Friday 31 May 2013

Public legal education: Your rights under the Property Factors (Scotland) Act 2011

GLC's Public Legal Education (PLE) project has published a consumer friendly information leaflet to help Scots understand their new rights under the Property Factors (Scotland) Act 2011. In particular, our PLE project has been working in the community of Govanhill (based at Govanhill Law Centre) and across the Southside of Glasgow to raise public awareness in a number of key areas of housing and property law.

GLC's information leaflet - available to download as a PDF here - explains in simple terms the new rights for Scottish homeowners in relation to property factor disputes. The Property Factors (Scotland) Act 2011 was drafted by Govan Law Centre on behalf of the member's bill sponsor, Patricia Ferguson MSP.

It aims to raise awareness around the new registration scheme for property managers in Scotland, the Code of Conduct which property factors must abide by, and the new Homeowner Housing Panel and Committee, which can hear disputes and enforce remedies without the need for a solicitor or the fear of being exposed to
legal expenses.

Recent changes update: tenant's rights in the Scottish private rented sector

There have been some significant changes to the Scottish private rented housing regime in the last few months, and it’s important that tenants in this sector are aware of them. Here, GLC's public legal education officer, Ailie Doyle focuses on three particular areas: the new tenant information pack, illegal premiums, and tenancy deposit schemes. For further information for Glasgow residents please contact Govan Law Centre on 0141 440 2503 or Govanhill Law Centre on 0141 433 2665.

Section 33 of the Private Rented Housing (Scotland) Act 2011 means that landlords in the private rented sector (PRS) now have a legal duty to provide specified documents and information to their tenants at the start of their tenancy.
This obligation came into force on 1st May 2013.  The Scottish Government state that the TIP should support and enable tenants (and prospective) tenants understand their rights and responsibilities. 

The landlord must give the following to the tenant at the beginning of the tenancy:

The landlord’s details including registration number
The tenancy agreement
The gas safety certificate
 AT5 form if you are signing up to a Short Assured Tenancy.
The Tenant Information Pack (it can be downloaded from the Scottish Government website)

If your landlord doesn’t provide the information and pack, they can be fined up to £500. You should also report this to your local council’s housing department.

It is an offence - and has been since the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984 - for landlords or letting agencies to charge for anything other than rent or a refundable deposit (which must not exceed 2 months rent). 

No other fees are allowed to be charged and this has been clarified by Section 32 of the Private Rented Housing (Scotland) Act 2011. So you can’t be charged for :                  
  • Credit checks
  • Reference checks
  • Inventory fees
  • Copies of the lease
  • Key money

or anything else apart from the rent or the deposit.  Letting agents should not ask you for these illegal premiums. If you have been charged in the past you can write to your letting agency and ask for your money back. You may want to wait until you leave your tenancy to safeguard your current position. Contact us if you need to discuss this.

The Tenancy Deposit Schemes (Scotland) Regulations 2011 are now fully operational from 15th May 2013. This means that landlords must pay deposits into one of the three deposit schemes approved by the Scottish Government and the money is then held by that scheme for the duration of the tenancy. The landlord must tell the tenant how much has been lodged and when, the name of the scheme and the terms of how you get your money back.
The purpose of tenancy deposit schemes is to ensure that:           
  • deposits are safeguarded throughout the tenancy
  • deposits are not unfairly withheld
  • tenants and landlords receive the amount they are entitled to from the deposit, and
  • disputes between tenants and landlords are resolved quickly and impartially

If you pay a deposit and your landlord doesn't register it and give you the required information, then you can apply to the Sheriff Court.  If the sheriff is satisfied that the landlord failed to comply, the court can order the landlord to pay you up to three times the amount of the deposit. You can do this up to three months after the tenancy has ended.

As long as the tenancy is in Scotland the regulations apply even if the landlord lives outside Scotland.


Monday 20 May 2013

Scots face postcode eviction lottery from Scottish Government approach; 150,000 Scots denied protection from bedroom tax evictions

Scotland's Housing Minister has written to the Scottish Parliament's Petitions Committee rejecting GLC's call for legislation to prevent bedroom tax evictions in Scotland, and instead has suggested the approach of Dundee City Council (DCC) is to be preferred.

The temporary one year approach of DCC involves not evicting council tenants for bedroom tax arrears 'where the Director of Housing is satisfied that affected tenants are doing all they can be reasonably expected to in order to avoid falling into arrears'.

GLC believes DCC's approach is a step in the right direction - albiet we prefer an independent and impartial court based solution  - but remain puzzled as to how the Scottish Government can on the one hand support DCC's approach to no evictions for bedroom tax arrears, yet fail to ensure that all tenants of social landlords enjoy the same approach in Scotland? 

Only a handful of Scotland's councils have agreed to the approach embraced by the Housing Minister, which means there are approximately 150,000 Scots who reside in tenancies in the social rented sector exposed to a postcode eviction lottery from the bedroom tax. Many of these Scots are particulary vulnerable through disabilities, physical or mental ill-health, or financial exclusion.

None of the half a million or so Scots who reside in housing association properties are being offered any protection against bedroom tax eviction from the Scottish Government DCC approach, nor are the vast majority of council tenants in Scotland offered any hope - despite the fact, the Scottish Government could easily legislate to provide the same protection for all Scots in the social rented sector, which the Housing Minister believes is right and proper for a handful of council tenants to currently enjoy.

GLC believes that the Scottish Government has a responsibility to ensure that all tenants of social landlords in Scotland enjoy the same equality of protection against eviction for bedroom tax arrears; and that at the very least, the Scottish Ministers should use their powers to ensure all such tenants have the same equality of protection which the Housing Minister's supports in her letter to the Petitions Committee.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

GLC informační průvodce - Govan Law Centre publishes its 'Challenge the Bedroom Tax Toolkit' in Czech

Govan Law Centre (GLC) has published its highly successful 'Bedroom Tax Toolkit' in Czech, and is distributing the Czech version of its toolkit through Govanhill Law Centre to assist members of the EU migrant worker communities in Glasgow. The Czech version of GLC's bedroom tax toolkit is freely available here.

GLC's 'Challenging the Bedroom tax Toolkit', aims to provide people with a means to utilise their rights of review and appeal in law, in terms of changes in the eligibility rules to UK housing benefit from the new 'under-occupancy' rules, which came into force last month.  

The GLC bedroom tax toolkit was developed to protect our clients and other tenants across the UK, including in terms of the 'anti-test case' social security rules, whereby if future legal challenges to the bedroom tax were successful (there are over 10 judicial reviews ongoing across the UK at present) people would be able to receive back payments, subject to any successful court challenge.

GLC has been careful not to give false hope to people; we are empowering and enabling people to act upon their human rights to challenge bedroom tax and housing benefit decisions. Legal arguments are untested, although there are some decisions which point in the favour of disabled tenants in particular in the UK.

GLC's toolkit has been e-mailed to over 7,000 people across the UK by us directly, and has been distributed many times more through social media and online resources, and is available through a number of advice agency websites, including Shelter Scotland, Shelter Wales and Birmingham Law Centre.


GLC to discuss impact of bedroom tax for Scots with learning disabilities at Scottish Parliament

Govan Law Centre (GLC) will address members of the Scottish Parliament's Cross-Party Group for Learning Disability this afternoon on the impact of the 'bedroom tax' on Scots with learning disabilities.

The Cross-Party Group chaired by Jackie Baillie MSP, Convenor, and Jim Eadie MSP, Deputy Convenor, will be provided with an update on GLC's 'No eviction for bedroom tax' campaign - which is due to call again before the Parliament's Petitions Committee on Tuesday 25 June 2013 - and a report on the uptake across Scotland and the UK of GLC's Challenge the Bedroom Tax 'Toolkit'. 

The Parliamentary Group will be presented with real life examples of casework from GLC's Alistair Sharp and Gary Burns. Our case studies aim to highlight the particular issues surrounding those with a learning disability in relation to the bedroom tax. We will highlight the recurring issues and particular problems facing someone with learning difficulties, and what organisations can do in order to offer support in relation to the bedroom tax and other welfare reform. 

GLC aims to demonstrate how people with learning difficulties may have problems in asserting their legal rights, and in many cases may require coordinated access to other agencies. GLC will explain how small changes to an agency's practice can help provide positive solutions and better outcomes for Scots with learning disabilities.

Friday 3 May 2013

Sheriff Principal rules 'sheriff went too far too quickly by granting decree': Bank of Scotland v. Gallacher judgment

Sheriff Principal Bowen Q.C. has ruled that a sheriff at Glasgow Sheriff Court 'went too far too quickly by granting decree on the basis of the information he had before him'.

In the case of Bank of Scotland v. Gallacher, the defender's solicitor has sought a continuation, which was refused and had thereafter sought to state a defence and fix an evidential hearing; the sheriff had refused to fix a proof and proceeded to grant decree on the information before him, which included undisputed mortgage arrears of over £18,000.

The defender's solicitor had argued that the court at first instance had failed to properly take into account certain factors which he was required to do by statute before he proceeded to exercise his discretion. It was argued that the sheriff had proceeded to grant decree on the basis of certain assumptions, when he ought to have fixed an evidential hearing to reach a proper determination of questions of fact. Nothing had been said to the sheriff about the ability of the defender to find alternative accommodation (one of the factors in s.24(7) of the Conveyancing and Feudal Reform (Scotland) Act 1970).

The Sheriff Principal had sympathy with the view that the circumstances as disclosed were sufficient to raise substantial doubt as to whether there was any real prospect of the defender meeting his obligations under the standard security within a reasonable time. But the Sheriff Principal said 'I am clear that the requirement to "have reagrd to" the ability of the defender to secure alternative accommodation cannot be met by a lack of information or the absence of a request for a continuation to secure accommodation ... The provision of [the ability of the debtor and any other person residing at the security subjects to secure reasonable alternative accommodation, 24(7)(e), 1970 Act] is, however, an important one to which more than lip service should be paid'.

Agents for the pursuers were Irwin Mitchell Solicitors - Ms Scott; while the defender was represent by Govan Law Centre - Mr Dailly. The judgment is available here as a PDF.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

GLC to host Recent Developments in Judicial Review seminar on Friday 10 May 2013

Govan Law Centre is hosting a seminar on Recent Development in Judicial Review: Procedure and Practice on Friday 10 May 2013 at the Orkney Street Enterprise Centre, 18-20 Orkney Street, Govan. Registration is from 9.30am, and the event runs from 10am to 12.30pm.

Mungo Bovey Q.C. will provide a presentation entitled 'Article 8 and the death of exceptionality', while Dan Byrne, Advocate will provide an update on developments in judicial review procedure. Places cost £40 and bookings can be made by contacting Anne Taylor: e-mail admin@ or call 0141 440 2503.