Our response on a generally positive Programme for Government
The Law Centre commends the Executive Office on the aims of its draft Programme for Government.
We agree that the 14 outcomes set out will contribute to a more positive society.
We have submitted a response which suggests additional measures which will make a positive difference to people's rights, including older people, people of working age and children, within our areas of work:
- social security,
- community care and mental health,
- social justice,
- anti-trafficking and the rights of migrants and refugees.
We look forward to the publication of the action plans, which are essential in order to make these ideas real and meaningful.
Read more here:
How we help: protecting older person's right to live in her own home
The Law Centre’s community care team is often called on to help negotiate with trusts on behalf of older people who lack capacity.
In a recent case, an elderly woman with advanced dementia had been cared for at home by one of her sons for some time, with support from the local health trust. There had been no concerns about her care.
Other relatives felt that she should be in care and organised for her to taken into a nursing home against the son’s wishes. Aware of the disagreement, the trust should have made a formal decision on what living arrangements were in the best interests of the mother and if necessary seek a ‘Best Interests Declaration’ from the High Court. This was not done. Instead, her care team informed the day centre that she attended that she would be taken to the nursing home later that day.
In the nursing home, she suffered distress, disorientation and severe unhappiness. She resided there for 14 weeks before a friend referred her to the Law Centre’s Community Care Unit.
The Law Centre adviser contacted the trust, citing local health and social care law and guidance and explaining that this case also raised deprivation of liberty and right to home and family life issues under the Human Rights Act.
The client was returned to the care of her son. She is now happily living back at home with appropriate care.
How we help: resolving benefit problems for young mother
Law Centre (NI) resolved a benefits issue for a Portuguese worker who suffered financial hardship through the late stages of pregnancy and the arrival of her child.
She had been living in Northern Ireland since 2011. Her most recent employment was on a zero-hour contract, as a cleaner in a local nursing home.
When her employer could not give her any more shifts, she claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) but was refused. She claimed Income Support two weeks later when she came within the maternity period for Income Support. She was refused again.
The Department’s decision was based on the fact that, because there was a four weeks gap between the date when she last worked and the date she claimed JSA, she was not thought to have a right to reside for benefit purposes.
The Law Centre adviser lodged appeals for the two benefits, arguing that she continued to be a worker for benefit purposes. During the four weeks, she had first been on holiday leave and then temporarily incapable of work due to pregnancy-related illness. After that, she was entitled to worker status because she gave up seeking work during the late stages of pregnancy and would retain that status for a reasonable period after the birth of her child. This argument was based on the St Prix decision.
The adviser also helped her make a claim for Maternity Allowance.
The Department revised its decisions but did not need to pay JSA and Income Support as she was entitled to Maternity Allowance, having paid sufficient national insurance contributions, and to Working Tax Credit.
As the principle of right to reside has been established, the client should now be able to claim Income Support if she needs to extend her maternity leave after her entitlement to Maternity Allowance and Working Tax Credit ends.
The Law Centre has also advised her to seek immigration advice concerning her right to permanent residence later this year when she will have been resident for five years.
Advisers are welcome to refer similar cases and other social security cases involving complex issues. Law Centre (NI) advice line is open Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 1pm: 028 9024 4401
UNCRC echoes concerns on children in immigration and asylum system
In June this year, the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child published its fifth periodic report on children’s rights in the UK.
The report echoes the concerns of the Law Centre and Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People on the treatment of children in the asylum and immigration system.
In particular, the report notes:
- the continued detention of minors as part of the asylum process
- the lack of legal guardians for unaccompanied minors who are over 16 and have not been formally identified as victims of trafficking
- restrictions on the right to family reunion
- difficulties in accessing education and health care
- risk of destitution
- as part of the Immigration Act 2016, removal of entitlement to leaving care support for unaccompanied children in care if they have an irregular or unresolved immigration status,
- also under Immigration Act 2016, new policy of ‘deport first, appeal later’, including in cases where deportation undermines family unity
- children returned to country of origin without adequate safeguards
- lack of reliable data on asylum seeking children, including those whose age is disputed.
The Committee's recommendations include:
- establishing legal guardians for all unaccompanied minors,
- appropriate age assessments, to be conducted only in cases of serious doubt
- end to all immigration detention of children
- review policy on family reunion
- ensure sufficient support and access to services for families and unaccompanied children
- review the Immigration Act to ensure its compatibility with children’s rights
Refugee Week: MPs meet Refugee Asylum Forum at Law Centre (NI)
Learn more about Personal Independence Payment
Personal Independence Payment came into force on 20 June 2016.
Are you up for the £10 Refugee Week challenge?
Our colleague Liz Griffith thinks she is. Here is her week's shopping.
At least 16 separated children still missing from Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland Health Minister's response to a written question by Lord Morrow suggests that between 16 and 20 unaccompanied minors who went missing in the last ten years are still unaccounted for.
See question AQW 466/16-21 on Northern Ireland Assembly website.
The response suggests that:
- 67 separated children are known to have come to Northern Ireland since 2006
- 22 of them went missing
- of those, between 16 and 20 are still missing
Earlier in June, a BBC Spotlight programme had uncovered that 8 children who had disappeared while in the care of the trust are still missing.
Law Centre (NI) believes that a guardianship system for all unaccompanied minors could help prevent further disappearances. This measure is provided for in Northern Ireland's Human Trafficking Act 2015 but has not yet been implemented.
Work with us: Finance Officer
Finance Officer - maternity cover
Reference number: FO 03-16, based in Belfast
We are seeking a person with at least two years of experience in a finance position including preparing accounts to trial balance, financial reporting, budgetary control, and operating computerised accounting systems including payroll. The successful candidate will have a relevant finance/bookkeeping qualification preferably as a fully qualified accounting technician. Experience of charity accounting and legal aid is desirable. Please note the quick turnaround of applications for this recruitment with interviews planned for 29 June. The post is temporary and for 28 hours per week.
For more information and an application pack, see: Work with Us
No place for exploitation in agriculture
It’s the time of year for seasonal workers in Northern Ireland. Law Centre (NI) stresses that there is no place for modern slavery in agriculture. Employers and people in the supply chain should be aware of a recent English court decision in favour of exploited chicken catchers.
The Law Centre welcomes the court's judgement in favour of six Lithuanian men who had been severely exploited by the company that employed them as chicken catchers.
The judge found that the men were not paid the minimum wage for agricultural workers and also found in their favour on other key issues.
They were paid for the number of chickens caught on farms, rather than for time worked at minimum rates including night rates and for time spent travelling. They were also charged prohibited fees, had wages unlawfully withheld, and did not have adequate facilities to wash, rest, eat and drink.
Caroline Maguire, employment legal adviser at Law Centre (NI), commented:
“It’s the time of year for employing seasonal agricultural workers. Northern Ireland’s employers and people in the supply chain must be aware that there is no place for exploitation in agriculture.
This judgement is just a first step, as the level of compensation payment still has to be decided. However, the case should act as a warning to exploitative employers.”
The men’s employer had its licence revoked by the GLA in 2012 and 38 workers were referred to the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which confirmed that all the men were victims of trafficking. Sixteen of them are being assisted by law firm Leigh Day.
Caroline Maguire added: "Everyone should be vigilant about signs of hidden exploitation and forced labour, and people should not be afraid to report such cases."
The Law Centre has produced an information leaflet for workers to identify signs of labour exploitation and encourage them to seek help (picture below: Stephen Farry MLA and Sinead Mulhern, Law Centre (NI), launching 'Problems at Work?' leaflet)
Universal Credit to start in Northern Ireland in 2017
New Regulations on the introduction of Universal Credit, published on 6 June, complement Part 1 of the Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015 (S.I.2015/2006 (N.I. 1).
They make provision for the gradual introduction of Universal Credit and abolition of income-related Employment and Support Allowance and income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance.
They also amend other pieces of legislation on matters affected by the change such as Income Support and other related benefits, Child Support and housing renewal grants and provide that a person entitled to universal credit will be credited with a class 3 national insurance contribution.
Government plans are that Universal Credit will be gradually phased in starting in 2017.
For regular updates on welfare reform developments, visit our welfare reform news page.
NIHRC film highlights experiences of forced labour victims
Law Centre (NI) was delighted to help with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission's Hidden Rights film on the labour exploitation of migrant workers.
The film was launched on Thursday 9 June, along with short films on disabled rights and homeless people's rights.
Watch the films here:
DLA and PIP: payments time limits removed for under 18s in hospital
From 6 July 2016, the rules for children who enter hospital and who receive DLA (and PIP when it is introduced on 20 June 2016) are changing.
Until 6 July, a child under the age of 16 ceases to receive DLA and PIP after 84 days of being a hospital in-patient. A child who is over the age of 16 but under the age of 18 will cease to receive DLA or PIP after the 28th day.
From 6 July, the Social Security (Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 change the existing rules  so that a child under the age of 18 on the day in which they enter hospital can receive DLA or PIP for the duration of their stay in hospital. It will not be time limited.
The Regulations have been introduced following the UK Supreme Court decision in Mathieson v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  which was delivered on 8 July 2015. The Supreme Court ruled that the 28 and 84 day restrictions were discriminatory and could not be objectively justified as pursuing a legitimate aim.
In addition, the Regulations provide that any person under 18 when they begin their treatment as a hospital in-patient who might otherwise be invited to make a fresh claim for PIP will not have to do so until their treatment as an inpatient ends. Their award of DLA will be protected during the entirety of their stay in hospital.
 These Regulations amend the Social Security (Disability Living Allowance) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1992, the Personal Independence Payment Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 and the Personal Independence Payment (Transitional Provisions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016.
 Cameron Mathieson, a deceased child (by his father Craig Mathieson) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Respondent)  UKSC 47
How we help: protecting older person’s right to live in her own home
A little known use of the Human Rights Act is in complementing local legislation to ensure older people receive the care they are entitled to.
Law Centre (NI)’s community care team often use the Act in tandem with local legislation when negotiating with the health board and trusts on behalf of clients.
In a recent case, the Act's Section 6 – a Local Authority must not act incompatibly with the ECHR (Article 8 – right to respect for family and private life and Article 5 – not to be deprived of liberty were both engaged in this instance) helped the Law Centre ensure that a client’s wish to live in her own home was respected.
The Alzheimer’s Society referred her to the Law Centre when she was discharged into residential care against her wishes and those of her family.
The Trust had decided that she lacked capacity and argued that the move into residential care was in her best interest. Her close family felt that she did have the capacity to decide but the Trust had not taken their views into consideration and had not carried out a full assessment of capacity.
The Law Centre contacted the Trust and its legal department. The adviser argued that failing to carry out a proper assessment and placing her in residential care without her consent was in breach of the Human Rights Act as well as capacity caselaw and the Department’s own guidance.
The Trust was persuaded to carry out an assessment of needs. The client was discharged and a care package was put in place so she could live safely at home.
Implement independent guardianship to protect separated children
Following the finding by BBC NI’s Spotlight programme a BBC Spotlight programme that eight separated children went missing in Northern Ireland since 2005, Law Centre (NI) is calling for independent guardians to be put in place urgently.
Law Centre (NI) understands that the Health Board has taken measures to ensure that separated children (under 18s who have come to Northern Ireland without a parent or legal guardian) are now better protected. However, the Law Centre believes that all separated children should have access to independent legal guardians and calls on the Department for Health to put this in place urgently.
Law Centre (NI) head of policy Ursula O’Hare said: “One child going missing is one too many. While Independent Guardianship cannot offer a guarantee against children going missing, we believe guardians will go towards minimising the risk of this happening”
Independent Guardianship is a ground breaking provision of the anti-trafficking legislation, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015. Unfortunately, this provision has not yet been implemented.
Ursula O’Hare continued: “We owe it to these extremely vulnerable children to ensure that Northern Ireland’s laws do not just sit on the statute books but are instead implemented and made a reality”.
See the Law Centre's briefing on protection for separated children subject to immigration control (note: this background briefing predates the 2015 Act).
Read a statement by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People.
Read an Irish Legal News article about the issue.
Law Centre (NI)'s Anti-Trafficking Young People Project was pleased to contribute to the programme. The Project offers legal support and advocacy to young people who have been identified as possible victims of trafficking.
The benefit cap and its mitigation payment apply in NI from today
From 31 May 2016 the benefit cap limits the amount, in total, that claimants can receive in benefit payments each week. In practice, this should not have an immediate financial impact on claimants as the related supplementary payment also applies from this date until 31 March 2020.
However, as benefit requirements change (for example if the family has a new child), their supplementary payment will not increase.
The cap will be applied to all affected households within two months and Department has sent them information about this. Frontline advisers should therefore expect to receive queries in the near future.
The cap for single claimants is currently £350 a week.
The cap for couples with or without dependent children, and for lone parents is currently £500 per week.
The following benefits are exempted from the cap:
- Disability Living Allowance (including if received for a dependent child)
- Working Tax Credit (or later, UC as long as one person is working at least 16 hours per week)
- Personal Independence Payment
- Attendance Allowance
- Industrial Injuries Benefits
- Employment and Support Allowance, only if paid with the support component
- War Widow's or War Widower's Pension.
- Carer’s Allowance
There are additional exemptions for people who have been in employment, parental leave or Statutory Sick Pay for 50 out of the last 52 weeks.
The Law Centre has published a briefing explaining the benefit cap and supplementary payments.
New report shows how advice adds value to NI's economy
How do you measure the value of advice? The social impact is demonstrated through case studies showing how advice changes people's lives. The Law Centre's website, enewsletters and impact report are packed with such stories.
But advice also adds value to Northern Ireland's economy, as explained in this interesting piece of research published by Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action.
Read the report here: The Economic Value of Advice
A key finding of the report is that every £1 invested in advice brings £19.50 to NI's economy.
Mandatory reconsideration goes live in Northern Ireland
From today, 23 May 2016, Mandatory reconsideration is the initial stage that a person must go through in challenging a social security decision made on or after that date.
For decisions made from that date, it is no longer possible to lodge an appeal against a social security decision unless a Mandatory Reconsideration Decision Notice is attached to the appeal.
Read our information briefing for advisers: Mandatory Reconsideration and Direct Lodgement of Appeals
The Law Centre will run a one-day training session on mandatory reconsideration on 22 June in Belfast (10am to 4pm).
Follow law Centre (NI)'s welfare reform news microsite for regular updates on changes to the benefits system in Northern Ireland.
Changes to social security appeals: join the conversation
Time to Act: refugees and delays with benefits
For a long time now, the voluntary and community sector has been highlighting the problem of newly-recognised refugees facing long delays in receiving their benefits. Delays cause much hardship for refugees and their families and put a considerable strain on charitable organisations.
The Syrian VPR Scheme, which resettles a number of Syrian refugees in Northern Ireland, shone a fresh focus on the issue. While the first group of Syrian VPR refugees experienced delays with their benefits, the Department for Communities (previously Department for Social Development) was able to ensure prompt payment for the second group. This is a very welcome development.
Northern Ireland’s participation in the Syrian VPR scheme affords an opportunity to address this problem once and for all in a way that will benefit all refugees.
Law Centre (NI) proposes three next steps towards resolving this problem for all refugees:
- The Department for Communities could revive its 2011 Working Group and bring together officials from DfC/SSA/HMRC with members of the Refugee and Asylum Forum to identify required changes to policy and practice.
- The Department for Communities could insert a refugee ‘marker’ into the benefit process. Individual applications could then be tracked over a specified time period. This monitoring would enable decision makers to better understand current difficulties and to identify and address causes of delay
- The Department for Communities could recognise refugees as a priority customer group. This is already done in GB by Jobcentre Plus. It would be consistent with the Equality Commission’s recommendation that refugees may require ‘specific targeted action’.
As articulated by the Refugee Asylum Forumin its Five Actions/SAFER campaign, no refugee should experience destitution due to administrative delays in the benefit system.
Read the Law Centre’s briefing here: Time to Act – Refugees and Delays with Benefits
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