Sunday 30 December 2012

An end to homelessness in Scotland?

Hogmanay marks the abolition of the priority need test in homelessness law, and the crystallisation of the Scottish Government’s promise to 'end homelessness' in Scotland. Any individual who becomes homeless unintentionally has been promised the right to a home. What does this promise mean in practice? Will people really have the right to a permanent home in Scotland?

In practice, local authorities already side step statutory homelessness duties by turning single homeless people away, telling them there is no available temporary accommodation. This is unlawful but it happens every day in Scotland, and can be very difficult to detect or prove. Why don’t councils have sufficient temporary accommodation?

Ultimately, it’s the lack of a joined-up national housing policy, whereby the specific policy of large-scale stock transfer has meant that many local authorities have no houses at all. Add this to the fact the 2001 Housing (Scotland) Act contains no power for councils to require housing associations to accommodate homeless persons on a temporary or interim basis, and you have a bottle neck in a system where demand always outstrips supply.

Of course living in a temporary furnished flat, or more typically a homeless hotel or bed and breakfast room, is not the same thing as the promise of a permanent home. Much of Scotland’s private sector temporary accommodation ranges from low quality to shockingly bad, if you are lucky enough to get it. 

The reality is we don’t have enough good quality social housing in Scotland; we need to build more, and giving people legal rights to such homes is meaningless unless they are available to let. Indeed it could be argued that raising expectations of access to good quality, decent homes is unfair and unhelpful if many people may never get one.

Our homelessness laws look fantastic on paper but we have a stretched and broken system on the ground, with a lack of infrastructure. And that system will be unable to cope with the additional homelessness caused by the bedroom tax cuts from April, and thereafter the hideous problems created by the universal credit system in October.

If we want to end homelessness in Scotland there is no better starting point than doing much more to prevent it. The Scottish Government has the power to prevent increased homelessness from the bedroom tax cuts, which will adversely affect 95,000 Scottish households from April.

Govan Law Centre (GLC), the STUC and Shelter Scotland are calling for a change in the law to prevent evictions based on bedroom tax arrears, by instead treating such arrears as an ordinary debt. GLC has already drafted a simple solution which the Scottish Government has agreed to look at.

Local authorities must be allowed to build or acquire more homes, or at least be empowered to formally require housing associations to assist them in meeting their emergency homelessness duties, particularly so with the Homelessness (Abolition of Priority Need Test) (Scotland) Order 2012 coming into force on 31 December.

Unless we act now to prevent the expected evictions from next year’s welfare reform cuts, and recognise the need to improve our social housing infrastructure in Scotland, the right to a home may become nothing more than a promise which cannot be honoured.


Saturday 29 December 2012

GLC campaign for lenders to reimburse unfair mortgage fees in Scotland

Banks are facing compensation claims of up to £30m from Scottish mortgage customers hit by "unfair, immoral and unethical' fees and charges added to their mortgages after court actions were dismissed by lenders for technical reasons. Govan Law Centre's (GLC) campaign to stop Scottish consumers being 'double charged' for mortgage expenses has been reported in The Herald (Sat, 29 December 2012).

GLC believes that the issue here is fairness, and that incompetent or defective proceedings cannot be the fault of consumers; rather it is the responsibility of lenders and their Scottish solicitors. GLC considers it to be unfair, immoral, and unethical for Scottish solicitors and UK lenders to profit twice by 'double-charging' Scottish consumers who are in financial difficulties.

GLC has set up a simple self-help website for affected customers or their advisors to seek free refunds.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders told The Herald that if costs were not added to mortgage accounts "then all customers would effectively end up paying for them, which many would regard as unfair and inappropriate". The Herald's own editorial has argued that this approach "fails to recognise the only fair and appropriate way for the charge to be borne is by the institutions whose incompetence caused the actions to fail". The Herald goes on to argue that:

"Mike Dailly of Govan Law Centre, the solicitor who is leading the campaign to recover the charges levied for failed actions, is entirely justified in condemning the lenders and criticising their solicitors as "unfair, immoral, and unethical" in double-charging Scottish consumers who are in financial difficulties".
Repossession cases which were dismissed in Scotland centre on two significant legal rulings in the UK Supreme Court and the sheriff court that resulted in thousands of repossession cases being aborted: RBS v. Wilson; and NRAM v. Millar & RBS v. McConnell, respectively (GLC represented the defenders in NRAM v. Millar and RBS v. McConnell). 


Tuesday 18 December 2012

Shelter Scotland and STUC endorse 'No eviction for bedroom tax' campaign

GLC is delighted that Shelter Scotland and the STUC have endorsed the principles of the 'No eviction for bedroom tax' campaign, which is already supported by local tenants and residents in Glasgow, following two public meetings in Govan.

GLC had suggested the need for urgent minor law reform amendment to implement a 'No eviction for bedroom tax' policy in Scotland, upon the basis the bedroom tax cuts would be affecting tenants within 4 months or so, and Scotland needed a new safety net otherwise we would be unable to prevent evictions based on rent arrears caused by the bedroom tax.

Many defended eviction actions in court can often turn on £3.55 per week payments to arrears, and with £12 to £22 per week being deducted from housing benefit it could become almost impossible to defend such eviction actions in the near future.

GLC has suggested bedroom tax rent arrears could be pursued as an ordinary debt, and should not be founded upon as a ground of eviction or to establish the reasonableness of local authority and housing association evictions. Such a policy could either be considered on a permanent or transitional basis with a sunset clause.

The support from Shelter Scotland and the STUC to this proposal is very welcome and will help forge much wider civic Scottish support to the 'No eviction for bedroom tax' campaign.

Friday 14 December 2012

Glasgow mortgage repossession action dismissed for failing to comply with Consumer Credit Act

A sheriff at Glasgow Sheriff Court has dismissed a mortgage repossession action concerning two 'second charge' secured loans for failing to comply with sections 87-88 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 (CCA) and the Consumer Credit (Enforcement, Default and Termination Notices) Regulations 1983 as amended.

In the case of Citifinancial Europe plc v. Rice, Sheriff Deutsch pronounced a judgment which found that the section 87 default notice served under the CCA was defective and incompetent  because it failed to properly identify the loan agreements, the parties to the agreements, and failed to provide clear specification of the matters complained of.

The court distinguished the present case from American Express v. Brandon, where a defect in a default notice was overlooked as de minimus and non-prejudicial. While such arguments were possible in Sheriff Deutsch's opinion, in the present case the errors were 'fundamental' and the action for possession fell to be dismissed.

The pursuers were represented by Aberdein Considine & Co., Solicitors (Gordon), while the defender was represented by Govan Law Centre (Dailly).


Tuesday 4 December 2012

Glasgow University Law School Ethics Colloquium

GLC's Principal Solicitor has delivered a speech today at the University of Glasgow's Ethics Colloquium on behalf of the UK's Financial Services Consumer Panel.

Mike suggested that many of our financial scandals and problems can be traced back to a lack of professional ethics in our banking system, and that ethical failure was a causa causans of so many of the UK's and international communities recent financial problems.  Mike's speech is available here.  (Mike's evidence on behalf of the FSCP to the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards is here).

For over four years now the UK has been hit, virtually weekly, by corporate scandals and failures attributable arguably to a lack of ethical behaviour at high levels. The Bank of Scotland, The Metropolitan Police, Arthur Andersen, Lloyds, South Yorkshire Police, BBC, Glasgow Rangers, HBOS, News International, MPs expenses and LIBOR rate fixing.

Glasgow University's colloquium has sought to analyse the causes of this culture and if this is now a permanent state of affairs or an issue which can be addressed. Can others learn from the medical and legal professions? Is there a role for education as well as regulation and sanction?

Held in the Court and Senate Suite of the University the event heard from high profile speakers from business, the professions and academia seeking to address the downward cycle of public and business behaviour. The speakers included:

· Sir Kenneth Calman, Chancellor, University of Glasgow, and former Chief Medical Officer for England; and Scotland
· Emeritus Professor Stewart Hamilton, IMD, Switzerland
· Harry Reid, The Herald
· Bruce Ritchie, Law Society of Scotland
· Mike Dailly, Financial Services Consumer Panel
· Tom Craig, Craig Corporate
· Douglas Mill, University of Glasgow, School of Law


Sunday 2 December 2012

GLC encourages Scottish homeowners to reclaim millions of pounds in unfair legal expenses

Many of the several thousand Scottish homeowners taken to court for mortgage repossession over the last few years, have had their cases dismissed and then re-raised for technical reasons.

Govan Law Centre believes they may have been unfairly charged twice for their lender's legal expenses along with additional administrative charges.

GLC will be launching a straight forward campaign and website to help consumers reclaim the 'repeat' legal expenses and charges added to their mortgage accounts, at a Scottish repossession conference hosted in Glasgow on Monday 3 December 2012 by Carrington Dean.

GLC's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly said: "Where a lender has raised incompetent proceedings, or deserts those proceedings to re-raise again, how can they reasonably expect their customers to pay for being taken to court twice?  We think passing on these repeat or double charges to Scottish consumers is clearly unfair in relation to the Financial Services Authority's (FSA) Principles of Business. The extra costs involved here add up to many millions of pounds which Scottish homeowners should not have to bear".

The reclaim mini-site is available online here.