Tuesday 28 November 2017

Tackling rough sleeping this winter: new actions in Scotland welcomed by Govan Law Centre

Govan Law Centre (GLC) has welcomed new actions announced today by the First Minister to further tackle rough sleeping this winter.  The actions were recommended by the Scottish Government’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG).

Today's announcement is backed by an initial £328,000 worth of investment from government and group members, including an additional caseworker/solicitor in Glasgow provided by Govan Law Centre.

Measures include increasing emergency accommodation and support in areas with the greatest numbers of rough sleepers, making personal budgets available to front line workers to meet immediate housing needs, and supporting greater use of the emergency Nightstop service.

HARSAG member, and GLC's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly said: "No-one should have to sleep rough this winter and these additional resources will make a real difference. All public and third sector agencies have a part to play this winter if we are to realise the ambition of making rough sleeping rare and unnecessary in Scotland. This is a key step towards delivering the First Minister’s commitment to eradicating rough sleeping in Scotland".

Further details of the new actions for this winter are available here, and include:
  • Increased emergency accommodation in Edinburgh, and increased outreach capacity in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen
  • Multi-agency partnership working boosted, adopting ‘by name lists’ and empowering front line workers through direct access to services and dedicated accommodation
  • Making personal budgets and/or flexible emergency fund available for front line staff to employ where maximum flexibility is required to meet immediate housing needs
  • At times of extreme weather, ensure flexible provision is available in Edinburgh and Glasgow for anyone who will not use winter night shelters, despite all efforts
  • Maximise use of Nightstop – which provide young people with emergency accommodation for up to 2 weeks in the homes of approved volunteers – in Edinburgh and support implementation in Glasgow by January 2018


Tuesday 21 November 2017

Inner House declares ‘Sword of Damocles’ contractual term unlawful: GLC Public Interest Litigation Unit

A homeowner involved in a legal dispute with a Scottish local authority has won his appeal after arguing the council acted beyond its powers in imposing a condition to an award of grant assistance, which required homeowners to pay their share of the cost of repairs by the time the final account for works was issued or lose all grant assistance.

Judges in the Inner House of the Court of Session allowed an appeal by a homeowner, who argued that Glasgow City Council, in imposing a “pre-payment condition” as a term of grant assistance, acted ultra vires of its powers in terms of Part 2 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006. Lord Malcolm and Lord Glennie heard that the homeowner co-owned a flat in Govanhill, Glasgow, with his wife.

Following a survey of properties in the area, in April 2011 the council served a work notice on the owners of the flats stating that their tenement building in Langside Road was in “disrepair” and that certain repair works required to be carried out to put right a number of defects.

For the petitioner solicitor advocate Mike Dailly argued that there was nothing in Part 2 of the 2006 Act relating to the provision of grants which allowed the council to impose a “pre-payment condition” as a condition of a grant, failing compliance with which the grant would be revoked. Such a condition was “contrary to the policy objective” of part 2 and was not mentioned in the council's policy statement on assistance.  It was argued that as the council had made a decision to award the petitioner a 75% grant for the cost of repairs, it could not be withdrawn on the basis of the imposition of a condition which was ultra vires.

On behalf of the council, Gavin MacColl Q.C submitted that the pre-payment condition of the grant was intra vires, being permitted in terms of sections 74(4) and 81(1)(d) of the Act, and that it was imposed for a relating to Part of the Act - to encourage people to pay their share of the cost of repairs. However, the appeal judges ruled that the pre-condition did not fairly or reasonably relate to the grant and that it “goes well beyond what is legitimate”.

The judges also observed that it seemed to be “counter-intuitive” that an individual who had been found to be eligible for a mean-tested grant of 75% of the costs of the work should have the availability of that grant made subject to a condition with which he would “almost certainly find it difficult, if not impossible, to comply”.

Rt Hon Lord Glennie
Delivering the opinion of the court, Lord Glennie said: “It may be intended as a kind of sword of Damocles, hanging over the owner of the property to encourage him to pay the sum due from him for his share of the cost of the repairs. But, if activated, the effect goes much wider than enforcing payment of the sums already due; it takes away the whole of his grant.  

“The grant itself, and the threat to withhold it if the non-grant part of the cost is not paid in full and on time, is being used as a lever, a stick, to encourage payment by the owner of the part of the repair cost which he already is under an obligation to pay. This is not a condition which is attached to the grant for the purposes of the grant – to make sure that it is properly applied, that the work is carried out satisfactorily, or whatever".  

"It is attached to the grant for the purpose of ensuring payment of other sums which are and have always been the responsibility of the owner of the property. In those circumstances we consider that the pre-condition goes much further than is justified in terms of the Act. It is ultra vires the council.”

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Celebrating financial capability in Scotland

Last night stakeholders and guests at the Scottish Parliament celebrated financial capability work taking place across Scotland, as part of UK "Financial Capability Week".

The event was hosted by Ayrshire MSP, Ruth Maguire, and heard from Yvonne MacDermid, Chair of the Scottish Financial Capability Partnership, Govan Law Centre's Mike Dailly, Alison Hardie of Young Scot, Alison Watson of Shelter Scotland, Simon Watson of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Jonathan Baxter, Head Teacher and pupils from Flora Stevenson Primary School

As part of #TalkMoneyScotland week, Govan Law Centre will be providing a free financial capability and money advice session at Homes for Good, 97 Main Street in Glasgow’s Bridgeton this Thursday 16 November 2017 from 10am to 3pm. No appointment is necessary.

GLC's Principal Solicitor Mike Dailly said: "Good money skills are always key to resolving financial challenges and difficulties. But most importantly they are essential as a preventative tool: to avoid being scammed, fleeced, being hit with excessive fees and charges, borrowing at uncompetitive rates, buying financial products you don’t need or aren’t suitable for you, or ultimately just getting a bad deal as a consumer".

"Key life events – for good or for bad – will affect all of us throughout our life and having some financial resilience and support can make an unbelievable difference in a crisis. Knowledge truly is power, and we are a point in time where we can make financial capability skills and knowledge freely and instantly accessible to consumers when they need it if we utlise new opportunities next year from Opening Banking and the new Payment Services Directive".

Mike's talk is available here (opens as a PDF).

Friday 10 November 2017

Law as a tool for social change & justice: UK Law Centres Network 2017 annual conference

The annual conference of the UK Law Centres Network (LCN) took place for this first time in Glasgow this week, with representatives from law centres from Scotland, England and Northern Ireland in attendance.

Conference was opened by Scottish Minister for Legal Affairs and Communities, Annabelle Ewing MSP, who also read a personal welcome note to delegates from Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP.

Delegates were welcomed to a Civic Reception in Glasgow City Council by the Leader of the Council, Cllr Susan Aitken, and Depute Lord Provost, Cllr Philip Braat; and heard from the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, Gordon Jackson Q.C. and former President of the Law Society of Scotland, Austin Lafferty.

The two-day event took place over 9 and 10 November 2017, and included a wide ranging plenary discussion on the law as a tool for social change. Conference heard from Matthew Smerdon, Chief Executive of the Legal Education Foundation, and Annabel Davidson Knight of Collaborate and the University of Newcastle.

GLC's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly addressing conference argued that unemployment, poverty, discrimination, poor housing and destitution were never accidental. They were the product of political choices, and the politics of omission.  In his view it was the job of law centres to campaign for change, and until change happened, use the law as best as possible to mitigate detriment to the communities law centres served.  Mike's speech to the LCN conference is available here (opens as a PDF)

Thursday 2 November 2017

People struggling to make ends meet will suffer from today's UK base rate rise

The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Bank of England today voted 7-2 today to increase the UK base interest rate by 0.25% to 0.5%. What does this mean for those with problem debts in the UK? GLC's Mike Dailly believes there are a lot more losers than winners from the Bank's decision today.

"The Money Advice Service estimates there are roughly 700,000 adults with problem debts in Scotland, with 8.3 million people struggling to cope financially across the UK. Those already on a financial knife-edge are the ones who will be tipped over, and this will ultimately result in defaults for credit cards, loans, mortgages and bills - with the extra charges that come with this - as consumer borrowing costs more, and those already squeezed can't cope".

“Millions of people across the UK have had to borrow to cope with low wages over the last few years, the gig economy and exponential household prices for food and bills. A rate rise right can only tip them over the edge when they’re already seriously struggling and financially squeezed". 

"It’s fully understandable that the Bank of England wants to put a brake on inflation running at 3 per cent this year. However,  increasing the cost of borrowing won’t calm inflation. The reality is Scotland and the UK relies on imports, and you get inflation when the pound is devalued. It's down 13% since the Brexit referendum, and may get weaker still.”

"While the Bank points to a historic 42 year low unemployment rate, this belies the fact real wages have been cut, and there is much more job insecurity and unpredictable pay with zero hours contracts. The cost of living has risen exponentially in the UK for utilities and food; in Scotland private sector rents have increase by 25% on average in the last 6 years, double the rate of inflation".

"Increasing the base rate, means that millions of people already struggling to cope will have to pay more for their debt. We've had a 10% growth in consumer borrowing - now sitting at over £200bn - as people borrow at low rates to make up shortfalls from the real economy.  It's fair to say, millions of people across the UK are now being hit twice; their incomes are cut due to the weak pound, and now their borrowings cost more because of the Bank's interest rate rise". 

"In reality, the economic circumstances which led to the Bank to cut interest rates to 0.25 last August haven't changed and there is no cogent monetary or economic basis for today's hike".