Monday 31 August 2009

Call for more funding for school autism units

The Herald reports that Scottish local authorities are coming under increasing pressure to provide more specialist places for pupils with autism.

The row has come to a head after a court case involving Ross McLaughlin, a 12-year-old Glasgow pupil with autism. Ross was assessed as requiring a specialist place when he moved from Caledonia Primary School, in Baillieston, Glasgow, to nearby Bannerman High School.

He was then told there was no place for him because the unit, which caters for 12 pupils, was full, and that he would have to be supported in a mainstream classroom on a temporary basis.

His parents sought help from Govan Law Centre's Education Law Unit. Glasgow City Council initially contested the action, but, a few days before the court hearing, Ross was offered a place in the unit at Bannerman High.

GLC's Iain Nisbet, said the law was clear that education authorities had a duty to make adequate provision for children with additional support needs - and that costs could not be an easy excuse for failing to do so.

"It is a continuing source of frustration that education authorities have not made the necessary arrangements to accommodate the needs of all of their autistic pupils, leading to an annual lucky dip for parents seeking places," he said.

Thursday 27 August 2009

Headteachers in jobs dispute are praised by inspectors

The Herald, 28 August 2009, reports that Acting headteachers from two primaries in Scotland's largest local authority who were replaced under controversial circumstances have been praised by school inspectors.

The development follows accusations in June that Glasgow City Council had appointed new heads to the schools without consulting parents.

Mike Dailly, principal solicitor with the Glasgow-based Govan Law Centre, which is taking the case, said: "These reports show why parents have been so loyal to the acting headteachers and are a clear demonstration of why the council should have consulted with the parents."

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Friday 21 August 2009

Contributory negligence no defence in disrepair claims

Sheriff MacKenzie has held that a landlord's defence of contributory negligence is irrelevant in a breach of contract claim by a tenant for damages for dampness and disrepair.

In the unreported GLC case of Deans v. Glasgow Housing Association (Glasgow Sheriff Court, 19 August 2009)the court repelled the defender's contributory negligence defence following a diet of debate on 18 May and 3 July. A contributory negligence defence generally apportions some of the blame on the pursuer, and if successful results in any award of compensation being substantially reduced.

In the present case the defenders' claimed inter alia 'The pursuer ought to have followed the defenders' advice by removing the Calor gas heaters and tape from the vents in the bedroom, and by venting the tumble dryer'.

Sheriff MacKenzie held 'I am in respectful agreement with the analysis of the structure of the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945 set out by Lord Glennie in Stewart and Stewart v. Pure Ltd [2008] CSOH 49 and the consequent rationale of his decision in that case. As Lord Glennie observed, in Reeves v. Commissioners of Police of the Metropolis [2000] 1 A.C. 360 Lord Hope of Craighead identified that there are two limbs to consider in relation to the interpretation of the 'Act'. Considering the second 'limb', referable to the pursuer's conduct, a defence of contributory negligence would not have been open under contract at common law. Applying such a approach to the present case I am satisfied that the defender's pleadings and plea in law regarding contributory negligence should not be remitted to probation'.

Separately, the court deleted the defenders' pleadings which sought to blame the tenant for the cause of the dampness and disrepair. The defenders had averred 'It was the duty of the pursuer to see to it that the subjects were adequately heated and ventilated. Further it was her duty to take and act upon the advice from the defenders as her landlord'. These averments were deleted as the court decided to follow the approach of Lord Johnson in Guy v. Strathkelvin District Council 1997 Hous LR 14.

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Thursday 20 August 2009

Appeals to the Sheriff Principal masterclass

GLC is delighted to announce it will be hosting a masterclass on how to present and conduct appeals before the Sheriff Principal at the Royal Faculty of Procurators Library, Glasgow on Thursday 22 October 2009, 10am to 12.30pm.

The event will include presentations from Sheriff Principal Taylor, the Sheriff Principal for the Sheriffdom of Glasgow & Strathkelvin, and Simon Collins, Advocate, Murray Stable.

This event will be of interest to all civil court practitioners. The cost of this event is £85. To book please contact GLC by e-mail ( or tel. 0141 440 2503, fax 0141 445 3934.

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Wednesday 19 August 2009

Breaking news: Glasgow education chief resigns

GLC understands that Margaret Doran, Executive Director of Children and Families at Glasgow City Council (GCC) is terminating her employment with GCC and stepping down from her top post from 28 August 2009. Ms Doran presided over Glasgow's controversial and unpopular programme of school and nursery closures, and most recently has been accused of 'parachuting in' new headteachers to schools without consultating parents.

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GHA vice-chairman claims he was forced to quit

The vice-chairman of Scotland's biggest social landlord claims he was forced to quit because he was "hostile to politicians".

Fred Shedden says he had to stand down as vice-chairman of Glasgow Housing Association because Karen Watt, the Scottish Housing Regulator, had made it clear his continued presence on the GHA board would not be acceptable.

Mike Dailly, of Govan Law Centre, who has regular dealings with the GHA on housing issues, said the problem with the GHA was a "fundamental lack of leadership".

"The reason that the GHA has failed is because it has lacked a heart and a soul, which in any community-based housing association comes from the ordinary people on its management committee."

He said Mr Shedden was "part of the problem because he comes from a different world and a different ethos".

Full story in The Herald.

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Tuesday 18 August 2009

GHA boss & vice chair quits

THE under-fire boss of Glasgow Housing Association Ltd (GHA) has quit, in a move opponents of the troubled organisation say represents "a clean slate" for the social housing provider.

Taroub Zahran, the £180,000-plus chief executive of GHA, will leave the organisation in September - a decision commentators of Scotland's housing sector believe had been inevitable for some time.

Long-serving vice chairman Fred Shedden, a former corporate lawyer perceived by many as the power behind the throne, is also to stand down. Full story in Glasgow's Evening Times.

GLC believes the departure of Ms Zahran and Mr Shedden is a move in the right direction for the soulless, uber corporate 'community controlled housing association'. For too long the GHA has failed to deliver for Glasgow's most vulnerable tenants and homeowner customers.

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Saturday 15 August 2009

Parental rights case to be decided

The report in Saturday's The Herald ('Parents lose court fight to stop new headteacher taking up school post', Herald, 15 August 2009) contains a number of important inaccuracies concerning a GLC client.

Firstly, as the old saying goes reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated. Our client has not lost. The case was only raised in the Court of Session on Thursday and on Friday we obtained first orders for service but our request for interim interdict was refused.

An interim order is granted before the merits of the case are looked at and is based upon a 'balance of convenience' test. The judge considered that as the new headteacher had already signed an employment contract and had taken up post the balance lay in favour of Glasgow City Council.

However, the suggestion that 'a judge has ruled the city council's defence, that employment law overruled the 2006 legislation was valid' is incorrect. The Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 cannot be 'overruled' by an employment contract. Such a suggestion is the equivalent of saying you could commit a crime because your employer required you to do so.

The 2006 Act requires education authorities to consult with parents through the Parent Council before appointing a headteacher. Whether a short telephone call saying you have a new headteacher constitutes 'consultation' remains to be decided.

Likewise the question of whether Glasgow City Council has acted unlawfully, and will ultimately have to undo its appointments and start over, is a live one that can only be determined at the forthcoming hearing of our client's petition for judicial review.

As far as Govan Law Centre is aware this will be the first test of the parental involvement legislation before the courts in Scotland. We have instructions to bring other cases concerning other schools affected.

There is an important principle at stake. The Scottish Parliament has required education authorities to place parents at the heart of important decisions which affect the lives of their children.

If that law can be reduced to a series of cursory phone calls after decisions have been made then the will of Parliament will have been thwarted. Furthermore if parents are an afterthought in the minds of senior Glasgow education officials then that is a malaise which must be tackled.

Strong, successful schools need the involvement of parents. The Scottish Parliament knew that in passing the 2006 Act.

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Second repossession wave fear

A second wave of home repossessions is expected to hit Scotland, it was claimed yesterday, after figures showed a drop in the number of people across the UK who have lost their houses.

Campaigners and housing experts warned of a "perfect storm" gathering ahead, as unemployment continues to rise and a possible end to low interest rates could result in higher mortgage payments for homeowners, pushing more into financial difficulties.

Full story in Saturday's The Herald.

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Friday 14 August 2009

Glasgow factor writes off £10,000

Glasgow property factor Walker Sandford (WS) has written off £10,760 in charges consisting of monthly compound interest, weekly 'reminder' letters costing £15 plus VAT, and an assortment of legal fees, for a Glasgow client of Govan Law Centre (GLC).

The client's original bill had been £536 but it quickly mushroomed into a debt of several thousands of pound. WS commenced an action for payment of debt at Glasgow Sheriff Court however this was defended by GLC solicitor Lorraine Barrie. The action was dropped after WS agreed that £536 was the correct sum due.

However, after dismissal of the action, WS continued to add compound interest and charges to the earlier disputed bill. That bill saw interest charges in excess of £300 being added every month - for an original debt of £536!

GLC applied for civil legal aid to bring an action for declarator and interdict in the Court of Session, however before this could be completed WS wrote off the entire 'bill' of £10,760. The client now has a zero balance.

GLC believes Walker Sandford's aggressive practice of imposing compound interest and penalty charges might well be unlawful at Scots common law and in terms of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999. However, only a court can determine this matter, and Walker Sandford continue to deny their practices are unlawful.

Until the matter is resolved conclusively by a senior court, customers and advisors can obtain further information from GLC's website on Property Management Problems.

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Thursday 13 August 2009

Poverty of opportunity

Scotland's Justice Secretary's claim ("MacAskill: Justice in Scotland is sexist", The Herald, August 12) does not sit well with Dr Cyrus Tata's comments in the background analysis in the same edition ("Is the justice system failing women whose lives have gone off the rails?"). Dr Tata says the evidence for claims of systemic sexism is "limited" and "mixed". Dr Tata recommends proper research.

If Mr MacAskill is going to talk about discrimination, he should speak about the elephant in our court room: the relationship between poverty of opportunity and recidivist crime. People living in areas of deprivation are two and a half times more likely to be the victim of a crime than the average rate for Scotland. Domestic abuse is twice as prevalent among those on low incomes. Male prisoners are four times as likely to come from areas of poverty and inequality.

The fact a child grows up with perhaps one or two generations of parents who have never worked and have no aspiration creates a poverty of opportunity for that child. If the parents are junkies, steal or get out of their faces every day, how hard is it for that child to escape that life?

In truth, we park people in prison and park them in ghettoes in between periods of incarceration. How should Scotland address this dilemma?

Mr MacAskill knows we have a growing prison population and a dearth of prison space. He does not want to build more prisons. While overcrowding would be eased by forcing the court not to jail people who would otherwise be sentenced to six months or less, how does this further the public interest?

If Scotland is to extinguish the blaze of repeat offending, we need well-funded schemes which sheriffs could offer to convicted young offenders, such as the chance to escape jail subject to strict curfews and successful participation in a co-ordinated scheme personal to them.

A radical solution would entail co-ordinated addiction services, anger management, social skills and, critically, the opportunity to learn a trade or skill, or gain educational qualifications, with placements with employers. The opportunity to secure a job and have a decent life is one sure way to prevent offending and poverty.

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Monday 10 August 2009

Treasury Committee challenges mortgage arrears fees

The House of Commons Treasury Select Committee has attacked the way some mortgage lenders levy high charges on customers who fall into arrears.

The Treasury Committee said this practice was "intolerable" and demanded that the Financial Services Authority (FSA) put a stop to it.

The committee also said some lenders were breaking the rules by using repossession as a first, rather than last, resort with borrowers in arrears.

The FSA said it would publish proposals this autumn after a widespread review. Full story on BBC Business here. See GLC's mini-site on mortgage arrears charges here.

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Friday 7 August 2009

Time for change at GHA Ltd

Council-run housing in Glasgow was huge, bureaucratic and saddled with historic post-war debt, but it was democratic. Who would have suggested we take that huge public body and write of its £1bn debt, inject £900m of public subsidy, and create an equally massive, yet undemocratic, private company?

Fast forward six years from Glasgow's housing stock transfer and that is what has come to pass with the Glasgow Housing Association Ltd (GHA). It is essentially the council without the councillors.

Stock transfer was all about the creation of smaller, community controlled, housing associations. Associations which could respond to local need. Associations run by tenants for tenants.

The notion of 'community ownership' was the unique selling point of housing stock transfer. Tenants voted for it, and tenants are entitled to it. The only stumbling block is the Board of the GHA.

Govan Law Centre believes the GHA is a ship lost at sea. The failure of the GHA lies in its Board and its senior management team. They have the wrong vision, the wrong ethos, and are travelling in the wrong direction. They must be pushed overboard.

Scotland's Housing Minister can use his statutory powers to appoint a new Board and senior management team.

The GHA is bankrolled by the taxpayer. Taxpayer and tenants are entitled to demand that the GHA is transformed into genuine community-controlled housing associations across the City as a matter of urgency.

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Thursday 6 August 2009

Help to prevent homelessness

Glasgow City Council has published new practical and accessible advice guides for homeowners, private sector tenants, and housing association tenants facing repossession or eviction.

The advice guides were written by Govan Law Centre for the Glasgow Homelessness Partnership and are available as PDFs by clicking on the links above.

Glasgow City Council has also announced it will publish its 'section 11' data (i.e. information on the number of new eviction or repossession actions commenced by named landlords and secured lenders)on a quarterly basis here.

The top 5 'worst' landlords and lenders in terms of the number of new cases raised in Glasgow for the period April to June 2009 were as follows:

Housing Association - New Eviction Actions
1. GHA 83
2. Thenew HA 16
3. Govan HA 13
4. Glen Oaks HA 11
5. Northview HA 8/Elderpark HA 8

Lenders - New Mortgage Repossession Actions
1. Bank of Scotland plc 66
2. GE Money 41
3. RBS 30
4. Platform Funding Ltd 24
5. Southern Pacific Mortgage Ltd 20

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Wednesday 5 August 2009

Full scale of disastrous lending disclosed

Northern Rock has disclosed that 12,100 borrowers with the controversial Together mortgage - which allowed buyers to borrow 125% on the value of their home – have fallen into arrears.

The numbers are feared to rise even further as a result of rising unemployment. Industry figures for across the UK show 1,000 families a week are being evicted from their homes.

The bank, which was nationalised in February, also admitted problems with other home loans, saying the total number in arrears had risen to 3.92 per cent, from 3.67 per cent at the end of March and 2.92 per cent at the end of last year.

With around 565,000 borrowers across the UK, this means one in 25 are failing to meet their monthly mortgage payments. Nearly two in five borrowers are in negative equity, meaning they cannot sell their homes to pay off the loan.

The full report is available in today's Telegraph.

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Tuesday 4 August 2009

Estate agents exclude foreign workers

Estate agents are flouting race relations laws by discriminating against migrant workers, a BBC undercover investigation has found.

Firms in Lincolnshire, were found using illegal techniques to stop foreign workers viewing properties. Three agents rejected a Polish worker sent by the BBC, while a BBC employee was allowed to view the properties.

One firm denied it discriminated in this way, while another said it had created a new race-relations policy.

There is no suggestion that the agents themselves are racist, but the behaviour uncovered has been described by human rights lawyers as a "disturbing and shocking" breach of the Race Relations Act of 1976 - which applies to England, Scotland and Wales.

This act outlaws discrimination on the basis of race, religion, colour, religious beliefs, national or ethnic origins.

The BBC report with video is available here.

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Monday 3 August 2009

Bonus bonanza for shameless banks

While UK taxpayers were left with a £37bn tab to bail out the banks, several newspapers report today that those same banks are set to pay out up to £4bn in executive and staff bonuses.

Yesterday, Bank of England Governor Mervyn King suggested tougher banking regulation was still required and said that some bonuses being paid to executives were "absolutely astronomic" and could not be justified.

King said: "Executives at the top are earning vast sums, beyond the dreams of ordinary people, for doing a job which it's very hard to say justifies that kind of bonus. It is a form of compensation which rewards gamblers if they win - but with no loss if they lose."

King added that many banks had engaged in "wild risks for some considerable time," and they would need to be regulated "very carefully" in future to prevent another crisis that led to Britain to nationalise two banks, Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley, taking a majority stake in RBS and a 43% stake in Lloyds TSB.

Last week France's finance minister launched a stinging attack on banks who have begun offering guaranteed bonuses again despite their role in the financial crisis.

Christine Lagarde labelled the practice an "absolute disgrace" and urged fellow G20 governments to follow France in cracking down on bank executive pay.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Lagarde railed against a return to the old ways that led to huge losses and asset writedowns across the banking sector.

"I think it is an absolute disgrace that guaranteed bonuses of several years could still be paid, or that some people are thinking of reinstating the old ways of compensating with insufficient relationship between compensation and lasting performance and risk management," she said.

Guaranteed bonuses, which were typically offered when a bank wanted to retain valuable staff or lure them from a rival, have been blamed for contributing to the culture of excess that ended with the biggest banking crisis in generations.

In March, France imposed stringent restrictions on companies that have been bailed out by the state, which prevent banks from handing out stock options and other executive perks. Bonuses paid by French banks can also be clawed back if apparently profitable deals turn sour.

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Saturday 1 August 2009

Calls to extend Gangmasters Act

Gangmasters are still putting workers' lives at risk and abuse is rife on building sites, in hotels and care homes, Oxfam has warned.

Oxfam said migrant workers are being exploited by the individuals and agencies who organise the supply of labour to employers by paying them well below the minimum wage and failing to adhere to health and safety legislation.

Workers also face bullying, harassment and physical violence as the gangmasters move into poorly controlled sectors such as care homes, hospitality and construction, Oxfam's report said. Full story in The Herald. Oxfam's report: Turning the Tide.

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