New appointments at GLC

GLC is delighted to announce a number of exciting new appointments.

Jennifer Laughland is joining us to head up our new pan-Ayrshire Homelessness and Prevention Service (AHAP), in partnership with the Ayrshire Community Housing and Advocacy Project.

Jennifer was formerly the Principal Solicitor of Shelter's Scottish Housing Law Service where she specialised in housing and homelessness law. Before taking up her post at Shelter Scotland, Jennifer was Principal Solicitor at Paisley Law Centre.

Sarah-Jane Kissock has joined us from Balfour + Manson LLP as a second year Trainee Solicitor. We have also appointed Christine McKellar and Laura Simpson as Trainee Solicitors. Natile Carlin joins us to provide dedicated clerical support to AHAP.

GLC's Mike Dailly said: 'These important new appointments strengthen our ability to deliver specialist legal services to prevent homelessness in Scotland, and increase our organisational capacity'.

Homeless problems for migrant workers

The Herald reports that migrant workers from eastern Europe, mostly from Poland, make up about 50% of those who visit a crisis drop-in centre for the homeless in Edinburgh.

The charity Streetwork, which runs the centre serving hot food, giving advice and, during the summer, providing a night shelter, says that about half of the 80 to 100 people who come through its doors each week are migrants workers.

Most only need help for a short period while between jobs and quickly move on to new employment and private accommodation. However, homelessness organisations fear that those who do find themselves on the street are often not getting the help they need.

In Glasgow, 1.16% of those presenting as homeless in 2008/09 (118 people) came from A8 countries, up from 0.91% the previous year. The Shieling, run by Glasgow City Mission, which provides hot food, clothing and support to homeless people, reports that about 7% of those coming through the door are eastern European.

Streetwork says that the circumstances of homeless migrant workers vary, but they may have had a job that came with tied accommodation, such as in a hotel, only to find themselves on the street when the job ended. They may have come to the UK having been promised a job only to find that no such job exists; or have had their passports stolen.

The full story is in The Herald here.

Business as usual at HBOS & Lloyds TSB

Halifax and Bank of Scotland (HBOS) current account customers are facing a hike in overdraft charges from this December.

HBOS has confirmed it is moving all of its current account customers to a new daily overdraft charging structure. Agreed overdrafts of up to £2,500 will be charged £1 per day, with those over £2,500 charged £2 a day. All debit and credit interest will be removed, and unauthorised overdrafts will be charged at £5 per day.

GLC's Mike Dailly said: "HBOS claim this new structure is clear and easy to understand, and certainly for those customers who incur an agreed or unauthorised overdraft for a day or two the new charging structure will be cheaper".

"But in our experience most customers in short term financial difficulty are unable to reduce their unauthorised overdrafts quickly, so these changes are going to penalise the bank's most vulnerable customers. It many respects it's a case of 'business as usual' for HBOS and Lloyds TSB change, because that is what their current charging structures already do".

"The fact the UK taxpayer owns 43% of the Lloyds/HBOS group appears to count for little when it comes to treating bank customers fairly. Not all customers will be in a position to switch their accounts'.

As present HBOS charge a standard monthly fee of £28 for an unarranged overdraft, and £35 for paid and unpaid items, with a maximum of 3 charges per day. Under the new charging structure a customer, for example, with an agreed overdraft of £1,000 will be charged £31 per month for that service. However, if they go over their limit by £25, they would be charged £155 per month for their overdraft service. Under the current structure the comparative fee would be £63 plus interest.

Halifax and Bank of Scotland have about 10 million current account holders. The changes – which take effect from December 2009 – do not apply to student account, Easycash and Cardcash customers.

Migrant workers' rights conference

Govanhill Law Centre is hosting a major new conference on the UK rights of migrant workers on Friday 27 November 2009 at 10am to 4pm, Langside Halls, Langside Avenue, Glasgow.

Ian Japp, the Gangmaster Licensing Authority's Head of Enforcement for Scotland, will provide a key note speech, and there will be workshops on a range of legal topics including housing, employment, benefits and education.

The delegate cost(including lunch) for statutory agencies is £80, and £40 for voluntary agencies. Govanhill Law Centre is also providing a number of free places for members of the local community and those in financial hardship. The conference programme and booking details are available here.

Govanhill Law Centre launches new site

Govanhill Law Centre has launched a specialist new website for the community of Govanhill. The site - - provides information on the free legal services available from the centre's team of solicitors and caseworkers, local news and details of educational events held by the law centre.

Govanhill's Lorraine Barrie said, "Our new site will provide advice on housing, employment, benefits, education and consumer matters. We have a publications section with downloadable housing, employment and education law advice leaflets in Slovak and English".

"Govanhill Law Centre can assist anyone living in the Govanhill area, and we have a focus on enforcing the rights of minority ethnic communities and in particularly the Roma community. We can normally arrange free interpreters when required".

The Centre has already provided advice to Scottish, Romanian, Slovak, Asian, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Czech and Irish clients on many topics including unreturned tenancy deposits, illegal evictions by private landlords, tenancies in a seriously dilapidated condition, non-registered A8 national workers, employers noting wrong National Insurance numbers on wage slips, property factoring problems, unpaid wages, problems registering clients children for school, statutory repairs notices, sexual discrimination and redundancy issues.

The benefits matters dealt with for migrant workers include complex tax credits cases, clients who have been refused Income Support because they have failed the “habitual residence test”, housing benefit entitlements, applications for crisis loans, maternity benefit entitlement and Disability Living Allowance claims.

HMIe to investigate school support unit in Portree

An additional support needs unit at a school on Skye is to be investigated by HM Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) following complaints from parents, handled by Govan Law Centre.

Allegations include claims that one pupil was forced to do excessive levels of physical exercise, contrary to medical advice.

Parents of three children attending the unit at Portree High School contacted Govan Law Centre, which notified the Scottish Government through a statutory complaints mechanism. The Scottish Government has asked HMIE to visit the school to investigate the claims.

GLC's Iain Nisbet felt the nature of the complaints was such that they should be referred to the Scottish Government.

He welcomed the action taken by ministers. "The legislation allows Scottish ministers to investigate and intervene in cases where there has been any breach of education law,".

"Because we had been approached by a number of parents from the same school, we felt it was appropriate to alert the Scottish Government to these ongoing concerns.

"I am very pleased to see the prompt and effective response of the government and will await the report by HMIE with interest."

A government spokesman said: "Ministers have asked HMIE to visit the Portree High School special needs unit following concerns raised through the Govan Law Centre.

"HMIE will report back to the Scottish government by the end of November when consideration will be given to whether any further action, if required, should be taken."

Govanlc back online

Apologies to all of our online visitors for being unable to access the Govan Law Centre website this week. All of our files had to be transferred to a new cpanel server which resulted in the site being inaccessible for a few days. This process has now been completed and we now have a much faster and reliable service.

GLC solicitor joins FSA Consumer Panel

GLC's Mike Dailly has been named as one of four new appointments to the Financial Services Authority's (FSA) independent Financial Services Consumer Panel (FSCP).

Mike, who has 15 years experience as a practising civil court solicitor in Scotland, protecting consumers' rights and tackling social disadvantage, will assist the panel in its continuing role of advising the FSA on the interests and concerns of consumers.

Of the other appointments, Kay Blair has been a member of the FSCP since 2006, and has been confirmed in her appointment as vice chairman, taking over from Adam Phillips who was made chairman earlier this year.

Bill Martin is an experienced macroeconomist and was chief economist at the fund management arm of the Swiss bank UBS.

Claire Whyley is a professional researcher, policy analyst, and consumer champion. She was head of consumer futures at the National Consumer Council until the end of 2008.

FSA chairman, Adair Turner said: "The Consumer Panel has an extremely valuable role to play in ensuring the FSA takes the consumer interest into account in its work.

"We are very pleased that, as these latest appointments demonstrate, the panel can call on an extensive range of expertise."

Full details here; Financial Services Consumer Panel website.

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Scottish 'Tesco law' Bill published

The Scottish Government has published its Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, which aims to pave the way for supermarkets, banks and large corporate interests to own and operate Scottish legal firms.

The selling point of this law reform is to create more consumer choice for legal services in Scotland, however, it is equally possible that opening up ownership of previously independent Scottish legal firms, will do exactly the opposite and ultimately restrict choice and legal independence in the longer term.

GLC's Principal Solicitor said: "Access to justice is a constitutional right, not a tin of beans to be bought and sold".

"This Bill promises a future of Scottish 'Tesco law' where multinational supermarkets and banks can own, control and trade shares in solicitors, advocates and the gateways to justice".

"It's a scary thought. Particularly, as the predatory and anti-competitive nature of some multinationals is likely to result in small and medium sized Scottish legal firms being artificially undercut and forced out of business in mainstream areas of legal practice."

"The most curious aspect of the rush to embrace 'Tesco law' in Scotland is the startling fact that neither the OFT nor Which? provided an empirical Scottish case which showed the legal market in Scotland was failing consumers in terms of choice and competitiveness".

Further discussion of this story is on the Scottish Television site, and at Mike's The Firm online blog.

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