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New NI Public Services Ombudsman given extended powers

Brian Thompson, Marie-Anderson and Ursula OHare

Marie Anderson pictured in 2014 at the launch of NI Ombudsman’s report on administrative justice, with Brian Thompson, University of Liverpool School of Law, and Ursula O’Hare, Law Centre (NI)

 

Marie Anderson has been appointed as the first Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO).

The Office of the NIPSO has been created by the Ombudsman (NI) Act 2016, a new piece of Assembly legislation aimed at making it easier for the public to complain about public services and at increasing the public accountability of public service providers.

The Ombudsman independently investigates complaints about a wide range of bodies spanning the health, housing, local government and education sectors.

In addition, the public can also complain to the Ombudsman about the actions of the Northern Ireland Audit Office and the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission.

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Minister launches leaflet to help people escape forced labour

Stephen Farry and Sinead Mulhearn

DEL Minister Dr Stephen Farry has launched Law Centre (NI)'s Problems at Work? leaflet.

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Public meeting - welfare reform update

The biggest change in the welfare system for 60 years is about to happen, affecting all claimants aged 16 to 65.

Tar Isteach is holding public meetings throughout the greater Belfast area to provide the most up to date information to community activists and the general public on the proposed time line for welfare reform changes and to discuss the mitigations package. 

The first meeting will take place on  7 April, 7pm - 9pm, in the Duncairn Centre for Culture and Arts, Duncairn Ave. Antrim Rd.  Belfast, BT14 6BP. 

Other meetings are planned for the east and west of the city, details to follow.

Speakers will be: Thomas Quigley, Kathy Stanton and Agnes Fraser from Tar Isteach and Lee Hatton, social security legal adviser at Law Centre (NI).

The meeting will discuss:

-          the replacement of DLA with PIP

-          the time limiting of contribution based ESA

-          the reform of social fund to include community care grants

-          the proposed mitigation package and transitional protection

More information: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Help us help people: donate to Law Centre (NI)

Law Centre client

You can help support the Law Centre’s work by becoming a member or by making an online donation on our LocalGiving page.

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Read more: Help us help people: donate to Law Centre (NI)

   

Advisers to talk welfare reform at the Law Centre

Social security practitioners meeting

This free event will cover the timeline for welfare reform and NI mitigations scheme.

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Read more: Advisers to talk welfare reform at the Law Centre

   

Northern Ireland mitigations for benefit cap and Contributory ESA

On 18 March, the regulations introducing 'welfare supplementary payments' to help mitigate the effects of the benefit cap and of new time limits for contributory ESA. The regulations come into force on 31 May.

They describe the maximum amount and duration of 'welfare supplementary payment' to be made where a person’s housing benefit is capped after 31 May 2016.  

They also detail the conditions for entitlement to a payment if contributory ESA finishes because the new 365 days tiem limit for those in the work-related activity group.

The Welfare Supplementary Payments (Northern Ireland) 2016 can be found here: SR. No. 178/2016

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RIP Mahfouz Baleed

Mr Baleed

The staff and management of Law Centre (NI) were very sad to hear of the death of Mr Baleed last week, and wish to express our condolences to his wife and children.

The family had been Law Centre clients, having fled the war in Syria and settled in Northern Ireland. They had kindly agreed to let us tell their story as an example of our work and to help other people who may find themselves in similar circumstances.

Friends of the family have set up a fund to cover the costs of the funeral and to help Mrs Baleed and the children:

https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/Mahfouz-Our-Dentist

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Minister Ford announces new protections for victims of modern slavery

Last Thursday, 24 March, Law Centre staff joined into an anti-trafficking awareness raising fun run and workshop at Stormont organised by 'In the Long Run' and the NI Department of Justice.

We were delighted that DoJ Minister David Ford MLA took the opportunity to announce new measures by his Department to protect all victims of modern slavery, including those who may not have been trafficked but are in situations of forced labour or exploitation.

We had been advocating for these and other related measures through our involvement with the DoJ's NGO Engagement Group on Trafficking and in our policy comments and briefings*.

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Read more: Minister Ford announces new protections for victims of modern slavery

   

NIJAC seeks to appoint two district judges

NIJAC is inviting applications for the office of District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts).

It is intended to make up to two appointments and to maintain a reserve list for 12 months from the date of the first appointment. Flexible working may be considered for the appointments arising in this scheme.

To be eligible for appointment, a person must be by 30 September 2016:
• a member of the Bar of Northern Ireland of at least 7 years’ standing;
or
• a solicitor of the Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland of at least 7 years’ standing.

Salary: £104,060 per annum. This post is pensionable.

Closing date: 12 noon on Tuesday 3 May 2016. For full details and to apply online, visit www.nijac.gov.uk or phone 028 9056 9103

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Securing benefit entitlement for asbestosis sufferer

Law Centre (NI) successfully appealed an Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit case for a client who suffered from asbestosis as a result of repeated exposure to asbestos during his working life.

The client received £1,054 in arrears and is now entitled to an additional weekly payment of £16.80 until his case is reassessed in January 2018.

The Law Centre adviser also suggested that the client take legal advice from a private practice solicitor as he may be entitled to compensation from his previous employers.

Case details

His illness came under the category of ‘prescribed disease PD1’ for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit. The general rule is that, to be entitled to the benefit, a person must have either suffered personal injury as a result of an industrial accident, or have contracted a prescribed disease resulting in a disablement percentage of at least 14%.  However, in the case of PD1, it is sufficient that the person has been assessed as having a resulting disablement of 1%.

On receipt of medical evidence from his consultant, a Decision Maker accepted that he suffered from PD1 and referred him for medical assessment to determine the extent of his resulting disablement.  However, the Department’s medical adviser expressed the opinion that he was not suffering from prescribed disease PD1. The claim was therefore disallowed.

At this stage, he appealed to a Medical Appeal Tribunal and his trade union referred him to the Law Centre for specialist advice.

A Law Centre (NI) social security legal adviser represented him at the oral hearing where, despite other medical conditions which may have contributed to the severe symptoms he experienced, the Tribunal made a provisional decision that his disablement resulting from PD1 should be assessed at 5% for two years.

Advisers are welcome to refer similar cases and other social security cases involving complex issues. Law Centre (NI)’s advice line is open Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 1pm: 028 9024 4401

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Problems at work?

The Law Centre has produced a multilingual leaflet signposting help for people who are in situations of forced labour or labour exploitation.

You can download it here or get copies from: Communications Unit, Law Centre (NI), 124 Donegall Street, Belfast BT1 2GY.

The leaflet can be displayed in your local shop, community centre, school, health centre, library etc, or given to someone you think may need it.

Download Problems at Work? leaflet

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New regulations for mitigations on ESA and benefit cap explained

New regulations have been made available which make provision for some of the mitigation payments for people who will be affected by welfare reform in Northern Ireland: contribution-based ESA and benefit cap.

The regulations have now cleared the Committee stage. They are due to be debated at the Northern Ireland Assembly on Monday 14 March.

It is highly likely that they will be approved in their current form. The Assembly cannot amend the regulations but can only express a wish for them to be annulled or passed into law. 

Find out more about what the Welfare Reform Supplementary Payments Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 will mean in practice.

You can also download the full text of the regulations and explanatory memorandum.

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EEA nationals, Universal Credit and work-related requirements

In correspondence with the Law Centre, the Social Security Agency has confirmed that EEA nationals in receipt of Universal Credit will not automatically be placed in the ‘all work-related requirement’ group. This follows a change in the legislation in Great Britain. This means that EEA nationals will be subject to work-related requirements on the same basis as all other Universal Credit claimants i.e. their personal circumstances will be taken into account.

The Social Security Agency has confirmed that Northern Ireland’s draft Universal Credit Regulations will not include the specific provision that would have targeted EEA nationals. However, both Northern Ireland and Great Britain retain the power to introduce such a provision at a later date. This power is found in paragraph 7 of Schedule 1 to the Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015.

We are pleased that this discriminatory provision has now been dropped. The Law Centre and others had argued that such prejudicial arrangements should not be introduced. However, we are concerned that the power to make such arrangements remains in on the statute books. We will keep a close eye on this issue.  

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Trafficked pregnant women and parents left unsupported says report

Pregnant women and parents who fall victims of trafficking are systematically overlooked in the UK’s anti-trafficking response, according to a new report by the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG), a coalition of twelve UK-based charities.

The report entitled ‘Time to deliver’ identifies a failure of the UK to identify parents and pregnant women amongst the potential victims of trafficking, and provide them with relevant support such as suitable accommodation, childcare, access to healthcare and support for their children.

Read Time to Deliver here.

 

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Transferring PIP and ESA when moving between NI and GB

On 6 April 2016, new rules come into force which will ensure that people moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain will not have to make fresh claims or go through a stressful new Work Capability Assessment for:

  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA);
  • Personal Independence Payment (PIP) when it is introduced in Northern Ireland from 20 June 2016. 

The Social Security (NI Reciprocal Arrangements) Regulations 2016 provide for a decision to be recognised once the person moves within the UK without further assessment.

Law Centre (NI) has in the past sought to have ESA included in the former Reciprocal Arrangements between NI and GB. As a result, DSD and DWP had set up an extra statutory scheme for ESA claimants who suffered financially due to moving between the two jurisdictions.

It now seems that the extra statutory scheme will not be relevant to people moving between NI and GB from 6 April 2016, but it remains unclear how those currently covered by the scheme will be affected.

Read SR 2016.No 287 here.

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Deprivation of liberty in health and social care: the Cheshire West case

The Law Centre has published a briefing for those who wish to understand the law governing deprivation of liberty and the duties upon HSC Trusts to ensure any decision made to deprive an adult without capacity of their liberty within a care setting is lawful, including:

  • HSC staff;
  • advisers;
  • service users;
  • carers.

The briefing examines a decision of the UK Supreme Court which provides a simple test which should be applied by health and social care (HSC) staff in order to identify whether a deprivation of liberty situation exists or is going to occur within a service user’s current or proposed living arrangements.

Read it here: Deprivation of liberty - the position following the Cheshire West case

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Welfare reform mitigations: next steps

Law Centre (NI) has published a briefing outlining its recommendations on effective implementation of welfare reform mitigations in Northern Ireland:

Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group Report: Next Steps

Significant work has taken place over recent years to secure mitigations for Northern Ireland to alleviate some of the difficulties with welfare reform. The Fresh Start Agreement allocates £585 million for mitigating welfare reform and tax credits. This is very welcome.

The Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group Report (the “Evason report”) proposes mitigations that will make a significant difference to the lives of those in receipt of social security benefits in Northern Ireland. Specifically, the proposed mitigations will act as a buffer against some of the harsher effects of welfare reform.

The Assembly's Social Development Committee has now started to scrutinise the implementation of mitigations.

The Law Centre's paper set out a number of recommendations for the Committee to consider: some are targeted specifically at the operation of the migration measures whereas others relate more broadly to the implementation of welfare reform in Northern Ireland.

Given that the proposed mitigation measures come in £80 million under budget, we have also suggested additional areas of spend that the Committee may wish to consider which could further soften the impact of changes to the social security system.

 

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We are recruiting: Policy & Public Affairs Officer

The Policy & Public Affairs Officer will positively influence policy matters related to the objectives of the Law Centre. Essential criteria include two years of policy and public affairs work. Full time post, based in Belfast.

Salary: £28,127 - £30,311. NJC Points: 33-36

Closing date for applications: 18 March 2016 at 1.00pm. 

Interviews: 8 April 2016

Downloads:

Application form

Job description

Personnel specification

Law Centre information 

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Proposed changes to temporary absence for Housing Benefit and Pension Credit

Plans to redefine temporary absence for Housing Benefit and Pension Credit could be problematic for claimants moving between NI and GB

The Law Centre and Housing Rights have published a joint response to the Social Security Advisory Committee consultation on changes to allowed temporary absence for Housing Benefit and Pension Credit. 

DWP proposes to amend the Housing Benefit and State Pension Credit regulations to reduce the period of allowable absence from outside Great Britain, generally from 13 weeks to 4 weeks. It is a condition of entitlement to both benefits that claimants are in Great Britain, although the regulations provide that temporary absences are permitted in some instances. This is part of a series of measures to harmonise existing Regulations with the Universal Credit system.

In this response, Law Centre (NI) and Housing Rights highlight that plans to redefine “temporary absence” for Housing Benefit /pensions might create difficulties for claimants moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. 

We do not support the proposed changes. However, if the changes do proceed, we would recommend that the Social Security Advisory Committee seek a commitment from the Department to monitor the impact of these Regulations given their potential impact.

We would also recommend that the Social Security Advisory Committee scrutinises the equivalent Northern Ireland regulations when available.

See the response here: Housing Benefit and State Pension Credit (Temporary Absence) (Amendment) Regulations 2016

 

 

 

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Community justice awards

Congratulations to the winners of the Department of Justice Community Justice Awards 2016.

Paul McCartney of First Housing Aid and Support Services in Derry was named Justice Champion 2016 in recognition of his work for the most vulnerable and marginalised. He received £1,000 which will be used for his project to benefit the local community. 

Paul McCartney is the Night Support Services Manager with First Housing Aid & Support Services, Derry who regularly works with street drinkers and rough sleepers in the northwest.On a daily and nightly basis Paul and his team patrol the streets to ensure that the most vulnerable have shelter and food, effectively providing these individuals with an alternative to continuing to drink or remain on the streets where both they and members of the public are at risk of anti-social behaviour.

Other 'highly commended' award winners were: NIACRO RESET Mentoring Team; Elaine Morrow, volunteer with the Youth Justice Agency; Danny Corr, Zanshin Karate Jutsu DoJo; Billy O’Flaherty, Carniny Amateur Football Club; Lorna Brown, Grainne Richards & Vicki Kearney, Belfast and Lisburn Women’s Aid; Constable Mark McGaritty, Police Service of Northern Ireland; Rory Doherty, Quaker Services; Mary Hogg, Cookstown Street Angels.

The Law Centre was very pleased to have been nominated for an award for its anti-trafficking work.

.DOJ Community Awards 16 The Great Hall and programme

More information on DoJ's website

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