DEL/DoJ seminar on labour exploitation
Awareness Raising Seminar on Labour Exploitation
Thursday 28 January
Wellington Park Hotel, 21 Malone Road, Belfast, BT9 6RU
Speakers will include representatives from the Department for Employment and Learning, the Department of Justice, the PSNI, Freedom Acts, Law Centre (NI) and Migrant Help.
Registration, tea and coffee: 9.30am
1pm: light lunch
Free parking available
Northern Ireland's welfare reform advisory group publishes recommendations
The Welfare Reform Mitigations Group has published its report today.
Chaired by Professor Eileen Evason, the Group was set up as part of the Fresh Start Agreement.
The report makes a number of recommendations to soften the impact of welfare reform in Northern Ireland and provide independent advice to people who need support as they navigate the changes to the benefit system.
The recommendations cover mitigation payments to carers, people suffering ill health and families on low incomes.
Headline recommendations of particular interest to social security advisers include:
- covering 75% of the loss incurred by people on Disability Living Allowance who would lose out over £10 a month in the move to Personal Independence Payment (PIP);
- additional PIP points for those with conflict related injuries;
- using the resources originally allocated to cover planned tax credit cuts to help people affected by the introduction of Universal Credit, as tax credit cuts have since been abandoned by the UK government.
As expected, the report also recommends full mitigation for the bedroom tax.
Eileen Evason will discuss the report's recommendations at the Law Centre's AGM and seminar on Thursday 28 January. Other speakers include Alison Garnham of Child Poverty Action Group, NI Human Rights Chief Commissioner Les Allamby and Dr Grainne McKeever of Ulster University and Social Security Advisory Committee. Find out more about the event here.
Changes to State Pension Age affect social security benefits
The Department for Work and Pensions has announced that the State Pension age is going to increase at a faster pace than originally planned under the Pensions Act 2011.
From April 2016, women’s State Pension age will increase more quickly, to reach 65 by November 2018 instead of March 2020.
From December 2018, the State Pension age for both men and women will start to increase to reach age 66 by October 2020 instead of 2026.
How this will apply in practice:
- women born on or after 6 April 1953 will be affected by the accelerated equalisation of State Pension age to 65;
- men and women born after 5 December 1953 but before 6 October 1954 will have a State Pension age between 65 and 66;
- men and women born on or after 6 October 1954 and before 6 April 1960 will have a State Pension age of 66.
This change impacts on a number of social security benefits:
- Pension Credit qualifying age will rise in line with the accelerated increase in women's state pension age to 65 and subsequently in line with the increase to 66;
- working age benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance, Jobseeker's Allowance and Income Support will now be available up to the appropriate revised state pension age; and
- all future claimants for other benefits with a link to the state pension age threshold - for example the Winter Fuel Payment, Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment - will also be affected.
Northern Ireland advisers who need help with this or with other social security issues can contact our advice line, Monday to Friday, 9.30 to 1pm: 028 9024 4401
Minister announces free English classes for refugees in Northern Ireland
The Law Centre is delighted with Minister Farry’s announcement to ensure that all refugees in Northern Ireland can access English classes in further education colleges, free of charge.
Recognising the importance of English language skills for refugees, the Law Centre has long pressed for free classes. The journey has taken a while and we view today’s announcement as testament to the power of collective effort.
The Law Centre, NICRAS and Bryson Charitable Group first called for free English classes back in 2010.
DEL agreed to implement free English classes on a pilot basis from 2012. The following year, the Law Centre compiled detailed feedback from a range of voluntary and community organisations and made the case for extending the scheme to all refugees.
This call has reverberated ever since, with a wide number of organisations, agencies and MLAs highlighting the importance of free English classes. The Refugee and Asylum Forum made English classes one of its Five Actions in its SAFER campaign in 2015. We were so pleased when the campaign gained backing from Belfast City Council and then from many MLAs during a Northern Ireland Assembly debate. The Equality Commission and OFMDFM also lent their support.
The Law Centre would like to say a big thank you to Minister Farry and DEL officials for today’s announcement.
We have no doubt that this change in policy – while relatively small in budget terms – will make a huge difference to the lives of refugees in Northern Ireland.
Photo: Members of the Refugee Asylum Forum on the steps of Stormont last year, promoting the SAFER campaign, including request for free English classes.
Job advert - Joint Standards Committee Member
Job reference number: IRC206402
The Joint Standards Committee of the Northern Ireland Social Security Agency (the Agency) and the Northern Ireland Child Support Agency was set up in December 1999. The latter has been succeeded by Child Maintenance and Enforcement Division from April 2008 and then Child Maintenance Service from April 2013. The Committee is a non executive body with an independent chairperson responsible for providing the Chief Executive of the Agency and Director of Child Maintenance Service with assurance on the standards of decision making.
The Social Security Agency and Child Maintenance Service wish to appoint an independent member and are now seeking applications.
Applicants must have:
• a general knowledge of the business of both the Social Security Agency and the Child Maintenance Service and the corresponding legislation;
• an awareness of public opinion on social security and child support matters;
• experience of working with the voluntary sector, community groups, trade unions or other groups which regularly represent customers in their dealings with the Social Security Agency and the Child Maintenance Service;
• an ability to work as part of a team;
• an ability to put forward views and opinions clearly and concisely.
The appointment is for an initial period of 4 years, renewable by agreement. It is expected that the member will commit approximately eight days a year. Salary will be £2,080 per annum subject to annual review. Successful applicants may be required to travel within Northern Ireland.
How to apply
For an application form and more detailed information, including the duties and responsibilities of this post, and the criteria to be used in the recruitment and selection process:
Please go to: www.nicsrecruitment.gov.uk
Alternatively, an application pack can be requested by contacting: HRConnect, PO Box 1089, The Metro Building, 6-9 Donegall Square South, Belfast, BT1 9EW.
All requests must include your name, address and reference number IRC206402
Completed applications must be returned by 2pm on Friday 5th February 2016
The Department for Social Development is committed to the principles of public appointment based on merit, with independent assessment, openness and transparency of process. The Department is committed to providing equality of opportunity and welcomes applications regardless of gender, age, marital status, disability, religion, ethnic origin, political opinion, sexual orientation or whether or not you have dependants.
AGM and seminar: what now for social security?
Law Centre (NI) AGM and certificates presentation 28 January, followed by a seminar on the future of social security.
Update: listen to the speakers here.
Cross border workers and Child Benefit
The issue of competent State for social security purposes causes difficulties for many cross border workers.
On referral from Newry Citizens Advice, Law Centre (NI) helped a lady whose Child Benefit had been stopped for this reason.
Born and raised in Newry, she holds an Irish passport and has an online business, which is registered in NI. She moved four miles over the border and was receiving Child Benefit under EU rules as her business was registered in Northern Ireland and she paid tax in the UK.
When her third child was born she received Maternity Allowance from the UK but her Child Benefit was stopped on the basis that the UK was no longer her competent state.
When Maternity Allowance ended and she returned to self-employment she made a fresh claim for Child Benefit which was not processed pending the outcome of the appeal.
When she was referred to the Law Centre she had not received Child Benefit for more than a year
How we helped
We lodged written submissions on the EU law issue of competent state. The decision was revised and arrears paid.
We sent a pre action letter about the failure to process the recent claim and the claim was processed and payment made.
The client received arrears of £3,110 and weekly payments of £46.
"When my caseworker contacted me to say she could help, I was overwhelmed with relief. Just over two months later, HMRC changed their decision and said all arrears would be paid. The Law Centre allowed me to be heard and I cannot thank them enough."
Training Calendar January-March 2016
Our Training calendar for the first quarter of 2016 is now available.
It lists over 25 courses being run by Law Centre (NI) between January and March 2016, with details on how to book and get further information.
Helping young mother access her benefits
On referral from Antrim CAB, Law Centre (NI) represented a Polish lady who had problems with accessing benefits during her pregnancy.
She had been working in Northern Ireland for a long time, primarily through a recruitment agency.
As her pregnancy advanced, she was getting offered less and less work until she had no work at all and claimed Jobseekers’ Allowance. She then claimed Income Support in the late stages of pregnancy but was refused. The Department decided that she had no right of residence for Income Support purposes, although still entitled to Maternity Allowance and Housing Benefit.
After her child was born, she claimed Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit. She was refused Child Benefit, again on grounds of no right of residence.
When her Maternity Allowance ended, Northern Ireland Housing Executive decided that a ‘reasonable period’ for her to find work had passed and therefore she had no right of residence for Housing Benefit either.
The Law Centre appealed all three refusals. The adviser was successful with the Income Support and Child Benefit appeals, having argued that the client retained worker status as long as she returned to work or workseeking after a reasonable period. At the time of hearing, her child was only a few months old and she had not found work yet.
The Housing Executive refused to change its decision, although a recent GB decision found that the reasonable period should be 52 weeks, and that it was sufficient that the mother had returned to the labour market by claiming JSA.
The client is now working and the correct benefits are in place, but the Law Centre is continuing with the Housing Benefit appeal as the decision had caused her financial hardship.
Residence rules for social security purposes are complex. Advisers are welcome to contact our social security legal advisers for help on any cases involving right to reside, ordinary residence and habitual residence.
Our advice line: 028 9024 4401, Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 1pm
Welfare Reform (NI) Order 2015 now in force
The Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015 came into force yesterday. Find it here: SI.No.2006/2015
The Order introduces the primary rules for the new benefits Universal Credit and PIP which will be further set out in Regulations in the near future.
Other provisions include a 365 day limit on Contributory ESA, or 'if the Department by order specifies a greater number of days, that number of days' (Article 57). Worth keeping an eye out for as this was one of the first measures to come into force in GB.
The Order confers powers on the Department for Social Development to make regulations for welfare reform but transitory provision in the Order allows the Secretary of State to exercise most of these powers in the first instance to secure the introduction of the reforms. These powers may be transferred back to Stormont at a later date.
As per Stormont's Fresh Start Agreement, the Order differs from GB's Welfare Reform Act 2012 to allow for limited mitigations in top-up payments and sanctions. DSD retains the powers to make provision for discretionary financial assistance.
Caring for Syrian refugees & other trauma survivors
On 8 December, the Law Centre held a roundtable to help shape Northern Ireland’s response to support incoming Syrian refugees and others with protection needs.
Refugee welcome party!
Join Belfast residents old and new for a celebration of unity and community. A family friendly event with music, workshops, fun and information.
Talking about modern slavery at Foyle Film Festival
On 19 November, the Law Centre and Unchosen held a well received film screening and Q&A on forced labour and trafficking at the Nerve Centre, as part of Foyle Film Festival.
The Home Office estimates that there are 10,000 to 13,000 victims of slavery in the UK today. In Northern Ireland, 45 potential victims of trafficking were identified in 2014. This is a 10% increase since 2013. Two thirds of all cases in Northern Ireland involved labour exploitation.
Caroline Maguire is the employment legal adviser at the Law Centre’s Clarendon Street office. She said: “At the Law Centre, we have been dealing with cases of people forced to work in agriculture, food processing and the fishing industry, or exploited in domestic service. We know that this is just the tip of the iceberg as people in forced labour situations are usually unaware of their rights and fearful about coming forward. It is important for the public to learn to recognise the signs so that cases can be uncovered and that exploited people can get the help they need.”
People can find themselves in situations of forced labour in legitimate businesses, not just in illegal enterprises. Many have not been trafficked but are vulnerable to exploitation, maybe because they don’t know their rights or are unsure about their immigration status.
Glenn Jordan, Law Centre (NI) Director, said: “The challenge for Northern Ireland is to identify exploitation where it occurs and to ensure that victims receive full protection and that enforcement measures are put in place to create a strong deterrent.”
The Law Centre’s employment legal advisers provide legal advice and representation to victims of labour exploitation across Northern Ireland. The organisation’s Anti-Trafficking Young People Project helps children and young people who have been identified as victims of trafficking.
Advice line: 028 9024 4401 Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 1pm.
The Law Centre has produced a leaflet that can be handed out to people who are suspected victims of forced labour. We hope to distribute it with the help of local community networks as well as statutory agencies. The leaflet tells them that help is available and that they can contact the advice line.
How we help: resolving tax credit problems caused by computer error
Last year Belfast HSC Trust experienced well publicised difficulties with its new IT payroll system. This year, Tar Isteach referred to us a client who was having severe problems with tax credits as a result. She had been overpaid by the Trust and had immediately returned the overpayment. However, as the Trust system had notified HMRC of the original payment, she was asked to repay £4,500 in tax credits and HMRC stopped her weekly payment of £60.
Although the Trust payroll staff wrote twice to HMRC to explain that they did not know how to correct the figures on HMRC’s system, HMRC insisted it would not change its mind when it carried out a mandatory reconsideration.
We lodged an appeal against the overpayment and final award decisions.
We sent a letter before action to the legal department stating that unless our client's actual entitlement on her current earnings was paid within 14 days, we would seek a court order to compel HMRC to pay her.
On the fourteenth day the tax credit payment was made and our client was informed that arrears would be paid.
Tribunals: new code of practice presented at social security practitioner meetings
The Law Centre held a successful practitioner meeting on appeal tribunals at its Belfast office on 11 November. Adrian McCullough, Legally Qualified Panel Member of the Appeal Tribunal, gave a valuable presentation on effective advocacy, issues and challenges involved in representing at Tribunal. He addressed the new Code of Practice for representatives issued by the President of the Appeals Service. You can download a copy of the Code of Practice from our website, with thanks to the President of the Appeal Tribunals.
The next social security practitioner meeting will be held on Monday 23 November, 2.15pm to 4.15pm in our Western Area Office, 9 Clarendon Street, Derry. Terence Rafferty, Legally Qualified Panel Member of the Appeal Tribunal, will address the meeting.
Participants will also be able to discuss common caseload issues and recent test cases of interest to advisers.
2016-20: help us plan the next phase of our work
The Law Centre is preparing its development plan for 2016-2020. We would be very grateful if Law Centre members could help us by answering this short survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LCNIMembershipSurvey
It should take no more than 5 minutes to answer.
Access to justice in Northern Ireland: where do we go from here?
Law Centre client wins ESA Civil Service Injury Award case
Law Centre (NI) successfully represented a former civil servant who had appealed a decision to reduce her Incapacity Benefit because the Social Security Agency had said her civil service injury award was equivalent to a pension and therefore affected her entitlement.
The Department of Finance and Personnel, which is responsible for the scheme, provided evidence that this type of payment is not a pension but is discretionary and solely attributable to accident or illness, and therefore an Appeal Tribunal allowed the appeal.
Meanwhile, the client migrated to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and the Law Centre ran a parallel appeal for ESA. The ESA office has now revised its decision in the client’s favour, paid arrears of £1,200 and increased ESA by £20 per week. However, ESA office stated that the decision only applies to this case.
Patricia Carty solicitor, social security legal adviser at the Law Centre, said: “Although this is a good result for the client, the decision unfortunately leaves the issue unresolved for other former civil servants in similar circumstances. People who continue to be affected by this issue should contact the Law Centre for advice. We would seek to join their cases together and hopefully obtain a positive decision for everyone in receipt of the civil service injury award.”
The Law Centre’s advice line can be contacted Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 1pm: 028 9024 4401 or 028 7126 2433.
Protecting young people from exploitation: guardianship roundtable
Today, 3 November, the Law Centre and Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People held a roundtable discussion to consider the role and practice of independent guardians for separated children in Northern Ireland, including those who may have been trafficked.
This legal guardians system, provided for in the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (NI) 2015, is in the process of being implemented, and the Department of Health and Social Services is consulting on criteria for the appointment, regulation and monitoring of guardians.
The roundtable brought together delegates from the Netherlands and Britain as well as key players in Northern Ireland.
The discussions were very positive and will feed into individual groups’ responses to the consultation which ends on 6 November.
This event is intended to generate further initiatives to ensure a robust guardianship system is implemented as early as possible.
LSP volunteers make a difference
2-6 Nov is National Pro-Bono Week. At the Law Centre #WeDoProBono. Could you be a Legal Support Project tribunal rep?
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