the adequacy of living standards of temporary accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers.

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Monday, 15 December 2014

Back to the future? Scottish private sector tenancy reforms would leave tenants in a worse position than those in 1980

Govan Law Centre (GLC) has expressed dismay that the Scottish Government's proposed private sector tenancy reforms are considerably more regressive for tenants than the then Conservative Government’s introduction of the short assured tenancy in Scotland some 34 years ago.

The Government's proposals are set out in its document, 'Consultation on a new tenancy for the private sector'. The proposals appear progressive at first glance, with the suggestion of abolishing the 'no-fault ground' for eviction in short assured tenancies, however, when one reads further it becomes apparent the provision of greater security of tenure for tenants is wholly illusory as the Scottish Government set out eight new mandatory grounds of eviction that would enable landlords to choose to evict on the flimsiest of reasons.

In GLC's response to the consultation response we argue that the mandatory repossession grounds undermine the entire policy exercise:

In relation to rent arrears, the proposed ground 6 (three months’ arrears of rent) is in direct conflict with the will of the Scottish Parliament in legislating in the Homelessness etc., (Scotland) Act 2003 to provide a reasonableness defence for the current three months arrears of rent (ground 8, schedule 5, Housing (Scotland) Act 1988). Where is the evidence now that this defence should be repealed in relation to rent arrears which may be due to housing benefit errors or delays."

"The proposed new mandatory grounds 1 to 3 are couched in very weak language: the use of the word ‘want’ sets the bar very low. For example, it would not be necessary to provide evidence that a house was being marketed for sale, or that the mortgage lender had required a sale to repay the lending secured over the property.  Instead, all that would be required to evict a tenant in the private sector is that the landlord ‘wanted’ to move back in, or sell, or that their lender wanted to sell. In other words, there would be no need to establish an actual sale was taking place or that the landlord really did need to and was moving back into the property".

"Ground 4 is even more open to exploitation by landlords to the detriment of tenants: all that a landlord need say is that he or she intended to ‘refurbish’ to evict a tenant/family. What is ‘refurbish’? It might never materialise, or indeed it could be as little as painting a wall or installing a new sink. Why should this be a mandatory ground of eviction?"

"Ground 7 makes provision for a mandatory ground of repossession for ‘anti-social behaviour’. If the anti-social behaviour was a symptom of an illness or behaviour that had since been modified why should the tenant be subject to mandatory repossession? The requirement on the court to consider reasonableness is an essential requirement to ensure fairness and justice."

"Ground 8 enables a mandatory ground of eviction where the tenant has otherwise breached the tenancy agreement. Without the common sense protection of a defence of ‘reasonableness’ will tenants be evicted for the most minor contractual breaches?

Finally, we note PRS evictions will no longer be dealt with by the Sheriff Court and instead will be dealt with by the First Tier PRS Tribunal. This change in policy (for reasons of cost savings) does concern us because losing the roof over your head is such an important issue that it should be dealt with by an experienced and more senior judge.  We also question how can PRS Tribunals be seen to be genuinely impartial when their chairs are often part-time judges employed or engaged by landlords in private practice to undertake eviction actions?"
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