Friday 21 February 2014

Tribunal finds Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs in contempt of court as Govanhill Law Centre recovers £20,000 in tax credits for client

Govanhill Law Centre - part of the Govan Law Centre Trust - acts on behalf of a number of A8 and A2 nationals in the field of social welfare law. In December 2011 we published a report ‘Unequal and Unlawful Treatment: Barriers faced by the Roma Community in Govanhill when accessing welfare benefits and the implications of section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.’

A particularly difficult case relates to a Slovakian National who has resided in the UK since September 2007.  She is a single parent with two dependant daughters, born July 2002 and April 2004. Our client received tax credits in 2008.  In or around July 2010 tax credits were withdrawn. 

Our client appealed against the decision to terminate payment of tax credits. Correspondence became increasingly protracted, information was sought and supplied by our client, however, HMRC declined payment and continued to request the same information over and over.

HMRC would not accept that our client had qualifying children and repeatedly refused her application for tax credits in spite of birth certificates, national identity cards and letters from the local school confirming the same.  In November 2011 our client was advised that she would receive tax credits, however this was then withdrawn.  Correspondence continued, however no progress was made. 

The opinion of advocate Joe Bryce was sought in an effort to assist this particularly vulnerable client.  There has been chronic maladministration by HMRC, particularly in dealing with A8 Roma. There have been unreasonable information requests, unlawful retention of documents, a presumption of fraudulent behaviour, the imposition of different and unnecessary procedures and inordinate delay.

There was no progress in this case since the April 2012 when an appeal against the March 2012 decision because HMRC has never referred the appeal to the Tribunal.

GhLC solicitor Donna Morgan said: "Counsel was of the view that the client did not need to wait for the HMRC to notify her appeal to the Tribunal; she could do it herself, with our assistance. The Tax Credits Act 2002 permits this unusual approach, so far as we are aware this is the first successful appeal from an individual direct to the tribunal".

"Many direction notices were issued by tribunal services giving HMRC the opportunity to respond, which they failed to do to such an extent that HM Tribunal and Court Services found HMRC in contempt of court".

GhLC caseoworker, Jitka Perinova said: "Shortly thereafter HMRC issued letters confirming that backdated payment would be made from November 2010 to February 2013 would be paid.  Substantial sums totallling almost £20,000 have now been paid to our client improving her quality of life and that of her two children".

Monday 3 February 2014

GLC statement on the effective abolition of the bedroom tax in Scotland

Govan Law Centre welcomes the recent intervention from the Scottish Government in relation to effectively abolishing the bedroom tax in Scotland. We attended a series of public meetings in 2012 where we called for a prevention of homelessness fund to be created by the Scottish Government and for tenants facing bedroom tax arrears to be prevented from eviction. These were not mutually exclusive and we felt that both measures would protect Scotland's most vulnerable.

Our calls were listened to by Johann Lamont MSP and Humza Yousaf MSP who both agreed to consider our proposals with their respective parties in November 2012. Shelter Scotland furthered the argument for a prevention of homelessness fund by requesting that £50m was found by the Scottish Government in order to plug the gap in peoples ability to pay their rent after their bedroom tax deductions, which Govan Law Centre fully endorsed.

In February 2013 we launched a petition at the Scottish Parliament in order to protect all tenants in social housing from being evicted for the bedroom tax. Our petition was supported by Oxfam, the STUC, Shelter Scotland, Money Advice Scotland and over 5,000 individuals. Many councils across Scotland agreed with our premise and stated they would not evict any tenants who were affected by the bedroom tax. Our petition ultimately took us to Holyrood where we argued for its implementation and was also brought forward by Scottish Labour's Jackie Baillie MSP as a Private Members bill, which also included the demand for a prevention of homelessness fund.
In April 2013 we launched the bedroom tax toolkit available free to download from our website. The  GLC tool is essentially a step by step guide which tells you how to go about appealing any decision made against you with regards to the bedroom tax, to your local authority. GLC's toolkit contains a number of untested legal arguments which tenants can select and insert into a pro forma ‘Dispute Form’. Some of these relate to court challenges taking place in England and Wales, and if these are successful tenants can only benefit from them for past deductions if they have lodged an appeal with their council because of the 'anti-test case rules'.
In March 2013 GLC attended another public meeting on the bedroom tax where much anger and disillusionment was brought to the floor. We were able to advise those in attendance about what could and could not be done from a legal perspective with regards to the bedroom tax. GLC were concerned that a mass campaign on non-payment would develop which in essence could make people lose their homes. Our advice was that if you could pay, then you should, however if you could not afford to and eviction proceedings were brought against you, that we would defend your home in the courts. 
We then felt that we should get out to communities and try to raise awareness of the bedroom tax and what could and could not be done in response to it. Taking our message to the communities of Scotland was vital as there was much confusion and misinformation about the bedroom tax which we felt had to be addressed. It was also essential that we let communities know that there was a way to fight back and defend their homes from the threat of eviction. We informed about our petition, our toolkit, the process of eviction and to answer any technical questions which came about in relation to the bedroom tax as well as dispel some of the myths which were around at the time.
We also attended a rally in Glasgow where 5,000 people marched against the bedroom tax. The march was organised by what went on to become the Scottish Anti Bedroom Tax Federation who continue to offer support to those affected. It was felt by our organisation that if we oppose the bedroom tax then we should also have a presence at the march and were invited to speak to those present.
As the bedroom tax came into existence in April 2013 we became inundated with calls from across the United Kingdom. We directed most callers to our toolkit and helped people to fill them out as best we could, even for those outwith our own catchment area. In many cases we were able to empower families to challenge the bedroom tax when it was in place for them erroneously. We spoke at many conferences across Scotland advising people to challenge their decision through using our toolkit. At this point we have successfully won the first Human Rights Act unlawful discrimination bedroom tax appeal, with many more awaiting tribunal dates.
We would like to thank the Scottish Government for taking this bold step in stopping the most regressive social policy in Scotland since the poll tax. In particular, we are grateful to Jackie Baillie MSP for working tirelessly and securing the right to introduce the Protection from Eviction (Bedroom Tax) (Scotland) Bill. Without the pressure of Jackie's Member's Bill we wouldn't be where we are today.
We would also like to thank those organisations and people who supported our campaign from the beginning whether it is facebook groups, homeless organisation or politicians. With the combined efforts of all campaigners we have convinced the Scottish Government to kick the bedroom tax out of Scotland. Govan Law Centre will continue to watch events with the bedroom tax and we will now move on to our next campaign and hope you will join us in that too.