Wednesday 30 November 2016

Celebrating #BIGScotland funding: GLC's Private Rented Tenants Project

Govan Law Centre (GLC) is delighted that the Big Lottery Fund Investing in Communities Programme is providing a grant over three years to establish our Private Rented Tenants Project, providing vital work on behalf of tenants throughout Glasgow.

The project is made up of dedicated solicitors, housing caseworker/coordinator, financial inclusion and capability caseworkers and a welfare rights worker.  At a time of forthcoming legislative changes and considerable increase in private renting use in Scotland, our project is providing valuable support to individuals and families faced with challenging situations.  

We have developed our service by setting up city-wide ‘Rights Hubs’ as well as a dedicated email box to ensure easy and accessible routes to help for tenants all over Glasgow who are experiencing difficulty with their private tenancy, landlord or letting agency putting them at risk of homelessness.

Tenants who would normally feel powerless, ignored or in a hopeless position are seeking our specialist help to have their voices heard and find long term solutions to their housing situation. Here is one example:   

GLC solicitor and caseworker with a client
Craig’s financial problems meant that his landlord was taking action to evict him.  Our project was able to advocate for him with his landlord and maximise his benefits income to sustain him in the property.   Craig says “I feel that I am really getting the help I need now.   I would normally rely on family to help, but they could not help with this.   I feel my stress levels have gone down and I am getting more money now due to my disabilities. I really appreciate having this support". 

We are continuing to develop and expand our service to ensure more tenants can benefit from our help and learn some key skills for gaining financial stability.

GLC's Principal Solicitor Mike Dailly said: "The grant from the Big Lottery Fund Investing in Communities Programme provides Govan Law Centre with the vital resources to set up our city wide Private Rented Sector (PRS) Tenants Project which will work on behalf of Private Rented Sector Tenants who are at risk of homelessness through the actions of their landlord or letting agency".  

Mike Dailly
"This comes at a time when the private rented sector has doubled since 2001 and where PRS households make up 15% of all households in Scotland.  It is also a time of legislative change with the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 in the process of being implemented; the new Act has the potential to make PRS tenancies more insecure". 

GLC's Prevention of Homeless Senior Manager Alistair Sharp said: "GLC’s Big Lottery Funded PRS research presented the voice of tenants living in the private rented sector in Glasgow and revealed that many feel Powerless with no expectation, choice or security; a private rented sector where a tenant’s right to a safe, secure, maintained and affordable home are too often ignored by letting agencies and landlords".
Alistair Sharp

"We will fight for tenants’ rights and provide financial inclusion and capability solutions that ensure the tenants voice is heard and that their rights as tenants are not ignored and will ensure tenants are empowered, are secure, are able to choose, can expect to live in a safe, well maintained, secure and affordable home and that Govan Law Centres Private Rented Sector Project dedicated city wide team will fight for them and with them to secure their rights".

Thursday 17 November 2016

Why wait five years to reduce poverty in Scotland?

Jeane Freeman, Minister for Social Security
Govan Law Centre is concerned with the current debate on the Scottish Social Security Bill and we are calling on anti-poverty groups to back us to get this debate moving from “techno-speak”, to what is really important for Scots.

The transfer of social security powers to the Scottish Parliament should at very least prompt a national debate on poverty, low incomes, and re-distribution of income. And what we are going to do about it.  To date the debate has been about new government agencies, IT systems, inter-government wrangling, power transfers, and language. 

What poorer families need now, is cash in their pockets.

The working Group on Child Poverty urged ministers to use new social security powers at Holyrood to fund an increase in child benefit. The group said an increase of £5 per child per week would lift 30,000 children out of poverty in Scotland, at a cost of £256m a year.  

This is a start. So let’s do it.  Or at very least let us debate it in the Scottish Parliament. 

We need MSPs from all parties to back an amendment to the social security bill or a private members bill which proposes serious increases to benefits for vulnerable people in Scotland. 

Otherwise what is the point. Scots gain nothing from administering benefits in Stirling rather than Blackpool. It makes no difference to their lives where laws are made, decisions adjudicated or benefits paid. As long as decisions are accurate, quick and without fuss, and benefit rates are increased.

Why, for example, has the Scottish Government not produced a report and recommendations into the inadequacies of the social security system? How we can increase the incomes of vulnerable people in Scotland, as soon as we possibly can. We thought this is what it was all about. Is it because the Scottish Government don’t want to start this debate in Scotland? Is there no appetite to spend money on the poorest and tax the wealthy to pay for it?  This is our chance to start building the Scandinavian social model many say we need and want. 

Any new system needs be efficient to treat people with respect use the right language and make decisions quickly. And it will be complex to set up. It will need an IT system. But the Scottish Government have known this for a long time.

People in poverty cannot wait for years for a central administering agency to be set up in Scotland. We all know this will take years, and we will no doubt get a myriad of IT problems as we always do. But those on low incomes in Scotland need to know we are at least planning to make a step change increase in their incomes. Scottish ministers must get on top of this and lead the debate now. There is no excuse The Scottish Government has had years to prepare. They need to show people what can be done.

We need a substantive government report about how we can administer real increases in benefits in the meantime, while they set up a Scottish Social Security Agency. 

Local government can administer payments, they already administer housing benefit and council tax benefit - even though policy was set centrally by UK statutes. Surely they can do the same for any other benefit using Scottish statutes? They have everyone’s name and address.

Social work has powers under social work acts to make cash payments and arguably to set up benefits. They could be asked to make cash payments to disabled people who come within their care. We can use our imagination to make payments through self-directed care or other social work structures.

GLC’s worry is that rather than having an exciting debate about increasing incomes, redistribution, poverty reduction and inequality, we are having disappointing debate about where powers lie, new government agencies, IT systems and difficulty ministers are having.

If we need to we can phase in benefit increases but let us start on what those increases should be, and how we will pay for them in the interim and long term. When introducing child benefit in the 1970s the UK had similar problems, but they passed legislation and phased in child benefit over a few years.

That is what we need to do this in Scotland.

This is important. We need to set the tone of the debate now. Those who have the powers to improve the lives of the most vulnerable must be held accountable. The Scottish Parliament will have power over at least eleven social security benefits. Much more if they use their imagination and put their minds to it. We can choose a different social model. Our Scottish Government wants the whole social security system, we need to hold them to account and ask if this is the debate we can expect to have then why bother?

It’s not difficult. It’s about political will. Govan Law Centre proposes a campaign that everyone can join to get this into the Scottish Parliament. Here’s one example we’ve thought of that could be done quickly; there are many more which could immediately help the lives of people in Scotland.

A proposed Increase in Child Benefit (Scotland) Act 2016

1  Scottish Child Benefit
(1) There shall be a benefit to be known as Scottish child benefit.

(2) Subject to the provisions of this Part of this Act, a person who is treated as responsible for one or more children under the Child Benefit Act 2005 and is resident in Scotland, and whose child is resident in Scotland shall be paid an increase in child benefit called “Scottish child benefit”.

(3) Scottish child benefit shall be paid by Scottish ministers from moneys provided by Scottish Parliament.

2  Meaning of “child” and “person responsible for a child”
(1) For the purposes of this Act a person shall be treated as a child for any week in which he is treated as a child by the Child Benefit Act 2005.

(2) For the purposes of this Act a person shall be treated as responsible for a child for any week in which he is treated as a responsible by the Child Benefit Act 2005.

3  Rate of increase for Scottish child benefit
(1) Scottish child benefit shall be payable at such weekly rate as may be prescribed by Scottish Government ministers. 

(2) The weekly rate of child benefit will be no less than £5 per week per child.

(3) Rates may be prescribed in relation to different cases, whether by reference to the age of the child in respect of whom the benefit is payable or otherwise.

(4) The power to prescribe different rates under subsection (2) above shall be exercised so as to bring different rates into force on such day as the Scottish Ministers may by order specify.

(5) The power to introduce Scottish Child Benefit above shall be exercised on such day as the Scottish Ministers may specify by regulations.


Wednesday 16 November 2016

Can you sue the Private Rented Housing Committee in Scotland?

Can you sue the Private Rented Housing Committee in Scotland?  GLC are currently acting in an appeal to the Inner House of the Court of Session against a decision of the Private Rented Housing Committee (PRHC). 

The question of law in issue is whether it was lawful for the PRHC to increase the rent of the tenant of a charitable, registered social landlord by 77% per month, by using private rented sector comparators in Glasgow.

The President of the Private Rented Housing Panel (PRHP) has responded by asserting that it is not competent to appeal against the PRHP or PRHC, and that any appeal should be against the social landlord. Reliance was placed on the Inner House opinion in Dundee City Council v. Dundee Valuation Appeal Committee and Fleming Hanson (2011) CSIH 73, and paragraph 37 of schedule 1 to the Tribunal and Inquiries Act 1992 (the 1992 Act). All of which would mean an appeal against the PRHC was incompetent.

GLC are quite clear that the President of the PRHP has failed to consider the consequential changes made to the 1992 Act by paragraph 17 of schedule 6 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006. Paragraph 17 amends paragraph 59 of schedule 1 of the 1992 Act to expressly include the "Private Rented Housing Committee". 

Section 11(7)(b)(i) of the 1992 expressly refers to a decision of a tribunal in paragraph 59 being one which can appealed against to the Court of Session.  Valuation committees are not so expressly mentioned, and therefore the Dundee City Council decision is of no relevance.

Accordingly, it would appear the PRHC can be appealed against in Scotland. The appellant is represented by GLC's Mike Dailly, Solicitor Advocate.