Thursday 27 June 2013

GLC welcomes OFT's referral of the payday lending industry to the Competition Commission

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has today referred the UK's payday loan market to the Competition Commission for a market investigation. This will result in extensive evidence being ingathered with the Commission having the ultimate power to radically reform the way the payday lending industry behaves. For example, the Competition Commission's investigation into the selling of Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) resulted in a ban on UK banks from selling PPI alongside loans.

The OFT's own investigation into payday lending last year found that there was widespread consumer detriment and exploitation, an endemic failure for companies to adhere to existing legal rules and protections, with one in four loans not being paid back on time, incurring extra charges for roll-overs, with many consumers being entrapped with spiralling debts.

Govan Law Centre (GLC) welcomes the OFT's Competition Commission referral today but notes that it is not unlikely for the market investigation to take up to two years to reach its final stage, meantime UK consumers will continue to be exploited by usury payday lenders with interest rate charges, such as Wonga's, of 5,853% (APR).

GLC believes much more work needs to be done to tackle the failure of many payday lenders to comply with consumer credit law. In Scotland, the Scottish Government is in a prime position to intervene in this market by enabling credit unions to develop their services by offering accessible and fair 'payday loans', while using public education to warn people of the 'health hazard' of payday lenders. GLC would like to see the new full cost of credit capping power being targeted at this market once it becomes available.

The typical Competition Commission market investigation looks like this:


Tuesday 25 June 2013

GLC bedroom tax petition remitted to Welfare Reform Committee for full consideration

The Scottish Parliament's Petition Committee has today agreed to remit Govan Law Centre's (GLC) bedroom tax petition to the Welfare Reform Committee for full consideration and discussion. GLC believes that this is a positive step forward in the 'No evictions for bedroom tax' campaign in Scotland. Today's development will enable the case for progressive law reform to avoid evictions for bedroom tax arrears to be made with reference to Scottish empirical evidence and compelling real life case studies.  See also the earlier news report on this story on the STV website.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Govan Law Centre welcomes Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards "Changing Banking for Good" report

Today's publication of the 'Changing Banking for Good' report by the UK Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, represents a unique opportunity to put UK banking back on track, serving the consumer and public interest, according to Govan Law Centre (GLC). GLC has long campaigned against excessive bank charges and unfair practices against consumers in banking and financial services.

The Commission's report - which spans nine volumes - represents a fantastic opportunity for UK banking to be reset and rebalanced to avoid the severe economic unstability and massive consumer detriment which the previous and existing regimes have caused.  GLC hopes the UK Government will take on board the Commission's recommedations as soon as possible and practicable. Some of the key recommendations include:
  • a proposal for a new framework including a Senior Person Regime: where banking executives should be accountable for the risks they take. Recent UK failures show that directors have been able to sidestep any real individual responsibility for their actions;
  • a proposal within the new framework that stipulates that employees covered by the proposed licensing regime should adhere to a new set of Banking Standards Rules to ensure those who do serious harm are subject to the full range of enforcement powers. Banking executives should be required to meet professional and ethical standards and where standards are not met there should be a mechanism for imposing appropriate sanctions with individuals held to account.
  • a new criminal offence for Senior Persons of reckless misconduct in the management of a bank, carrying a custodial sentence. This will create a strong deterrence for reckless risk taking. Update: this afternoon the Prime Minister has confirmed that provisions for this new offence will be amended into the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill, which is presently before the House of Commons.


Thursday 13 June 2013

Glasgow family beat the bedroom tax with Govan Law Centre's bedroom tax toolkit

Here GLC Prevention of Homelessness Project (POHP) caseworker, Garry Burns, gives an update on one local family who have used Govan Law Centre's (GLC) bedroom tax toolkit and successfully challenged the bedroom tax.

"The family used GLC's toolkit and sent a dispute form into the local authority advising that due to a disability within the family they required an overnight carer. The local authority started asking questions about who the carer was looking for the address of the carer who provided the overnight care.

The family actually didn't have one person who provided care because like most families they support one another and there are several family members who lend a hand. We supported the family in how best to deal with this issue and aided them in writing a letter back to the local authority advising of their own personal circumstances.

Within a week the local authority responded to our client advising that they would now be exempt from the bedroom tax. Govan Law Centre were able to give the family advice and support throughout all of this and give advice on a number of legalities pertaining to benefits, not just the bedroom tax to take away some of the stress in dealing with their local authority. We continue to support our clients every day; the bedroom tax is just one issue that we are currently supporting our community with.

When we need to take a case on we do, but when a client is only in need of a bit of support to challenge decisions themselves, we empower our clients with the tools to fight back and obtain their legal rights. We a
re proud that we have supported this family in challenging their local authority and would say that this is a fantastic bit of news for the individuals involved, but crucially it shows what can be done when you challenge decisions".


Disabled schoolboy wins right to guitar lessons

As The Herald reports today, many youngsters with disabilities in Scotland are expected to benefit following the ruling in a Govan Law Centre discrimination case against South Lanarkshire Council. 

A pupil at a primary School in East Kilbride, had a guitar bought for him by his parents so he could take part in the sessions, and they asked the local authority to provide him with additional support, including for assistance in using the toilet and other personal care and moving and holding his guitar.

Thomas, who has several chronic conditions that have a significant effect on his ability to carry out normal daily activities, required help to adjust his guitar, take it in and out of its case, and turn the sheet music. However, he could hold and play the instrument and use large-print music sheets.
South Lanarkshire refused the request for asssitance, claiming sufficient support was in place. An additional support needs tribunal ruled it should not have denied the pupil the chance to participate.
The case, the first of its kind in Scotland, has been welcomed by human rights campaigners for establishing that inclusion should not "end with the school bell" and that extra-curricular activities are covered by equalities laws. The Equality Act requires schools to make reasonable adjustments to avoid substantial disadvantage to any disabled pupil.
In finding South Lanarkshire had unlawfully discriminated, the tribunal considered guidance issued by the Equality and Human Rights Commission on making reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils. They found it had not met the duty to make reasonable adjustments and that Thomas was "substantially disadvantaged" from engaging in the club, adding: "His health and safety is compromised as a result. His additional support needs are not met.'
Iain Nisbet, Head of GLC's Education Law Unit, which represented the pupil, said: "We are very pleased to have this early confirmation that a school's duties extend to after-school activities and that Thomas will now be able to take part in the guitar club. This ruling could not be more clear: the duty of inclusion for disabled pupils does not end when the bell rings at the end of the school day."
Thomas's mother, Catherine Pettigrew said, "Thomas has always been able to participate in mainstream education and school-related activities, just the same as other children, so he was very distressed when he couldn't participate in the guitar club – he felt that he was being left behind, that he was being excluded, which is very difficult for a 10-year-old. All he wanted to do was learn to play the guitar. It is important that Thomas can now learn to do something he loves, just like his friends, and also that other parents know that this type of support is available to them."


Tuesday 4 June 2013

Govan Law Centre to defend bedroom tax evictions across Scotland

With over 105,000 households in Scotland affected by the bedroom tax - and with 79% of households having either a disabled tenant or resident - Govan Law Centre (GLC) has pledged to defend bedroom tax evictions across Scotland.

Over the last year GLC has led the campaign in Scotland against evictions for bedroom tax arrears with its law reform petition, now calling before the Scottish Parliament on 25 June 2013.

GLC's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly said: "GLC's Prevention of Homelessness team has led the way with our bedroom tax toolkit which is being used by tens of thousands of tenants, law centres and advice agencies across the UK. GLC is preparing judicial review cases on behalf of its clients in Glasgow and will be challenging the legality of the Department of Works and Pension's under-occupancy housing benefit cuts".

"As a campaigning community law centre in Scotland, GLC will not sit by and watch tenants evicted because of the bedroom tax, and today we pledge that our Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly, and our team of housing law solicitors and prevention of homelessness caseworkers will defend and protect tenants across Scotland from evictions for bedroom tax arrears where possible".

If any advice agency requires specialist legal representation for free please contact GLC on 0141 440 2503, and where possible our Principal Solicitor will defend for free. For tenants in Renfrewshire we are working with Renfrewshire Law Centre who will represent you for free in bedroom tax arrears eviction cases.

Time to remove financial barriers to bankruptcy for no income no asset Scots

Over the last year, the Scottish Government has erected major financial barriers to prevent Scottish consumers in extreme money difficulties with no income or assets to access bankruptcy and debt relief. Last April, the 'Low Income Low Asset bankruptcy' application fee was increased by 100% - from £100 to £200.

Speaking at Money Advice Scotland's annual conference in Glasgow, GLC's Principal Solicitor said it was time for the Scottish Government to realise that access to sequestration for Scots with no hope of ever getting out of debt was a constitutional right - an access to justice issue - and not something that should be regarded as a commodity with financial barriers to overcome in order to access it.

GLC's Mike Dailly noted that Scotland had seen a fall in personal bankruptcies by 21% in the last year – with a 58% drop in the debtor Low Income Low Asset (LILA) applications since the application fee was increased by 100% last year. 

While the Enterprise Minister, Fergus Ewing, had welcomed these figures as ‘reassuring news’ and an indicator of economic growth the truth is that the Scottish Government had financially excluded thousands of Scots from debt relief. In so doing, it had exposed financial vulnerable Scots to the human misery of being hounded by creditors when they have no hope of ever clearing their bills.

The Scottish Government's forthcoming bankruptcy bill seeks to reform the LILA system yet according to GLC the plans appear to be unworkable, exclusive, and unfair. 

For example, the new system will only be available to Scots in receipt of welfare benefits, but only where they have been in receipt of benefits for six months. It will be available to be used once every ten years for applicants, and as the Accountant in Bankruptcy's office confirmed yesterday, it will only be accessible upon payment of a fee with no exemptions - unlike the court system which exempts litigants from paying court fees where they are in receipt of certain benefits.