Tuesday 26 April 2011

Prodigal son returns to Govan after 30 years

GLC's Chairperson, Tommy McMahon, with
GCC's  Local Heritage Officer Kate Dargie.
The 127 year old 'Govan Baby'  has been returned to the restored Aitken Memorial Fountain in Govan's Water Row, marking the ongoing physical regeneration of Govan, which Govan Law Centre has fully and consistently supported for many years.

The Aitken Memorial Fountain was created in 1884 and is the only surviving example the decorative, cast iron drinking fountains produced by Cruikshanks & Co.'s foundry at the Denny Works, Stirlingshire.

Hills Trust pupil's impression of
the Aitken Memorial Fountain.
The fountain commemorates Dr. John Aitken (1838-1880), who provided medical care to the workers of the nearby Ibrox and Drumoyne collieries, and who served as the Police Surgeon and Medical Officer to the Burgh of Govan from 1864, until his death in 1880.

The Aitken Memorial Fountain will be officially opened on Wednesday 1 June 2011 at 10am, with celebrations, craft, farmer and market stalls running until 3pm.


Friday 22 April 2011

Royal Assent for Property Factors (Scotland) Act 2011

The Property Factors (Scotland) Act 2011 has received Royal Assent this month, marking the end of a four year campaign initiated and led by Govan Law Centre (GLC), and the start of a better deal for Scotland's homeowners.

The genesis of the Bill was grassroots. At GLC's fortnightly casework meetings our solicitors would repeatedly flag up the growing number of instances of homeowner exploitation by property factors. GLC's local Board of Trustees were equally troubled with the ability of Glasgow's citizens to be ripped-off with impunity. It was apparent something had to be done to redress the imbalance between the rights of unregulated companies and the rights of Scottish homeowners, many of whom were financially or otherwise vulnerable.

A Bill proposal and consultation paper drafted by GLC was first introduced in the Scottish Parliament by the then Govan MSP Gordon Jackson QC in March 2007, but had insufficient time to progress. The reins were quickly picked up by Maryhill MSP Patricia Ferguson and in October 2007 a fresh proposal and consultation paper was published by the Scottish Parliament. High profile support came from a series of BBC tv and radio investigations and a campaign for law reform sponsored by Glasgow's Evening Times newspaper.

Constant publicity led to the OFT launching a market investigation into Scotland's property factor industry, which had the effect of kicking Patricia Ferguson's Bill proposal into the long grass. Despite the OFT recommending the Scottish Government's favoured solution of 'voluntary accreditation', Patrica Ferguson and GLC ploughed on, gathering support and finally making a winning case for major law reform to protect Scottish homeowners.

GLC's Mike Dailly and draftperson of the Bill said: "We're very proud of the Property Factors (Scotland) Act 2011 because its a victory for common sense, and will help prevent homeowners in Scotland being exploited, while providing a new accessible tribunal remedy with 'legal teeth' if they do get stung.  It's also an example and case in point of the importance of local community law centres. Law centres are being threatened in England and Wales, but we need more of them in the UK, not less".

"Without Patricia Ferguson's tireless dedication and hardwork the Bill would not have seen the light of day. We would acknowledge the tremendous support from Patricia's researcher Chris Kelly, the Parliament's excellent Legislation Team, the Local Government Committee and various civil servants at the Scottish Government who all helped to make this progressive piece of legislation possible".

Thursday 21 April 2011

GLC warns UK consumers 'don't get ripped off when seeking PPI refunds'

The High Court in London has rejected the Brittish Bankers Association (BBA) judicial review which challenged the UK's financial regulator's power (Financial Services Authority, FSA) to require banks to review all of its Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) complaints (most of which the banks had rejected).

The challenge related to rules introduced by the FSA in August last year and whether breaches of FSA 'Principles' (high level general rules) can be a basis of redress for a customer who complains. The banks had unilaterally decided to place all complaints on hold pending their judicial review; the FSA had not issued a waiver to permit them to do this.

Campaigners have estimated that the High Court's decision could lead to three million customers receiving £4.5bn in refunds, consisting of premiums and interest. However, banks said they would continue to put claims on hold until they have decided whether to appeal against the decision, despite a call from the FSA to reconsider complaints immediately.

Govan Law Centre's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly, today warned consumers not to be ripped off by dodgy Claims Management Companies who promise to get you thousands of pounds back for an upfront fee of around £500 hundreds pounds or more.

Mike said: "Many people will be eligible for a refund but not everyone. You can check your eligiblity online using Money Saving Expert's free guide, which also has free style letters on how to complain and obtain a refund.  The key point is that you do not need to pay a Claims Management Company or anyone else to get a refund. You can do this yourself by writing a letter. There is no need to go to court. So if you've been ripped off with a useless PPI policy don't get ripped off again when it comes to seeking a refund".

PPI covers payments for loans and credit cards if the policyholder falls ill or loses their job, but the policies are riddled with loopholes, such as exempting claims from the self-employed or those with back injuries, the major cause of workplace illness in the UK.

Thursday 14 April 2011

Govanhill Law Centre client wins sex discrimination case

A Govanhill Law Centre client has recently received payment from Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) of £18,357.57 following a successful Employment Tribunal claim.

Mrs. R, who wishes to remain anonymous, raised a claim against her former employer for unfair dismissal as a result of pregnancy, and sex discrimination.

Mrs R had worked for P.I.A on a series of fixed term contracts for around 18 months. She took a period of authorised unpaid leave to attend a family wedding. Mrs R fell ill at the wedding and her husband contacted her employer to advise she would be unable to return on time. Despite the fact she produced a medical certificate, Mrs R was dismissed for gross misconduct on her return to work, without having an opportunity to explain her position. Ms R appealed the decision but her appeal letter was ignored. Mrs R believed that the real reason she had been dismissed was because her employer knew she was pregnant and wanted to use her sick leave as an excuse to dismiss her.

After hearing three days of evidence, the Tribunal found that the true reason Mrs R had been dismissed was because she was pregnant and that she had been unfairly dismissed. The Tribunal held that this constituted an act of sex discrimination, contrary to section 3A(1) (a) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Mrs R was represented by GhLC solicitor Lindsay Paterson at the hearing.

The Tribunal issued its decision in October 2010, but Mrs R has only recently received her settlement. As a result of the delayed payment, the Respondents were forced to pay additional interest of £237.37 to Mrs R.

Mrs R said: “While I worked at P.I.A. my boss treated me badly. He told me I should wear high heels to look smart and tall. He insulted me in front of my colleagues. I was dismissed after he knew I had fallen pregnant and this caused me a lot of stress and financial worries. My husband and I had to move out of our home as we could not afford the rent".

"I am very happy with the Tribunal decision. I had worked in the travel industry for 7 years and I felt my good reputation had been damaged. I can now hold my head up high and feel confident to apply for jobs in the future. I want to thank Govanhill Law Centre – if it was not for them, I would not have won my case “.

Lorraine Barrie, Associate Solicitor at Govanhill Law Centre said: “We are delighted that our client has now received full payment from her former employer, after a long wait. Our client was very distressed following her dismissal and she suffered significant financial worries when her first baby was on the way. We are pleased that the Tribunal have recognised the significant stress caused to our client by awarding £5,000 for injury to her feelings”.


Tuesday 5 April 2011

Places still available on GLC's Employment law seminar on 14 April 2011

GLC's 'Employment law basics for NQ solicitors, trainee solicitors and advisors' is still taking bookings - to reserve a place please call 0141 440 2503 or you can use our booking form

Our half day seminar is aimed at advisors with little or no knowledge of employment law.  The training event will help solicitors and advisors identify potential breaches of the law, and provide practical tools to allow the advisor or the client to take further action.

The seminar includes contributions from the following speakers: Lorraine Barrie, Associate Solicitor at Govanhill Law Centre. She represents a number of clients with employment law disputes including unlawful deductions from wages, unfair dismissal, sex discrimination and redundancy issues. She has assisted migrant workers to report breaches of the law to the relevant enforcement agencies.

Giles Woolfson is a director of McGrade + Co. He has specialised in employment law for over ten years, advising both employers and individuals on various employment issues including whistleblowing, discrimination, breach of contract, unfair dismissal, restrictive covenants and TUPE. He is also a trained mediator.

Paula Chan is a solicitor at McGrade + Co. Paula completed a specialist traineeship in employment law and has practiced solely in this area following qualification. She has experience in a range of contentious and non-contentious work having represented and advised individuals, companies, voluntary organisations and trade unions.

Cost: £65 (concessionary rate for voluntary organizations £55). Registration 9.30am, 10am to 1pm.


Monday 4 April 2011

Scotland ill-prepared for ‘summer repossession spike’ - GLC calls for proactive solutions

While the UK Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) predicts a 11% increase in mortgage repossessions across the UK in 2011 as against the figure for 2010 [1], there are a number of reasons to think this figure could be optimistic; however there is absolutely no doubt that Scotland is on course for a ‘summer repossession spike’ according to Scotland’s Govan Law Centre (GLC).

The principal reason for the Scottish spike is due to the fact that between 3,000 and 5,000 mortgage repossession court actions had to be abandoned following the decision of the UK Supreme Court in RBS plc v. Wilson and others, at the end of November last year. Many of these cases have had to be re-raised, and these new cases will start to call in court (following the time it has taken to undertake the pre-action ‘calling-up notice’ and the re-raising of proceedings in compliance with the Home Owner and Debtor Protection (Scotland) Act 2010).

In addition, the CML had estimated there were 15,000 historic cases in Scotland where lenders had obtained decree but not enforced it, because payment arrangements were in place; many of these cases will now require fresh court actions as such decrees are no longer sound following the Wilson case [2].

In addition to these Scottish drivers, there are also UK-wide drivers which could not only result in more repossession actions in Scotland, but critically, lead to an increase in the number of cases which are very difficult to resolve:  
  1. The UK Government’s decision last October to significantly reduce the level of Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI) for those out of work;
  2. The impact of UK Government public spending cuts on jobs, and the wider impact of welfare cuts too;
  3. The fact that additional forbearance by lenders – since April 2009 at the request of the UK Government – may now be masking the true number of financially difficult cases; and
  4.  The uncertainty over when mortgage interest rates will ultimately begin to rise.
Govan Law Centre’s position is that three urgent solutions are required to help address the expected additional pressure in Scotland:

1. Scrap the restrictive Mortgage to Rent rules introduced by the Scottish Government in March 2009, invest more in the Scheme, and extend this excellent Scottish safety net. In June 2009, we contributed to a report which predicted the Scottish Government’s rules would result in a ‘post code lottery’ for vulnerable homeowners facing repossession with many households rejected due to the restrictive eligibility criteria.[3] A FOI response to Govan Law Centre from the Scottish Government confirms we were correct[4].

For the period 31 August 2009 to 31 August 2010 almost half of the people applying to the Scottish Government Home Owner Support Fund (the Mortgage to Rent Scheme and Shared Equity Scheme) were refused help; out of 719 registered applications, 315 did not proceed.

Worryingly, of those Scottish households turned down for help, 37% were refused help because their home was valued more than the Scottish Government new valuation limit (which is a crude figure based upon the lowest quartile value of houses within a local authority area in relation to the number of rooms); while another 37% were refused help because no local authority of housing association was willing to participate in the Scheme. Clearly, the Scheme is unable to cope with the current demand, never mind the expected significant increase in demand which GLC predicts later this year.

2. Introduce a new ‘Post Repossession Tenancy’ in Scots law so that occupiers whose homes had been repossessed could lease them back from their lender until the properties were sold. At present lenders would be highly unlikely to do this, as they would be granting a Short Assured Tenancy of at least six months, with complex liabilities for repairs etc., However, we know that many properties can take several months or considerably longer to be sold and it would benefit lenders, repossessed occupiers and local authority homelessness departments if former owners could enter into a simple ‘no frills’ tenancy until the property was sold. Former owners who were unemployed or on low incomes would be eligible for housing benefit, and such an initiative would utilise otherwise empty properties in Scotland.

3. Enhance the requirement for early intervention to prevent homelessness in Scotland – we recommend an upgrading of section 11 of the Homelessness etc., (Scotland) Act 2003 to require local authorities to use innovative techniques (such as embedded homelessness triggers within their computerised client contact systems) to detect and prevent threatened homelessness much earlier, and to provide a co-ordinated and holistic response in terms of legal, money advice, welfare rights and social care services.

[4] Scottish Government Housing and Regeneration Directorate written response dated 12 November 2010, from Keith McDowell, HOSF Scheme Co-ordinator for Scotland.