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Community Care and Mental Health Practitioner Meetings - March 2015

These meetings will be of interest to advisers dealing with mental capacity or community care issues, health and social care practitioners.

To find out more, click on the links below:

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Parliamentary enquiry says immigration detention system needs fundamental reform

For far too long, the UK has unquestionably pursued its policies of immigration detention despite the immense human cost it brings. Today, however, a report issued following a Westminster inquiry brings us hope that something will change.

See the report here: The Report of the Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention in the United Kingdom - A Joint Inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees & the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration

The inquiry’s panel was cross party  and consisted of members from both houses. The resulting report condemns the UK’s use of immigration detention and calls for radical and immediate change:

Crucially, this panel believes that little will change by tinkering with the pastoral care or improving the facilities. We believe the problems that beset our immigration detention estate occur quite simply because we detain far too many people unnecessarily and for far too long.

The report makes a number of key recommendations including a 28 day time limit on the length of time anyone can be held in immigration detention. Lay readers will perhaps be surprised – and dismayed– to know that immigration detention has no upper time limit in the UK. This was the very point the Law Centre made in our contribution to the inquiry back in Autumn 2014:

The UK stands apart in Europe for its policies on immigration detention: it is unique in that it does not limit the maximum period of detention. Additionally, the UK does not provide automatic judicial scrutiny of detention: the onus is on the individual to apply to a tribunal to have the legality of their detention reviewed. We find the UK’s stance extraordinary and unjustifiable.

See our full response here: Law Centre (NI) response to Parliamentary Enquiry into Immigration Detention. 

The inquiry’s finding is clear: the current system is ‘expensive, ineffective and unjust’. We hope that the government is listening and that it draws a line under the current inhumane practices. 

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NI NGOs and Stormont paved the way for guardianship system for trafficked children in England and Wales

Following in the footsteps of Stormont, England and Wales are set to put in place a protection system for children who have been trafficked. The House of Lords has voted in favour of amendments to the Modern Slavery Bill to secure Child Trafficking Advocates with legal powers to effectively advocate for trafficked children and young people.

A similar but more far-reaching measure was included in Clause 22 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) which received Royal Assent in January. The Clause ensures that all separated children subject to immigration control are protected by legal guardians, thereby ensuring that children who may not be initially identified as victims of trafficking do not fall through the net.

The Law Centre had worked closely with the Northern Ireland Children’s Commissioner, ECPAT UK and other organisations involved in combatting trafficking to convince Stormont to include the amendment in the Northern Ireland legislation.

More information

Read more about the guardianship measures in Northern Ireland:

www.lawcentreni.org/news/recent-news/1-news/1156-human-trafficking-bill-secures-guardianship-for-trafficked-and-separated-children.html

http://www.ecpat.org.uk/media/northern-ireland-pioneers-legal-guardianship-trafficked-children

Read more about the proposed measures in England and Wales:

www.ecpat.org.uk/media/historic-campaign-win-secures-extra-support-trafficked-children

Read more on the Law Centre’s views on protecting trafficked and other separated children:

www.lawcentreni.org/Publications/Policy-Briefings/Separated-children.pdf

www.lawcentreni.org/Publications/Policy-Responses/Extending-Gaurdianship-Separated-Children.pdf

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Advice agencies welcome Mervyn Storey engaging with the sector on welfare reform

Northern Ireland Advice Services Consortium welcomes DSD Minister Storey’s commitment to engage on funding discussions with the voluntary advice sector during the implementation phase of welfare reform.

The Northern Ireland Advice Services Consortium, which comprises Law Centre (NI), Advice NI and Citizens Advice, has welcomed the Minister for Social Development’s statement in the Assembly during Further Consideration stage of the Welfare Reform Bill, to give ‘serious consideration’ to providing additional funding to the advice sector to help it prepare for the challenges and demand that will flow from the introduction of welfare reform in Northern Ireland.

Speaking on behalf of the Consortium, Bob Stronge, CEO of Advice NI, said:

“We were obviously disappointed that the Minister did not embrace the concept of a right to independent advice and assistance within the Bill as we feel this would have provided more protection to those people and families who may be impacted during the implementation phase of Welfare Reform. Nevertheless we are pleased that the Minister has introduced an amendment to ensure that advice and assistance are made available to persons making a claim resultant from Welfare Reform.

“We welcome the Minister’s support for the advice sector and the fact that he clearly values the work we do in supporting vulnerable people across Northern Ireland. We know that welfare changes will create uncertainty for many people in receipt of benefits and we are committed to helping them to understand how the new changes will affect them and also in supporting them to challenge unfair decisions. As an independent advice sector, that is what we are set up to do.”

The Bill completed Further Consideration stage on Tuesday 24th February; the next stage will be Final Stage, with Royal Assent expected in May 2015. During this period the Department for Social Development will also develop detailed proposals on payments to persons suffering financial disadvantage and how these schemes could provide support for those adversely impacted by the changes to the welfare system.

Commenting on the welfare reform changes, Pól Callaghan from Citizens Advice continued:

“We welcome the commitment to introduce a package of measures to help people who will lose out as a result of welfare reform and are keen to hear more about the detail of these. Just as government and its agencies will need to prepare for these measures, the advice networks need to prepare to help our clients. Our sector is already under pressure with increased workloads due to changes that have already occurred.  We have already seen huge increases in demand as a result of earlier changes to sickness and disability benefits as well as demand for tribunal representation. We need to increase frontline capacity to cope with the surge in demand that we anticipate.  We also need to provide training for advisers on the new benefits and on the mitigating measures; update our information systems; and improve our digital delivery systems and financial capability capacity.”

Law Centre (NI) Director Glenn Jordan concluded:

“We hope that the Minister will be able to use the Final Stage to strengthen his Department’s commitment to independent advice and to secure all possible mitigations that are in his power to deliver.”

Further information on the Welfare Reform Bill and the debates can be found on the NI Assembly website.

More about the Consortium partners:

Advice NI: http://www.adviceni.net/

Citizens Advice: http://www.citizensadvice.co.uk/pages/about_us/

Law Centre (NI): http://www.lawcentreni.org/about-us/what-we-do.html

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Social Security Practitioner meetings

SS Practitioner meeting

Below are the provisional dates for Social Security Practitioner meetings at Law Centre (NI) this year.

Belfast Office

13 March 2015

3 June 2015

3 September 2015

2 December 2015

 

Derry Office

March date to be arranged

10 June 2015

9  September 2015

9 December 2015

Further information, such as times, agenda etc will be published closer to the date of the meeting. Please see our Events page for these details.

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Comic Relief recognition for anti-trafficking project

Comic Relief Plaque

The Law Centre's Anti-Trafficking Young People Project has received a Comic Relief 'Red Plaque' in recognition of our partnership work in protecting child victims of human trafficking.

The first of its kind in Northern Ireland, the Anti-Trafficking Young People Project allows the Law Centre to work to ensure that every young person who is a victim of trafficking in Northern Ireland receives the guidance and assistance he or she needs, through its legal advice and representation service. The project is funded by Comic Relief.


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Universal Credit - one day courses for advisers

As welfare reform makes its way through the Assembly, advisers will want to be ready for the introduction of new benefits.

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Read more: Universal Credit - one day courses for advisers

   

NIASC and NICVA suggest welfare reform mitigations

The Northern Ireland Advice Services Consortium (Law Centre (NI), Advice NI and Citizens Advice) and Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action welcome the work currently being done in the Assembly to progress the issue of welfare reform.

Welfare reform will bring the biggest change to our welfare system in 60 years. It will bring positive changes for some, but it also has the potential for serious negative consequences on vulnerable benefit claimants, as claimants and decision-makers move to an entirely new system.

The Consortium and NICVA have put together a briefing explaining our joint position on welfare reform. The briefing, Welfare Reform in Northern Ireland, makes suggestions in two key areas: sanctions and independent advice.

Read it here: Welfare Reform for Northern Ireland

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Social justice lecture: why fight poverty POSTPONED

Law Centre NI social justice lecture invite graphic

This event has been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances and will be rescheduled.

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Read more: Social justice lecture: why fight poverty POSTPONED

   

Transferring ESA claims when moving to another EU country

Important legal success for people entitled to Employment and Support Allowance moving to another EU jurisdiction – of particular interest to advisers who work near the border with the Republic of Ireland.

Law Centre (NI) helped Ms Robinson, a lady who, because she had moved to Spain, was having problems with continuing to receive Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) due to complex issues of jurisdiction.  The Law Centre managed to secure back-payments of £9,000 and have her placed in the Support Group of ESA so that she can continue to receive her much needed benefit even after welfare reform is introduced.

This important result could help many people on ESA who move to other EU jurisdictions, including the Republic of Ireland. 

Patricia Carty, social security adviser at Law Centre (NI), said: “We would particularly like to alert advisers operating close to the border.  A number of our clients were people who had moved for instance to Donegal and had had appeals listed in England and claims determined under GB rules.  The rules applied to claims and appeals when a person exports ESA within the EU can make a crucial difference to their entitlement. Advisers with similar cases are encouraged to contact the Law Centre's advice line.” 

Ms Robinson added: “I cannot praise the team in the Law Centre enough. They worked tirelessly on my behalf, and their dedication and encouragement helped me to continue with my case and not give up.”

Ms Robinson’s case

Ms Robinson was awarded Invalidity Benefit due to long term disability in the 1990s. She moved to Spain with her husband a few years later and continued to receive her contributions-based Incapacity Benefit, under EU rules allowing the export of social security benefits. 

As part of the migration from Incapacity Benefit to ESA, she was assessed in Spain by a Departmental approved doctor and placed in the work related activity group. She appealed as she thought she should be in the support group.  In 2012 her ESA stopped because the claim was being dealt with in Great Britain and, under welfare reform rules, contributions-based ESA stopped after 365 days. 

Law Centre (NI) represented her in the appeal and succeeded in establishing that, because the original decision was made in Northern Ireland, the claim should be dealt with under Northern Ireland legislation and the appeal heard in Northern Ireland.  As the Welfare Reform Bill had not been passed in Northern Ireland, her award was not time limited. She received arrears of around £9,000 and her benefit was reinstated.

The Law Centre adviser then succeeded in persuading the Department to revise the original decision and to place Ms Robinson in the support group without the need for a hearing.  This means that her ESA will not be time limited when the Welfare Reform Bill is passed here.

Implications for advisers

The issue of what rules apply to claims and appeals when a person exports ESA within the EU has arisen on an ongoing basis. Although Incapacity Benefit has been discontinued, advisers may still be dealing with Incapacity Benefit appeals where this would also apply.

ESA has never been included to date in reciprocal arrangements for social security between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.  Law Centre (NI) has had previous important test cases to challenge the financial loss suffered by its clients on moving within the UK and these led to the establishment of an extra statutory scheme. The Law Centre also had assurances that when welfare reform goes through, ESA will be included in reciprocal arrangements.

Advisers encountering similar cases can contact the Law Centre’s advice line on: 028 9024 4401 or 028 7126 2433, Monday to Friday 9.30am to 1pm.

 

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£2,000 damages over disabled access problems at Work Capability Assessment centre

ALERTING ADVISERS: People who had to travel to alternative assessment centres in the last six months due to lack of disabled access at Royston House can take an action for damages for breach of the Disability Discrimination Act in the county court. Strict six-month time limit for lodging applications.

Atos has agreed to pay £2,000 in damages for Mr McCann, a Law Centre client with mobility problems who had to travel to an alternative WCA assessment centre due to disabled access problems at Royston House, Belfast.  This test case was taken to challenge an issue affecting many people with disabilities.

Mr McCann had not been able to gain access to Royston House in Belfast where the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is carried out, because of disabled access problems. The Law Centre represented him in his claim for damages. Mr McCann was not alone in his predicament. According to figures released last year, over 1,600 claimants had to travel to alternative assessment centres based in Ballymena and Portadown in 2012-2013.

Law Centre (NI) Director Glenn Jordan said: “We are delighted to have brought this case to a successful settlement. This is good news for Mr McCann and for all those who will not have to travel long distances for their WCA assessment.  It’s an example of how the Law Centre is able to pursue strategic cases that make a positive difference for the most vulnerable in our society.”

From 14 November, people with mobility issues are offered assessment in ground floor premises in Belfast. Patricia Carty, the Law Centre social security adviser who took on this case, said: “Other people affected in the last six months may now apply for compensation under the Disability Discrimination Act. However, they need to be aware that there is a strict six-month limit for appeal applications. We would encourage advisers encountering similar issues to contact our advice line.”

Details of the case

WCA assessments are usually carried out on the fourth floor of Royston House. People who would require help in the event of the lift breaking down in an emergency had to be sent to the alternative centres where assessments are carried out in ground floor offices. A large proportion of ESA claimants have mobility issues and many are wheelchair users. This raises issues of disability discrimination due to the extra stress caused by travel which non-wheelchair users do not have to undertake.

The assessments are carried out by Atos under contract from the Department for Social Development, and the Department had to pay £35,000 in taxi fares to the alternative centres.  In addition, travel expenses would have been paid out to those who drove themselves.

When the Department and Atos Healthcare could not agree on which agency was responsible, the Law Centre sought an order from the County Court, and Atos then agreed to settle the case.

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Civil service injury award and Incapacity Benefit: alerting advisers

The Law Centre 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.

This lady had to retire due to ill health in 2003. She was awarded Incapacity Benefit and declared receipt of her civil service pension.  Pension income affects entitlement to Incapacity Benefit.  Where pension income is more than £85 per week then Incapacity Benefit is reduced by an amount equal to 50% of the excess over £85.

The issue at the heart of this case was whether the additional and separate payment that she received under the civil service injury award scheme was a pension.  The Department of Finance and Personnel, which is responsible for the scheme, provided evidence that payments under the scheme are not pensions but are discretionary and solely attributable to accident or illness.

An appeal tribunal allowed the appeal and the Department missed the deadline for appealing and had to implement the decision, although they stated that they disagree with the decision.

She has now migrated to Employment and Support Allowance and the Law Centre has a parallel appeal running for ESA.

This issue affects many former civil servants.  Those affected need to lodge appeals and then the appeals will be stayed pending final resolution of the issue.

Advisers encountering similar cases are encouraged to contact the Law Centre’s advice line on: 028 9024 4401 or 028 7126 2433, Monday to Friday 9.30am to 1pm.

This case was referred to the Law Centre by North Belfast Advice Partnership.

Relevant Legislation

Section 30 D (5) and (6) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 and section 1 of the Pensions Schemes (NI) Act 1993

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New crisis fund for migrants

Law Centre (NI) welcomes the decision by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to implement a Crisis Fund for destitute asylum seekers and migrants, launched on 4 February at the office of the Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers. We are also very pleased that OFMDFM has appointed the Red Cross to deliver the programme.

The Law Centre had been calling for an OFMDFM crisis fund since 2008, and a pilot project run by the Community Foundation and Red Cross in 2011-12 had been proven to make a real difference to people living in acute poverty. The idea originally came from the experiences of voluntary organisations in dealing with migrant individuals and families who were either struggling to access or not entitled to public services.

Law Centre (NI) Director Glenn Jordan said: “This is a forward-thinking move by OFMDFM and really good news for the Law Centre and our member advice agencies. The Law Centre has had to signpost migrant and refugee families to local charities so they could feed their children while we were helping them with delays in accessing a complex benefit system. We also have first-hand experience of people left destitute when their claim for asylum was refused and they could not be sent back to their own country.  The Law Centre has been advocating for this Fund, which provides help at crucial times of need in people’s lives, and we are delighted with this decision.”

The crisis fund pilot project had distributed £43,000 between 1,200 people between August 2011 and March 2012.  An independent evaluation of the pilot project had demonstrated that small sums at key moments of transition, for example after losing work, reduced working hours or family breakdown, could provide a significant bridge to allow people to get back on their feet.

NOTES

The Law Centre’s initial paper calling for a crisis fund is here:

http://www.lawcentreni.org/policy/policy-briefings/201.html

The Red Cross/ CFNI evaluation of the pilot fund is accessible here along with Junior Minister comments:

http://www.communityfoundationni.org/News/Emergency-Fund-report-launched

OFMDFM first expressed an interest in expanding the fund last February:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-26175391

The fund was also mentioned in a Northern Ireland Assembly debate to mark Refugee Week:

http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/assembly-business/official-report/reports-13-14/16-june-2014/#10

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Changes to residence rules for claiming benefits - updated briefing

We have just updated our popular briefing explaining the timeline of changes to habitual residence and residence requirements for claiming benefits, which affect both migrants and UK nationals.

This was originally published in August 2014 but some aspects of the changes are now better known. Read the updated briefing here: 

Timeline of changes to the habitual residence and right to reside requirements - updated January 2015

This briefing is of particular interest to advisers and organisations working with migrants, or with UK residents moving back to the UK after a period of residence abroad.

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e-news January 15

Law Centre (NI) Director Glenn Jordan

With:

  • a message from Glenn Jordan, our new Director
  • social justice lecture invitation: Why Fight Poverty? with Julia Unwin, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • new courses
  • resettlement of nursing home residents
  • guardianship for trafficked and separated children
  • casework summaries.

Read it here: Law Centre (NI) e Newsletter, January 2015

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Human Trafficking Bill secures guardianship for trafficked and separated children

Royal Assent for the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill means Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK to establish a guardianship service for trafficked and separated children on a statutory basis.

The Private Member’s Bill from Lord Morrow successfully passed all stages in the Assembly, with the Commissioner for Children and Young People and Law Centre (NI) working closely to secure an amendment that also protects all separated children, something not in the original document.

Law Centre (NI) Director, Glenn Jordan, said:

'Over the years, the Law Centre has worked with several separated children arriving in Northern Ireland, many of whom have experienced war and trauma.

'We know that these children will benefit from a legal Guardian, whose role will complement existing support services.

'We are delighted that Northern Ireland is leading the way in ensuring the best possible support for this group of vulnerable children.'

Mairéad McCafferty, Chief Executive for the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, welcomed the Bill receiving Royal Assent, saying: “What this now means is that both trafficked and separated children, under 18, who arrive in Northern Ireland without a parent, or primary care giver, will receive the support of an independent Guardian.

'Importantly, this person will have legal responsibilities, making them an authoritative figure among other stakeholders.'

'There are many reasons why children leave their homelands and these include being trafficked, orphaned, abandoned, fleeing persecution, escaping practices such as female circumcision, replacing missing children in other families, child abuse and domestic servitude,” said Ms McCafferty.

'Guardianship means trafficked and separated children will have someone to help them ‘navigate’ through the complex administrative and legal systems they find themselves in.'

By establishing a guardianship provision, Northern Ireland is successfully meeting a key obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international human rights instruments.

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Slievemore residents to be safely resettled in alternative care facility

Law Centre (NI) has helped to achieve a successful resolution in the resettlement of long term residents of Derry’s Slievemore Nursing Unit, which closed on Monday 5 January.

Following independent mediation organised by the Law Centre and the Office of the Commissioner for Older People (COPNI), the Trust has offered to place the five remaining residents in an alternative care facility located in Derry city, with the agreement of their families.

Ursula O’Hare, Acting Director at Law Centre (NI) said: “It is important that measures are put in place to listen to people’s wishes when changes to their care are being considered, including where budgetary constraints or capacity issues present challenges. We commend the families and the Trust on reaching an agreement which will safeguard the rights of Slievemore’s long term residents.”

The residents of Slievemore were elderly people with dementia. Slievemore had originally been created to provide short-term specialist nursing care and treatment but many of the residents were living there on a long term basis.

The Law Centre was contacted in 2012 by the families of a number of residents. The families were concerned about the lawfulness of the lack of consultation prior to closure and the potential impact which a move to a nursing/residential home would have on their vulnerable relatives. There were questions over whether the human rights of the residents had been fully respected.

In conjunction with COPNI, the Law Centre negotiated with the Trust and their lawyers on behalf of a group of residents, and the Trust agreed to participate in a formal mediation process with the families.

The Law Centre liaised with COPNI and the families in selecting a mediator and continued to provide ongoing assistance and advice to the families throughout the process.

The independent mediation has been successful and the five remaining residents are in the process of being resettled in an alternative facility.

Caroline Cooley, Community Care Legal Adviser at the Law Centre’s western area office, said: “We are pleased to have been able to help the residents, their families and the Trust to come to a mutually satisfactory agreement. The Law Centre will provide legal assistance through the courts where necessary but we seek negotiated resolutions wherever possible to achieve happy outcomes for all parties involved.”                                                        

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Successful resettlement for client with learning disabilities

The Law Centre represented a long-term patient in Muckamore Hospital who wanted to be resettled in the community.

He was admitted as a detained patient and re-graded to voluntary status after two years. Three years later, he was transferred to the step-down unit which prepares people for discharge, and sought the help of the Law Centre because he wanted to be resettled in the community and to enjoy an independent life as far as possible. He said he had attended various meetings about potential discharge into a flat or other suitable accommodation in the community but nothing ever came of it.

We entered into legal correspondence with the Trust Solicitors and Departmental Solicitor’s Office, arguing that his resettlement needs had not been adequately assessed for five years. After several letters and negotiations with the Trust and Department he was eventually resettled into the community

His successful resettlement was strengthened by JR47, another case the Law Centre ran and won regarding a long-stay patient in Muckamore.

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Helping a family to stay together

“The only place where we could get real help. Thanks.”

Our immigration unit helped a Latvian man, his Latvian wife and her non-EEA mother living in the UK. The couple have two children, both born in the UK.

Our clients applied for registration certificates for the two Latvian nationals and a residence card for the non-EEA mother. The husband had worked in the UK from 2004 and obtained a Workers Registration Certificate in 2009. He became ill in 2013 and was off work for eight weeks, but then returned to his employment. His mother-in-law had been visiting the UK since 2009 for extended periods and had very close family ties to the couple and their two young children. Her flights, accommodation and basic living costs were paid for by her daughter and son in law.

The Home Office refused the application on the basis that the husband did not lodge sufficient evidence that he was a worker and his mother-in-law did not lodge evidence of her dependence.

We submitted supporting documents and a skeleton argument to the First Tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Court) and the Home Office withdrew its refusal decision at the tribunal.

The Home Office has granted our clients EEA registration certificates to the two EEA nationals and a residence card to the mother. The family are now able to travel freely and feel more secure.

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Residence permit for victim of forced labour

‘I just wanna say thanks to the Law Centre for helping me with my case. They are very kind. Because of the Law Centre I got my residence permit to work.’

We represented a man who was recruited via an agency in the Philippines, thinking he was going to England to work for a short while to earn money for his family. On arrival, he realised he was in Northern Ireland and was put to work on fishing boats, working long hours without breaks.  Migrant Help referred him to us as a potential victim of trafficking.
 
We made representations to the Home Office on his behalf on grounds of deception and forced labour and the Home Office agreed that he was a victim of human trafficking.  A residence permit valid for one year has been granted as he is required to help with the PSNI investigation into his employment conditions and circumstances.  He has a right to work during this period.
 

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