Selasa, 14 Desember 2010

Scotland's Justice Secretary must back Scottish Consumers over unfair bank charges says MSP

Consumers in Scotland are being denied justice against UK banks according to the MSP for Glasgow Ballieston, Margaret Curran, who is the local constituency MSP and MP for GLC's client Jennifer Sharp. 

Ms Sharp has been refused legal aid by the Scottish Legal Aid Board to pursue her claim for a refund of unfair bank charges against the Bank of Scotland plc.  Labour MSP and MP Margaret Curran has issued the following statement:-

" 'Scotland’s Justice Secretary has refused to back Scottish consumers who are challenging unfair and excessive bank charges. The Justice Secretary needs to decide whose side he’s on. Scotland’s consumers or the banks? Scottish consumers are being routinely denied access to justice on this issue and Kenny MacAskill must break his silence and support hardworking Scots who’ve been treated unfairly by the banks'.

Last year there were approximately 120,000 Scottish households who had complained about excessive overdraft charges. The banks have since rejected their complaints and now there is effectively no redress through the Scottish courts on this issue.

In July, Kenny MacAskill claimed Scottish consumers have no problem in trying to recover overdraft charges in our courts: 'People are still able to raise bank charge cases in the small-claims court – this ruling does nothing to stop that. We totally support the right of people to bring such actions and the courts will decide each case on its own merits.'

However, the experience of Scots tells a very different and worrying story. Kenny MacAskill has displayed nothing but arrogance, and incompetence in failing to do anything whatsoever to help financially vulnerable Scots at least be able to access justice – with at least 120,000 Scottish households standing to benefit from action on this issue.

Last week the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) refused to grant civil legal aid for citizens on low income/benefits to pursue court actions for a refund of unfair bank charges.  In the cases of Sharp v. Bank of Scotland plc and Reid v. Clydesdale Bank plc SLAB refused legal aid because they said the value of the sums sued were too small.

Applying a ‘cost/benefit analysis’ test, SLAB said someone who was able to privately fund litigation would not risk spending their own money to pursue a claim under £3,000. Of course, this was the reason the small claims system was set up with restricted expenses.

However, bank charges cases in Scotland have been removed from the small claims system by the courts on the motion of UK banks (a tactic used in other parts of the UK too). Accordingly, as matters stand Scotland’s legal aid and civil court system have failed Scottish consumers who want to try and reclaim their overdraft charges.

Scotland’s Justice Minister needs to wake up from his slumber on this issue and take urgent action".

Confidence must be restored in Scotland's legal aid system

The Scottish Legal Aid Board has issued its second public statement in relation to its refusal to grant civil legal in the bank charges case of Sharp v. Bank of Scotland plc.  According to GLC this statement does nothing to restore public confidence in the Board's ability to provide access to justice for Scots, particulary in relation to their unfair treatment by UK banks.

GLC's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly said: "According to the Board a page of an application form for civil legal aid 'is not the application', while not all the form 'may be read by the Board'. Further, we are told any documents or letters provided in relation to the application don't count as they are 'not included in the initial application'. How can Scots have any confidence in a publicly funded body that offers absurd bureaucratic excuses instead of legal aid? Scotland deserves better".

Jumat, 10 Desember 2010

Response to Scottish Legal Aid Board statement re bank charges

On Wednedsay 8 December 2010 the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) issued a formal statement in relation to GLC's case of Sharp v. Bank of Scotland and the generally availablity of civil legal aid for Scottish consumers to pursue claims for unfair bank charges.

SLAB alleged that "Following receipt, the application was considered but refused as it did not meet the reasonableness test for civil legal aid. No mention was made of wider public interest by Govan Law Centre at this time".  That assertion was false.  The statutory statement at page 19 of the application expressly stated the strong public interest in this case, on the following basis:

"Page 19:  Para 5. On the motion of the opponents these proceedings were remitted to the ordinary cause roll due to exceptional complexity. The applicant also seeks an order under the 1974 Act to prohibit any further charges being levied to her account in the future. Approximately 100,000 people in Scotland lodged complaints with their bank seeking a refund of overdraft charges, and therefore, there is a very strong public interest element to this case".

Before SLAB issued its original refusal of legal aid in this case on 12 October 2010, Dundas + Wilson, solicitors for the Bank of Scotland, lodged a 6 page letter of objections to SLAB on 27 August raising exceptionally complex and novel points of consumer credit law, issues around the UK Supreme Court's decision in OFT v. Abbey Nationals and others, and contentious issues around the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999, as well as complex issues of fact, in objection to the granting of civil legal aid in this case.

GLC responded to these points on 14 September 2010 with an equally complex and detailed letter.  The fact such novel points of law were at stake - from a Scottish and UK perspective - with such a massive public interest to at least 100,000 Scottish consumers (and by implication 900,000 consumers in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland), renders it extremely worrying that SLAB has chosen to falsely claim none of these issues were mentioned to them.

Separately, SLAB had claimed "GLC’s press release suggests that legal aid is unlikely to be obtained for certain cases. This is not accurate". We have just received another refusal of civil legal aid, this time in the case of Reid v. Clydesdale Bank plc, where SLAB once again rely on the 'cost/benefit test'.   GLC believes the that ridgid reliance on this test is unreasonable, irrational and unlawful for the reasons set out in our most recent letter to SLAB.

GLC's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly, said: "The Scottish Legal Aid Board's statement is fundamentally flawed and represents a failure to accept responsibility. It claims that GLC made 'no mention' of the wider public interest of the case when we lodged our client's application for legal aid. We believe, the Board's CEO should apologise for that false and unfair statement, and take responsibility for the self-evident failure to correctly apply the statutory tests in this case". 

Selasa, 07 Desember 2010

Access to justice denied: Scottish Legal Aid Board kills off hope of reclaiming unfair bank charges in Scotland

SLAB's CEO
Lindsay Montgomery
The Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) has refused to grant civil legal aid in a leading Scottish test case on unfair UK bank charges - Sharp v. Bank of Scotland plc - with their decision to refuse legal aid being upheld on an internal appeal to the Board this week. 

The decision effectively means that no-one in Scotland can ever obtain civil legal aid to pursue a modest bank charges claim, and further, that any complex consumer credit or consumer law complaint of a modest value is unlikely to ever qualify for legal aid in Scotland.  In short, SLAB have killed-off access to justice for many tens of thousands of consumers in Scotland.

The previous unfair UK bank charges campaign, which Govan Law Centre played a key role in as solicitors to the UK campaign team, resulted in over £1bn being refunded to consumers across Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  Despite the widescale public interest in enabling tens of thousands of Scots reclaim unfair overdraft fees, SLAB has refused legal aid on the grounds of a 'cost-benefit analysis test'. 

The 'cost-benefit analysis' is based upon an assumption that a 'privately paying client of modest means would not pursue an ordinary action in these circumstances'.  Of course, the fact the action was ordinary cause and not a small claims, was due to the court holding that the subject-matter was legally complex; and the fact UK banks have sought to remove claims against them from the small claims court.

GLC had agreed to cap all of its fees and outlays at a purely nominal sum (£375) in order to keep the risk to the public purse to a bare minimum and proportionate level.  We also pointed out the case was not just about money, it was a matter of huge public interest, and we were also seeking an order to prohibit the future imposition of overdraft charges under s.140B of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.  All of these arguments were summarily dismissed by SLAB.

Today, GLC has written to SLAB advising that in order to avoid the need for a petition for judicial review of the Board’s refusal of civil legal aid in this case, as Wednesbury unreasonable, et separatim irrational and illegal, we would ask the Board to reconsider its decision to refuse civil legal aid under reference to the following relevant and significant considerations:

"If the Board granted civil legal aid then in relation to the cost/benefit analysis, GLC's client and this firm would undertake to seek a protective expenses order to cap expenses at the equivalent small claims limit, and if this was not granted the Board could reconsider its position;

The Board will be aware of the wider Scottish public interest in this case, and that if civil legal aid cannot granted for bank charges cases due to the cost/benefit analysis applied by the Board, as in this case, the Board will be acting unlawfully in relation to section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 and inter alia the applicant’s entitlement to a fair and public hearing. The Board will note the court has already assessed this case as dealing with complex and difficult factual and legal issues in determining to remit same to the ordinary court. Without the benefit of civil legal aid our client will denied access to justice; and

The applicant’s claim proceeds upon a case under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999 and separately, the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Said Regulations were enacted by the UK to implement its European Community law (EC) obligations under the Unfair Consumer Contract Terms Directive 93/13/EC, while the Consumer Credit Act 1974 (as amended) implemented the UK’s obligations under the Consumer Credit Directive 2008/48/EC (and earlier). The foregoing rights that the applicant enjoys are guaranteed by the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The refusal to grant legal aid in our client’s case is a contravention of Article 47 of the Charter. Article 47 provides as follows:

Right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial

Everyone whose rights and freedoms guaranteed by the law of the Union are violated has the right to an effective remedy before a tribunal in compliance with the conditions laid down in this Article.

Everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law. Everyone shall have the possibility of being advised, defended and represented.

Legal aid shall be made available to those who lack sufficient resources in so far as such aid is necessary to ensure effective access to justice”.

GLC's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly said:
"Govan Law Centre believes the Scottish Legal Aid Board has dealt a death blow to tens of thousands of people in Scotland who would like to obtain a refund of unfair bank charges.  We believe that the Board has acted unlawfully, unreasonably and irrationally, and we will challenge the Board in order to protect our clients' European Community law rights.  Once again the Board has demonstrated that it cannot be entrusted with the responsibility for monitoring and safeguarding access to justice in Scotland.  The Board does not appear to understand access to justice in Scotland; in many respects the Board has become a major threat to vulnerable Scots securing access to  justice.".

Senin, 06 Desember 2010

Property Factors Bill debated before full Scottish Parliament on Wednesday

The Scottish Parliament will debate the Property Factors (Scotland) Bill at Stage 1 on  the afternoon of Wednesday, 8 December 2010.  This is a make or break moment for the Bill.  The Bill, drafted by Govan Law Centre's Parliamentary Unit for Patricia Ferguson MSP, has secured the backing of the Parliament's Local Government and Communities Committee, and also has wide public support across Scotland.  However, the Bill now needs to secure the support of MSPs in the full Chamber on Wednesday in order for it to progress.

Minggu, 05 Desember 2010

Shopworkers back protection bill

The Sunday Herald reports that shopworkers have given their support to proposals to give Scottish workers greater protection from assaults.

The Co-operative Group, Scotmid Co-operative Society and the Scottish Grocers' Federation have announced their support for the Protection of Workers (Scotland) Bill which is being steered through the Scottish Parliament by Labour MSP Hugh Henry.  The Bill and supporting documents were drafted by GLC's Parliamentary Unit.

The Bill, which MSPs are first due to vote on in the next few weeks, will give shopworkers and other public-facing staff the same level of protection given to emergency workers who are assaulted while doing their jobs.

If passed, the Bill would make it clear that it is an offence to assault a shopworker while at work or as a result of them doing their job.  The Bill already has the support of Usdaw, the shopworkers' union.

Rabu, 01 Desember 2010

Major new early intervention service to prevent homelessness in Glasgow's Southside

Govan Law Centre has secured almost £336,000 funding from the Oak Foundation to develop an innovative early intervention service to prevent the most vulnerable and hard to reach citizens in Glasgow's Southside from becoming homeless.

The new project will provide an early intervention and crisis response that fits around the individual service user along with an intensive one to one support service to deal with the underlying causes of homelessness. Headed up by GLC's Alistair Sharp, the project will utilise new technology and innovative approaches to preventing homelessness and will focus on sustainability and long term solutions. 

The project will have a major social policy and law reform remit, with an ambitious strategy to secure transformational change to benefit those threatened with homelessess across Scotland.  

GLC's Mike Dailly said: "The Govan Law Centre Board of Trustees are indebted to the Oak Foundation for backing our innovative new project.  We hope to develop a radical new approach to preventing homelessness on a long term and sustainable basis, working closely with our local partners, Money Matters Money Advice Centre and the South West Glasgow Community Health and Care Partnership, and other agencies".

GLC's Prevention of Homelessness Co-ordinator, Alistair Sharp said: "Our project will provide new hope to vulnerable people at risk of homelessness in the Southside of Glasgow. With the new resources available to us we will be able to intervene to prevent homelessness at a much earlier stage, and avoid the human misery of homelessness".

Selasa, 30 November 2010

Thousands face extra bills as court ruling hits property sales

The Herald reports that "A landmark ruling on repossessions is resulting in the suspension of property sales at the last minute and thousands of Scots facing large bills from banks on top of losing their homes. Almost a week after the decision by the UK Supreme Court effectively ground all Scottish repossession cases to a halt, there are concerns that hundreds of property deals could be halted as a result.

There are also warnings of the impact of the judgment on the cash-strapped courts service, with thousands of cases scrapped and having to come back into the system.  Last night, the Law Society of Scotland called on solicitors to put the brakes on all purchases of repossessed homes until it can be proven it is compliant with last week’s “earthquake” judgment.

Bruce Ritchie, director of professional practice at the Law Society of Scotland, said: “The society’s conveyancing and civil justice committee will be looking at this in detail but our preliminary view on current transactions that have not yet settled is that buyers’ solicitors should be firm about declining to settle the transaction until selling creditors can produce evidence of having followed correct procedure.”

Mike Dailly, of the Govan Law Centre, said he would pursue legal action against the lenders for putting the bill for dealing with the judgment on to his clients. He said: “The question that no-one has asked is ‘who’s going to pay for all this?’ I have no doubt UK banks will do what they always do and pass these costs onto consumers by adding them to their mortgage – which they can do if the costs are reasonable.  “We could be looking at up to £40 million or more. “It’s not reasonable to expect vulnerable Scots facing repossession to pay banks and their lawyers twice for what is essentially their solicitors’ responsibility and failure.” "

Sabtu, 27 November 2010

Update: unfair bank charges on BBC 1's Rip-off Britain

Unfair bank charges, including clients of Govan Law Centre, were featured on BBC 1's Rip-off Britain at 9.15am on Monday, 29 November 2010.

Sadly, the programme decided to take a soft approach and focus on peripheral issues around charges (e.g. communication concerns) as opposed to the tough question of whether the UK bank charging model was unfair in law, whether it was morally acceptable to exploit vulnerable consumers to subsidise better off customers,  as well as overlooking the plight of thousands of UK consumers still trying to seek refunds of unfair charges.

Rabu, 24 November 2010

GLC predicts major shockwaves for Scottish repossession law following RBS v. Wilson and others

A judgment of the UK Supreme Court today looks set to have profound implications for the law and practice of repossessions in Scotland. According to GLC's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly, the case of RBS plc v Wilson and others "may be to Scottish repossession proceedings what Cadder has been to criminal proceedings in Scotland". 

The UK Supreme Court upheld the appeal of two sets of Scottish homeowners in the case of Royal Bank of Scotland plc v. Wilson and others [2010] UKSC 50, where a lender's certificate of default did not amount to a 'requisition' for the purposes of section 5 of the Heritable Securities (Scotland) Act 1894, and where the court held that in the circumstances of the case, a 'calling-up notice' should have been served. 

 The standard practice of most lenders in Scotland in reposession proceedings has been to raise a writ founding upon a 'default' in terms of standard condition 9(1)(b) (of sch 3 of the 1970 Act) and seek recovery in terms of section 24 of the Conveyancing and Fedual Reform (Scotland) Act 1970.  In essence, lenders would not bother with a default or calling-up notice and would simply raise repossession proceeding based upon the mortgage arrears (lodging a 'certificate of default' setting out the amount of arrears). 

And that was that for many years in Scotland - defenders could use the Mortgage Rights Act (Scotland) 2001 and now the Home Owners & Debtor Protection (Scotland) Act 2010 to obtain a chance to pay, re-mortgage or restructure, sell, or apply to the Mortgage to Rent Scheme.  But no-one challenged the orthodoxy of the lender's right to use standard condition 9(1)(b) for a repossession based upon mortgage arrears; until now.

The UK Supreme Court's ruling makes it clear that standard condition 9(1)(b) cannot be used for a failure to comply with mortgage payments, and instead a calling-up notice is necessary in an arrears case. At para 74 Lord Hope says "As standard condition 9(1)(b) refers to a failure to comply with any other requirement arising out of the security, this section must be taken to refer to defaults other than in respect of the debt secured by the standard security. Content for its application is to be found in the requirements that are set out in standard condition 1 (maintenance and repair), standard condition 2 (completion of buildings), standard condition 3 (observance of conditions in title) and standard condition 5 (insurance) and any other similar conditions that may have been included by way of variation to maintain the value of the security subjects".

GLC's Principal Solicitor said: "The fact the UK Supreme Court has stated that standard condition 9(1)(b) cannot be used for a failure to pay ones mortgage, and that in such cases a calling-up notice and standard condition 9(1)(a) should be used instead, will send shock waves to lenders and their solicitors in Scotland.  More than that it could mean thousands of cases might have been raised incompetently, with defenders entitled to seek dismissal with expenses in principle.  GLC would recommend that all homeowners in Scotland currently subject to repossession proceedings seek advice from a law centre solicitor or local firm of solicitors in light of this decision".

Selasa, 16 November 2010

Local Government & Communities Committee backs Property Factors Bill

The Stage 1 Report of the Scottish Parliament's Local Government and Communities Committee has supported the general principles of the Property Factors (Scotland) Bill, which will help pave the way for the Bill's forthcoming Stage 1 debate before the Chamber next month. 

The Committee's report is available here; it makes a number of recommendations to amend the Bill to take on board practical issues which arose during evidence; some of the key conclusions are reproduced below:

"45. The Committee believes that there is clear evidence testifying to the problems encountered by members of the public with property factors and that there is therefore a need to proceed with a statutory framework to regulate property factors. It concurs with those witnesses who stated that a voluntary accreditation scheme would not address the problem of factors that provide a poor service to consumers. While the Committee acknowledges the work already conducted by the Scottish Government’s working group in developing a national voluntary accreditation scheme, it does not consider that there is evidence to suggest that this will be ultimately successful in addressing inadequate factoring services. It therefore supports the approach taken by the Member in Charge of the Bill in proposing a statutory framework for the regulation of property factors.

58. The Committee therefore considers that it is appropriate for housing associations and local authorities to be included within the meaning of “property factor” contained in the Bill.

62. The Committee welcomes the meaning given to “property factors” in the Bill. It considers that it is important for the definition to include the ownership and management or maintenance of land that is available for use by the owners of any adjoining or neighbouring residential properties. The Committee considers that consumers should be entitled to a quality service and that a company should not be able to avoid the provision of this service as a land-owning maintenance company ...

110. The Committee recognises that complaints against property factors can often be very technical and concurs that a homeowner housing panel will provide an effective structure for dealing with such complaints.

 122. The Committee considers that difficulties faced by homeowners in switching property factor represents a major issue, particularly in relation to land-owning maintenance companies. While it recognises that there may be less need for homeowners to switch once the provisions in the Bill raise standards in the sector, it nevertheless believes that a simplification of the process would be of benefit to the consumer. The Committee believes this is an important issue that might require legislation. However, the Committee also recognises it is a very complex issue and therefore calls on the Scottish Government to undertake further research".

Kamis, 11 November 2010

GLC criticises 'pot shots' from Justice spokesman

Scottish Conservative Party criticism of legal aid payments for asylum seekers and medical negligence claims in Scotland are ‘reckless, unjust, and ill-founded’ according to Govan Law Centre.

On Tuesday, Conservative justice spokesman John Lamont MSP attacked Scottish legal aid payments for asylum seekers cases, which totalled £3.8m in 2010/11. Mr Lamont said: "These are astonishing sums of money and every penny spent from the justice budget on legal aid is money not available for policing the streets and preventing crime".

Mr Lamont added that "The UK government is having a fundamental look at the legal aid system, to innovate and provide a value for money scheme built on sound foundations. The SNP Scottish Government needs to do the same."

Today, Mr Lamont launched an attack on legal aid paid to victims of medical negligence, which totalled £1.27m in the last six months, claiming: “There has been a shocking rise in the amount of taxpayers’ money being used to fund negligence cases against the NHS over the past few years”.

GLC’s Mike Dailly said: “Much of the legal aid ‘paid’ for reparation claims is judicial expenses recovered from opponents as the rules require awards of expenses to be routed through the Scottish Legal Aid Board; so while it may all look like legal aid it isn’t. Accordingly, Mr Lamont’s figures for medical negligence cases are significantly overstated. It’s also reckless to criticise any apparent rise without knowing if, and why, there have been more cases, or more expensive cases”.

“Attacking money paid for asylum seeker cases or blaming the Scottish Government is ridiculous when you consider that the success rate of immigration petitions for judicial review in Scotland have been running at around 80%. In other words, Mr Lamont might wish to direct his outrage at the quality of decision-making by the UK Border Agency. Or he might consider refraining from taking ill-informed pot shots”.

Selasa, 02 November 2010

GLC calls for widescale 'FOI' extension in Scotland

GLC has responded to the Scottish Government's consultation on 'Extending the coverage of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002', which closed this week, by calling for the Act to be extended to cover the Glasgow Housing Association Ltd, and its factoring company, as well as asserting the general principle that the Act should be extended to a comprehensive range of private, third sector, and other bodies who are in receipt of substantial public funds, subject to 'proportionality criteria'.  GLC has argued that:

"As a matter of general principle, we believe there is a strong case for arguing that any body – whether private, third sector or public – should be subject to the 2002 Act in relation to the public money which they receive (and how it is spent) or public services which they provide subject to fair and reasonable proportionality criteria. Such proportionality criteria could be based around (a) the value of the contract or award and/or (b) the number of employees in the entity".

"We fully support proposals to extend coverage of the Act to GHA. We agree that GHA is a RSL unique in terms of size and public profile. In March 2003, Glasgow City Council transferred its housing stock to GHA with the result that GHA carries out functions which were previously carried out by the local authority. This means that people in Glasgow, who were formerly council tenants and are now tenants of GHA are unable to access information other tenants in other parts of Scotland would be able to access through Freedom of Information Act requests. Extending the coverage of the Act to include GHA will help address this inequity".

"We strongly believe that coverage of the Act should also include GHA’s factoring service, ‘Your Place’. As well as taking on responsibility for Glasgow City Council’s rented properties, GHA took over the council’s factoring responsibilities when the stock was transferred. GHA are now the factors of many ex-council properties. They are in a unique position as a factor in that they are the majority owner in many of the common closes they factor. This means that they often have to balance their role as owner and factor. We feel that it would be in the public interest to be able to obtain information regarding GHA’s factoring service through Freedom of Information requests".

Selasa, 26 Oktober 2010

No extra funding for Mortgage to Rent Scheme in Scotland

The Co-ordinator of the Scottish Government's Home Owner Support Fund (HOSF) has confirmed that there will be no additional funding to the scheme to cope with the expected increase in demand following the Department of Works and Pensions cut in mortgage interest payments to unemployed homeowners.  Since earlier this month the amount of mortgage interest paid dropped from 6.08% p.a. to the Bank of England’s average monthly mortgage rate, which is currently 3.63% p.a.

GLC had cited an example of a Govan client who had received DWP interest of £742 p.m to her capital and interest mortgage, resulting in a shortfall of £376 p.m. Her family were prepared to make up that shortfall and the court action would be continued on that basis, giving her time to try and get back into work. However, due to the UK Government’s change of policy, this month the DWP reduced her ISMI to £433 p.m, resulting in a 80% increase in her shortfall to £678 p.m. She could not pay this (she received £59.49 IBJSA), nor could her family do so.

HOSF Co-ordinator Keith McDowell's said:
"Thank you for your email of 4 October to Alex Neil MSP, the Minister for Housing and Communities about the Scottish Government’s Home Owners’ Support Fund which has been passed to me for reply.

The Scottish Government is aware that people who find themselves in danger of losing their homes may still be at risk, even having successfully applied for other forms of assistance available to them. As a result, in June 2010 we reviewed the administrative procedures, application form and information leaflet to make it clear to applicants and advisers that if other forms assistance (such as Support for Mortgage Interest) do not remove the threat of repossession, applicants may still apply for assistance from the Home Owners’ Support Fund. The amended scheme literature is published on the Scottish Government website at www.scotland.gov.uk/hosf

In 2009/10 the Scottish Government helped 303 households remain in their home as a result of the Mortgage to Rent scheme with record funding of £20m. I am pleased to say that the budget for 2010/11 has remained at £20m and we aim to help similar numbers again".

Jumat, 15 Oktober 2010

Human Rights in Divided Britain

The erosion of civil liberties, and the need to use the law more creatively and effectively to tackle social injustice and the forthcoming 'austerity agenda', were just some of the topics discussed during a barnstorming debate last night at the University of Cumbria, marking the 20th anniversary of the successful and forward-looking Cumbria Law Centre.

The public debate posed the question of whether the 1998 Human Rights Act was essential or a distraction in the struggle for social justice in Britain.  Former chair of the UK Law Centres Federation, and director of Kent University Law Clinic - the UK's oldest university law clinic - Professor John Fitzpatrick gave an inspirational speech on the erosion of civil liberty and freedom in the UK.

Professor Fitzpatrick highlighted the UCL Student Human Rights Programme's report, 'The Abolition of Freedom Act' (opens as PDF) which surveys the 25 Acts and 50 measures in recent years which have eroded our freedom, liberty and rights as citizens of the UK.  After considering the incredible struggle and loss suffered to secure our freedoms and liberty, Professor Fitzpatrick contrasted the heady days of 1966, with landmark cases such as Miranda v. Arizona and closer to home, Rice v. Connolly. In the pursuit of being protected by the State, had we ceded our freedom? If so, why had we allowed this to happen?

GLC's Mike Dailly suggested that there had never been a more important time in the post-war period to have a human rights framework incorporated into our domestic law. He argued that the role of law centres in the UK had never been more needed, as it would fall to solicitors and advisors to challenge the worst injustices thrown up by the Coalition Government’s austerity agenda. The Human Rights Act represented a vital tool in the tough struggle for social justice.  Mike argued that we needed more law centres in the UK, not less. Citizens needed a greater understanding, and empowerment, as regards their rights, with access to real remedies, and appropriate advice and representation.  Mike's speech is available online here.

Rabu, 13 Oktober 2010

Rights and the City: a Scots lawyer in New York

GLC's Lorraine Barrie's new blog - 'Rights and the City - a Scots lawyer in New York' - on life as a volunteer at the South Brooklyn Legal Services (SBLS) in New York City is up and running.

In her first posts, Lorraine discusses the work being done by community activists in Brooklyn to tackle dodgy landlords and secure decent housing, drawing parallels with Glasgow's own Govanhill.  She highlights some of the problems and discrimination that HIV+ clients face in accessing public services. 

SBLS is a free legal resource for low income Brooklyn residents, and provides advice on subjects including employment, consumer law, domestic violence, mortgage repossession, and benefits. Lorraine will work for their HIV project to enforce legal rights for HIV+ clients.

Senin, 04 Oktober 2010

Urgent action required to prevent repossessions following DWP mortgage cuts

GLC has written to Scotland's Housing Minister, Alex Neil MSP, requesting that the Scottish Government consider changing and clarifying the Mortgage to Rent Scheme rules, and provide additional resources to the Scheme, in order to counter the impact of the UK Government's cuts to mortgage interest payments, payable to unemployed homeowners in Scotland.  Our letter is set out below.

"Dear Minister

As you will be aware this month the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) implemented the Coalition Government’s reduction in ISMI for unemployed homeowners, resulting in a reduction in the amount of interest paid from 6.08% p.a. to the Bank of England’s average monthly mortgage rate, which is currently 3.63% p.a.

While the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government are to be congratulated in strengthening the rights of homeowners in Scotland, with the coming into force this month of the Home Owner and Debtor Protection (Scotland) Act 2010, it goes without saying that this Act provides homeowners with a procedural opportunity to find a sustainable solution to mortgage arrears, as opposed to providing the solution per se.

Sustainable solutions have frequently included giving someone enough time to get back into work, and/or enough time to repay arrears and meet their ongoing monthly mortgage. But the new reduced rate of ISMI now cuts across the ability of out-of-work Scots to maintain an even keel while they sort out their financial position; and this will have profound implications for the role of the Scottish Government’s Home Owner Support Fund (HOSF), and in particular the Mortgage to Rent Scheme (MtRS).

To give a typical example. Our client is a lone parent who had lost her job. She has a young dependent child. The DWP were paying £742 p.m to her capital and interest mortgage, resulting in a shortfall of £376 p.m. Her family were prepared to make up that shortfall and the court action would be continued on that basis, giving her time to try and get back into work. Due to the UK Government’s policy, this month the DWP reduced her ISMI to £433 p.m, resulting in a 80% increase in her shortfall to £678 p.m. Suffice it to say, she cannot pay this (she received £59.49 IBJSA), nor can her family do so.

As you know, the Scottish Government’s MtRS was changed on 16 March 2009, with a number of additional qualifying hurdles being introduced, including the expectation that where applicants were eligible for ISMI they would generally be expected to use that as a short term solution, as opposed to MtRS. Clearly, the DWP ISMI change drives a horse and carriage through that policy, even for unemployed Scottish homeowners with interest rates slightly above the Bank of England’s average rate (i.e. in the example case cited, the rate of interest is 6% p.a. which is not uncommon, and is a prime lender rate from a High Street bank).

Govan Law Centre is very concerned with the impact of the DWP ISMI changes in Scotland. We appreciate this is a Westminster issue, but clearly the Scottish Government has the power to lessen the impact of this regressive policy change through the HOSF. Accordingly, we would be grateful if you could advise whether:

(a) The Scottish Government would be willing to urgently revise the HOSF scheme rules (and application forms) to make it expressly clear that unemployed Scottish homeowners on ISMI at a rate above the Bank of England’s average rate will not be excluded from applying for help due to their ISMI eligibility?; and

(b) In the example case given, our client will now be applying to the HOSF for access to the MtRS, whereas had the DWP changes not occurred she would not have had to do so. There will be many Scottish households facing repossession who will now face this Hobson’s choice. This may well place a significant additional demand on the HOSF. Is the Scottish Government willing to meet this demand by increasing the level of funding available to the HOSF, so that the Scottish households affected by the DWP ISMI changes are not excluded from assistance?

(It will be noted, that in the example given, our client cannot even afford to sell her home, due to the prohibitive cost of a Scottish Home Report, and therefore she is placed in an extremely vulnerable position as regards a short to medium term solution in relation to her financial predicament)".

Kamis, 30 September 2010

GLC solicitor Lorraine Barrie goes to NYC to help HIV+ clients in Brooklyn

Govanhill Law Centre solicitor Lorraine Barrie has taken a period of leave to commence a temporary volunteer position with South Brooklyn Legal Services (SBLS) in New York City.

SBLS is a free legal resource for low income Brooklyn residents, and provides advice on subjects including employment, consumer law, domestic violence, mortgage repossession, and benefits. Lorraine will work for their HIV project to enforce legal rights for HIV+ clients.

Project successes include an award of $10,000 for a client whose confidentially was breached when a Social Security Administration employee revealed her HIV status to a family member without her consent.

Lorraine said: “I wanted to work for an organisation committed to challenging injustice and poverty, similar to Govan Law Centre. I am particularly interested in access to civil justice, and look forward to comparing the experiences of clients in New York to those in Glasgow”.

Lorraine will be writing about her work via a blog (details will be given here shortly). She will return to her post at Govanhill Law Centre in January 2011.

Factor cases ‘swamp courts’

The Evening Times reports today: Courts are being “swamped” by cases of property factors taking legal action against home owners, the Scottish Parliament heard. And two Glasgow MSPs revealed they have been inundated with complaints about factor disputes.  Maryhill MSP Patricia Ferguson and lawyer Mike Dailly, of Govan Law Centre, told the Local Government Committee how big a problem disputes with factors had become and that a new law was essential.

Ms Ferguson’s Property Factors Bill would set up a compulsory registration scheme with a set of standards designed to root out rogue factors. It would also provide an independent dispute resolution system to prevent costly court cases. Ms Ferguson said problems with factors has become her biggest caseload, prompting the Bill. She said: “Not a day goes by without someone from across Scotland contacting me for advice. Not one day.”

A series of Evening Times investigations published over the last two years have also uncovered a catalogue of complaints and shocking cases of overcharging and poor work. Our reports were passed to the committee for it to consider. Mr Dailly said that as well as contacting politicians the courts were under pressure and people put into debt, which could be avoided. He said: “The reason Govan Law Centre got involved was because we were seeing what is happening day in, day out. Sheriff courts are swamped with property factors raising actions for payments. “A lot have added on costs, expenses are attached, and I have seen many people sequestrated by factors.”

Glasgow SNP MSP Bob Doris also confirmed the frequency of complaints. He said: “I am not short on the number of these cases I have on a weekly basis from people in factoring disputes.” Ms Ferguson said: There are property factors who threaten court action, but never see it through. Yet the charges are still added to bills.That is not acceptable.” It was the final session of evidence to the committee and it will now consider it before submitting it for the Bill.

GLC's evidence can be seen on the Scottish Parliament's Holyrood TV here (opens as video); and the Bill's Committee Page is here.

Selasa, 28 September 2010

Why we believe 'There is a Better Way ...'

Here, our Principal Solicitor explains why we support the 'Better Way' campaign, led by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC). The STUC's position is that there is an economic crisis in the UK – a crisis of high unemployment and stagnant growth; and not, as the UK Government insists, a crisis of the public finances. The Better Way campaign provides an alternative economic strategy to unprecedented cuts to welfare and public sector funding in Scotland and the UK.
 

Jumat, 17 September 2010

Legal Personality of the Year award for GLC's Principal Solicitor & Ian Smart

GLC's Principal Solicitor has been honoured at the 2010 Law Awards of Scotland. The prestegious Legal Personality of the Year award went jointly to GLC's Mike Dailly, and past President of the Law Society of Scotland, Ian Smart. Last night, awards host Richard Draycott explained the thinking behind the decision of the Judges as follows:

"Surely nobody would argue with the proposition that we have had an unprecedented 12 months in the history of the Scottish legal profession. It has been a year of argument for the hearts and minds - a battle for the very soul - of the Scottish solicitors’ profession. The Law Award judges were unanimous that it would be disingenuous – perverse even - to look beyond the furore over ABS to find the Legal Personality of the Year".

"The publication of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill in late 2009 reignited a debate that had been dormant since the Law Society’s 2008 AGM. What followed was months of passionate argument – evidence to the Justice Committee, blogs, press releases, newspaper reports, journal articles, road-shows – the whole interspersed with what to many outsiders seemed a baffling succession of Law Society general meetings, alleged general meetings and referenda, with outcomes no more comprehensible than the proceedings themselves. Solicitors truly living up to their reputation for obfuscation".

 "The battle lines were drawn between: on the one hand, those urging regulatory change and ABS as commercial and practical necessities for Scottish solicitors to remain competitive and seize the opportunities of globalisation and technology, and on the other, those urging caution and the maintenance of the traditional model of independence as both more in keeping with Scottish legal values and a better competitive bet in the long-term".

"Both sides had one thing in common: both saw themselves as the true defenders of the values, traditions and ambitions of Scottish solicitors. Both sides also had in common some of the most articulate, and entertainingly trenchant, debaters in the profession today. Two personalities from opposite sides of the argument stand out amidst the swirling smoke and gun fire of the battlefield".

"Both have in common tenacity and stamina. Both can be argumentative and combative. Both have a tendency to hyperbole. Both have the common touch. Both have a sense of humour. Both have engaged us. Both have entertained us. Both share the distinction of debating the future of the Scottish legal profession from the same sofa on national television".

"One found himself cast as what he would see as the improbable advocate of the establishment position and master of political spin. One found himself cast as the rebel outsider, master of the campaigning blog. One is Ian Smart, past President of the Law Society of Scotland. The other is Mike Dailly, Principal Solicitor of Govan Law Centre.  The Judges are unanimous in awarding the Legal Personality of the Year award jointly to Ian Smart and Mike Dailly".

Rabu, 15 September 2010

Unlawful private sector tenancy charges in Scotland

GLC's contribution to BBC Newsnight Scotland's story on unlawful tenancy fees (or 'premiums') charged by private sector landlords and letting agents in Scotland is available to watch on BBC iPlayer here (18 min into the show).  For more information on how to challenge the charges see GLC's online information here.

Jumat, 10 September 2010

Chancellor's further £4bn benefits cuts 'ruthless and reckless'

GLC believes that the announcement today of an extra £4bn of social security cuts by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in addition to the £11bn of benefit cuts announced in June, is ruthless and reckless behaviour by the UK Coalition Government to vulnerable citizens.  Describing unemployment as a 'life-style choice', as Mr Osborne has chosen to do, is the classic language of scapegoating, and GLC believes that such an approach is particulary unhelpful when the future of 10,000 shipbuilding and related jobs in Govan, Rosyth and wider Scotland have been threatened by the UK Government's uncertainty over the construction of the Royal Navy's carrier programme.

GLC fully supports the 'Better Way' campaign led by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC).  The STUC's position is that there is an economic crisis in the UK – a crisis of high unemployment and stagnant growth; and not, as the Government insists, a crisis of the public finances. The Better Way campaign argues that the UK Government has systematically distorted and exaggerated problems with the public finances.

The STUC argues that the UK was never in danger of becoming the next Greece. The rising deficit reflected the collapse in tax revenues and rising cost of unemployment benefits during the recession. It was not caused by out of control public spending. History does not support the Government's assertion that cuts will be good for growth and jobs. But history does support the STUC’s belief that deep and premature cuts will lead to persistently high unemployment. There is a Better Way! (visit the site to find out more).

Rabu, 08 September 2010

Property firm tries to evade new Bill

The Herald reports that a controversial property management firm has tried to exclude itself from a Bill to impose standards on property factors.  Glasgow Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson’s Property Factors Bill began its first parliamentary stage yesterday, with factors giving evidence to the Scottish Local Government Committee.

Glasgow-based Greenbelt Group Ltd, which charges owners for land management in developments, claimed it would not be covered in the bill because it is a landowner. The Bill would introduce a compulsory register of property managers to root out rogue factors, and also set up a dispute resolution process to give homeowners right to redress.

Yesterday, Greenbelt’s managing director Alex Middleton was told by MSPs his company was effectively doing the same job as a property factor, and Ms Ferguson said the Bill would cover Greenbelt.  Mr Middleton said: “The Bill recognised the need for registration, regulation and resolution. Greenbelt is not a property factor so we don’t feel it applies to us.” Greenbelt owns the land around developments and charges the owners a management fee, billing owners for maintenance.

Conservative MSP David McLetchie said Greenbelt served the same purpose s other factors. He said: “Ultimately, it is no different if land was owned in common and they paid a factor. You bill them for the same services. The issue is not about ownership, but services and costs associated with that.” Ms Ferguson said the Bill was drafted to ensure it also included Greenbelt.

The Property Factors (Scotland) Bill, drafted by Govan Law Centre, expressly includes companies, such as Greenbelt, as the definition of 'property factor' in section 2(1)(c) includes: "a person who owns and manages or maintains land which is available for use by the owners of any adjoining or neighbouring residential properties (but only where the owners of those properties are required by the terms of the title deeds relating to the properties to pay for the cost of the management or maintenance of that land)".

Selasa, 07 September 2010

New code will help parents of children with additional support needs

The Herald reports that parents of children who need extra help in school are now in a better position to demand it, but many councils don’t fully understand the duties imposed on them by a new Government code, according to legal experts. Last month the Scottish Government published a code of practice on supporting children’s learning, which clarifies laws passed in 2005 and updated last year.

Iain Nisbet, of Glasgow’s Govan Law Centre, says the guidance will give parents new rights to take councils to tribunals or courts if their children’s needs are not met. “The code of practice will have a subtle but significant impact,” he said. “We already have duties incumbent on schools, but this gives it a standing in law that previous policies didn’t have.”

The code makes it clear that parents of children with learning disabilities, for instance, can expect schools to help plan what happens when their child leaves school, no less than a year before it happens.

“Transitions to post-school places are supposed to begin not more than 12 months before the child is due to leave school. Such transitions are a really big problem and are still not being done very well,” Mr Nisbet said. “If there is no plan in place, parents will be entitled to ask – why not? And they will have a new right to challenge transitions that aren’t done well.”

The code also clarifies the duty of local authorities to consider the additional needs of children in care, and the right of parents of any child to ask for an assessment of any special needs they may have.  The full story is available in The Herald here.

Kamis, 02 September 2010

Call for radical Access to Justice (Scotland) Bill

The new Access to Justice Committee (AJC) of the Law Society of Scotland is calling upon members of the Scottish Parliament to support the introduction of a radical Access to Justice (Scotland) Bill as a top priority in the next session of the Scottish Parliament in 2011.

The AJC agreed at its first meeting in Glasgow yesterday to produce, as a matter of urgency, a detailed framework for a comprehensive and far-reaching Access to Justice (Scotland) Bill, which could immediately address a number of major deficiencies in accessing Scotland's systems of civil and criminal justice.

The Committee also agreed to identify, tackle and address the emerging risks to access to justice in Scotland which would flow from the announced cuts to welfare benefit spending by the UK Government, the forthcoming public sector cuts by the Scottish Government, and from the forthcoming decision of the UK Supreme Court in the case of Cadder v. Her Majesty's Advocate.

The Committee Convener Mike Dailly said:
"Access to civil or criminal justice in Scotland is a constitutional and human right. We believe that Scotland's legal system is a public service, not a commodity, which should deliver that right in the same way that schools deliver education, or the NHS delivers a health service. The courts must therefore be free at the point of use and should never be used as a means of generating income for the state"

"Accordingly, we believe that citizens in Scotland are entitled to access the appropriate legal advice, assistance, and representation, whenever their liberty, life, wellbeing, children, home, work, environment, and community are significantly threatened. We hold these principles to be self-evident".

"We have resolved to identify the key components for a wide ranging, and comprehensive Access to Justice Bill in Scotland, capable of meeting the needs of Scotland's people, its communities, and its legal system in the 21st Century".

"We would urge all MSPs and all Scottish political parties to embrace the need for a radical Access to Justice (Scotland) Bill in the next Parliamentary session, and to have regard to our analysis of the emerging risks to access to justice in Scotland in light of UK and Scottish Government welfare benefit and public sector cuts".

Committee Membership: in addition to the Committee Convener, the legal practitioner members are Patrick McGuire, solicitor advocate with Thompsons, whose career has been seeking compensation for victims of accidents, injury and disease; John McGovern, solicitor advocate with McGovern Solicitors and current President of the Glasgow Bar Association; Robert Sutherland, advocate and convener of the Scottish Legal Action Group; and Frances McCartney, solicitor and board member of the Environmental Law Centre Scotland. The lay members are Dave Moxham, Deputy General Secretary, Scottish Trades Union Congress; Danny Phillips, board member of Child Poverty Action Group; Geraldine Cotter, manager of Money Matters Advice Centre; Bob Hay of Glasgow University Student Representative Council, who has worked with a range of voluntary agencies and organisations on a consultancy basis; and Phyllis Craig, a senior welfare rights officer at Clydeside Action on Asbestos. Full biographical details of members are available here.

Rabu, 01 September 2010

Law Society of Scotland's new Access to Justice Committee to meet

The Law Society of Scotland's new Access to Justice Committee meets tomorrow for the first time (Thursday, 2 September 2010) in Glasgow. 

Committee Convener, Mike Dailly said:  "It's a great honour to have been appointed by the Council of the Law Society of Scotland to convene its new Access to Justice Committee.  We've brought together an outstanding group of Scottish access to justice champions, which includes solicitors, solicitor-advocates, advocates, anti-poverty and social justice campaigners, trade unionists, welfare rights specialists, and experts in rights based advocacy and community empowerment.

"This is a committee of the 'coalface', members with direct experience of the myriad of access to justice problems that many citizens face every day in Scotland. We're going to take a fresh approach. Our job is to identify and demand radical improvements so that Scotland's system of civil and criminal justice is fit for its people, its communities, and the 21st Century".

Selasa, 31 Agustus 2010

President of the Law Society visits GLC new offices

President of the Law Society of Scotland, Jamie Millar, received a warm welcome and tour of Govan Law Centre's new Orkney Street offices today. Mr Millar congratulated Govan Law Centre, its staff and board members, on securing the newly refurbished premises at the Orkney Street Enterprise Centre (OSEC). 

The facilities at OSEC provide the local community with access to free legal advice and representation, prevention of homelessness services, money and financial inclusion advice, help and support to get back to work or into further education, and access to social work services.

Mr Millar was in Govan to discuss access to justice issues in Scotland, with the Society's new Access to Justice Committee convener, GLC's Mike Dailly. The Society's new Access to Justice Committee is scheduled to have its first meeting later this week.

Selasa, 24 Agustus 2010

GLC's Iain Nisbet to address Belfast conference on education law

GLC's Education Law Unit Director, Iain Nisbet, solicitor and partner, will address a legal conference on educational additional support needs in Belfast this week (Thursday 26 August 2010).

The conference is being organised by the Special Educational Needs Advice Centre (SENAC) in Northern Ireland, in conjunction with the Queen’s University Centre for Human Rights.

Iain's presentation will include an examination of the Scottish experience of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004.  Other conference contributors include Brian Lamb OBE, Philippa Stobbs and Frances Ross-Watt.  Further details of the Belfast conference are available online here.

Jumat, 20 Agustus 2010

Justice Secretary refuses to consider access to justice problems

Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Justice has refused to review the problems thrown up in Scottish bank charge cases, and denied there is any problem in Scots being able to take their bank to court to try and recover unfair overdraft charges. Recently, Scots using the accessible and consumer friendly small claims system have had their claims remitted to the ordinary sheriff court, at the request of UK banks, where legal expenses are potentially unlimited.

Following access to justice problems identified in the case of Walls v. Santander UK plc  the Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Richard Baker MSP, raised concerns over access to justice in such cases with Kenny MacAskill MSP. In a written response, Mr MacAskill said ‘I do not accept the argument that ordinary citizens in Scotland are denied basic rights to access justice’ and refuted any suggestion that there was a problem for Scots trying to recover unfair bank charges through the small claims court.

Mr MacAskill endorsed the sheriff’s conclusion in Walls v. Santander, that Scotland’s current civil court structure and legal aid system provided ‘sufficient’ access to justice from a human rights perspective. Mrs Walls has since lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Mr MacAskill also stated that he was unable to review the small claims rules due to his ongoing consideration of Lord Gill’s Scottish Civil Court Review.

GLC's Mike Dailly said: “The Justice Secretary’s denial is a mantra which makes no sense. It displays an arrogance and failure to grasp some fundamental facts and principles. UK banks are successfully moving small claim bank charge cases to the ordinary sheriff court, and Scottish consumers are faced with dropping their claims for fear of expenses, or trying to get legal aid if they can – and even then, possibly having to pay a contribution to the legal aid board bigger than their claim”.

“What is particularly puzzling is that Mr. MacAskill refuses to accept any concern whatsoever about access to justice, but our client (Mrs Walls) would have had to drop her claim, had we not been able to get her case sisted pending an application to the European Court of Human Rights".

"The whole point of the small claims court is to provide access to justice for citizens without fear of cost: a remedy which is proportionate in cost to the level of the monetary dispute. But that fair principle of proportionality is being knocked out of the ball park by the current practice of UK banks in bank charge litigation. We don’t have class actions in Scotland, so individual consumers are finding it impractical or impossible to challenge bank charges in court”.

“Kenny MacAskill could easily fix this problem by changing the rules on expenses. We’ve suggested the cap on small claims expenses could travel with the case where it is remitted to the ordinary sheriff court. However, the Justice Secretary says he cannot even look at this issue because he is considering the Scottish Civil Courts Review. That is a non-excuse, which sends a very clear message to the 1 in 5 Scots hit with overdraft charges: the Justice Secretary isn’t interested”.

Selasa, 17 Agustus 2010

Consumer bank charges in China and the UK

China Radio International (CRI) reports from Beijing that commercial banks in some parts of China have recently raised the fees charged to customers for withdrawing cash from other banks ATM's. 

An online survey conducted by Chinese website Sina.com showed that almost 90 percent of respondents think the increased charge is exploitative, and will have a negative impact on what is known as the cross-bank withdrawal business.

Now China's Banking Regulatory Commission says that to improve customer service it's considering revising the banks service pricing regulations.  The issue has also raised concerns about the way banks make their profits and how they charge customers for their services.

CRI's current affairs show, People in the Know, speaks to Professor Zhao Xijun of the School of Finance at Renmin University for the Chinese experience of bank charges, and Govan Law Centre's Mike Dailly for the UK perspective of bank charges.

Today's show is available online here.  It can also be heard on smart phones here.

Jumat, 13 Agustus 2010

Sheriff reduces property factors bill by 55%

In the case of Walker Sandford Property Management Ltd v. Mushtaq, Sheriff Ross ruled today that a property factor was not entitled to charge a Glasgow consumer monthly interest at 2.5% (equating to 30% APR) as the consumer had never agreed to the factor's contractual terms and conditions.  

Terms and conditions needed to be expressly or impliedly agreed at the outset of the arrangement or adopted by the parties' clear, specific, unequivocal actions. Simply adding the terms and conditions to an invoice was never a way of having conditions adopted. Accordingly, the factor was only entitled to payment in terms of the title deeds, and no interest was chargeable at all in terms of the title deeds.  Such charges therefore fell to be deleted.

Sheriff Ross also reduced the sum charged for second and subsequent monthly reminder/demand letters by one-third from £12 to £8.  Overall the sum sued of £2,678.55, was reduced to £1,213.13, resulting in a 55% reduction in the customer's bill. The action was dismissed with no expenses due to or by either party. The defender was represented by GLC's Iain Nisbet, solicitor and partner, and the pursuer's by Messrs Peacock Johnson Solicitors.

In cases highlighted by BBC Scotland last year, Sheriff Rae expressed concern at the amount of penalties levied by Walker Sandford Property Management Ltd, and in the end the company agreed to drop all penalty charges and interest.  In the past, Walker Sandford had previously issued remider/demand letters on a weekly basis, but now do so on a monthly basis for customers in arrears.

Dodgy figures and poor service: Govanhill evidence to Property Factors bill

Govanhill Law Centre (GhLC) has submitted evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Local Government Committee on the Property Factors (Scotland) Bill. 

The evidence compiled by GhLC's Lindsay Paterson is available here, and includes an example of alleged overcharging, mismanagement and misapplication of VAT by a large Glasgow property factor, as well as a survey of local property factors, carried out jointly with the local Govanhill Residents Group. 

85% of those surveyed supported the statutory regulation of property factors in Scotland, while over two-thirds of respondents said that they did not believe their factoring service was good value for money.

GLC tackles bank charges on Chinese state radio

GLC has participated in a radio discussion on overdraft charges on 'People in the Know', a current affairs programme on China Radio International in Beijing. 

GLC's Mike Dailly was invited to talk to the show's host, Nigel Ballard, about campaign work in the UK, and developments around the world, on challenging bank charges. Bank fees is an issue of growing interest in China. China Radio International, (CRI) is the only overseas broadcaster in the People's Republic of China. 

CRI is one of the "three central media organizations in China" owned by the state along with China National Radio (CNR) and China Central Television (CCTV).  People In the Know is China's only English-language current affairs program. PIK covers events that shape not only China, but the world as well. 

Originally known as 'Ask The Minister,' People In the Know is designed to give CRI listeners the views of experts and 'people in the know.' Foreign guests, including world leaders, have taken part in People In the Know to tackle tough issues, such as economics, diplomacy and national and international politics. CRI broadcasts across China, and the station is relayed around the world as an international service.

The show goes out next Monday, and can also be heard online.

Kamis, 12 Agustus 2010

US bank charges: Wells Fargo loses ruling on overdraft fees

The New York Times reports this week that a federal judge ordered Wells Fargo to pay California customers $203 million in restitution for claims that it had manipulated transactions to maximize the overdraft fees it charged.
Instead of processing transactions in the order in which they were received, Wells Fargo put through the largest to smallest, a judge in San Francisco found. In a stinging 90-page opinion, United States District Judge William Alsup wrote that the practice was unfair and deceptive.

“The bank’s dominant, indeed sole, motive was to maximize the number of overdrafts and squeeze as much as possible” out of customers who spent more than they had in their accounts, the judge wrote. The ruling comes after a two-week trial in the spring heard by the judge.  Wells Fargo, which collected nearly $1.8 billion in overdraft fees in California alone from 2005 to 2007, said it would appeal.

The judge’s ruling could portend problems for other banks that are defendants in similar cases. Other federal lawsuits regarding overdraft fees have been consolidated into one class-action suit in Florida, which also claim that Wells Fargo and other banks manipulated transactions to maximize overdraft fees.

Ruben Honik, one of the lawyers representing plaintiffs in the Florida case, said the judge’s ruling would provide a “road map.  It was a litmus test for our theory and the whole approach we took.”.  Overdraft fees have become an important source of revenue for banks and credit unions in the last decade, particularly as debit cards have risen in popularity.

Jumat, 06 Agustus 2010

GLC's Principal appointed Convener of Access to Justice Committee

GLC's Principal Solicitor has been appointed Convener of the Access to Justice Committee (AJC) today by the Council of the Law Society of Scotland.  The AJC is responsible for promoting access to justice for the public in Scotland; monitoring the supply of publicly funded legal assistance across Scotland, encouraging greater co-ordination of services and liaising and negotiating with external organisations such as the Scottish Government, the voluntary advice sector and others bodies. The AJC also collaborates with other Law Society of Scotland committees, including Civil Justice, the Civil Legal Aid negotiating team, Mental Health and Disability, Equality and Diversity and Human Rights and Discrimination.