GhLC's 'Unequal and unlawful treatment' report for Oxfam published online

Launch of Govanhill Law Centre's 'Unequal and unlawful treatment' research report

Tomorrow morning, Govanhill Law Centre 
(GhLC) will launch its report into the barriers faced by the Roma community in Glasgow's Govanhill when accessing welfare benefits, and the implications of section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 in relation to those barriers. 

GhLC is a project of the Govan Law Centre, and was commission by Oxfam to undertake its ' Unequal and unlawful treatment' research report through the European Commission Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity.  A copy of the report will be made available online following tomorrow's launch.

As over one third of our Govanhill clients identify themselves as Roma, we felt it was important to report and publicise the real struggles and injustices this client group routinely face. We decided to focus on the issue of welfare benefits (this is the issue the majority of our Roma clients seek our help with) and the way in which three public authorities responsible for administering benefits – Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) (Jobcentre Plus) and Glasgow City Council (Housing Benefit Department) – treat our Roma clients.

Our report is an attempt to establish whether there are recurring patterns in the treatment of Roma clients and, in particular, how these impact upon the public authorities in terms of their equalities duties under section 149 Equality Act 2010. 

The report's lead author, Lindsay Paterson, solicitor at GhLC will give a presentation on our report tomorrow morning, along with speakers from Oxfam, one of GhLC's clients who has personal experience of the barriers in accessing UK welfare rights, Romana Lav, and GLC's Principal Solicitor.

Sharp v. Bank of Scotland plc

The case has settled extra judicially and no further comment will be made.

NatWest, RBS & Ulster Bank: your rights & remedies if you've been unable to access funds

This week many customers of Natwest, RBS and Ulster Bank have been unable to access their accounts, withdraw funds, pay bills or make transactions; with banks opening their branches over the weekend to try and mitigate the damage caused by computer system failures. The following note is a brief guide to your key rights and remedies.

Your rights: The starting point is that you have a legal right to access funds in your personal current account (or business account) through 'payment instruments' (such as debit cards, online banking etc.,) provided to you by your bank. 

This right is regulated by FSA rules, the Payment Services Regulations, and the contract with your bank. In summary, this right can only be restricted by advance notice and in limited circumstances, and therefore in relation to a systems failure, the bank is prima facie responsible for any of your reasonable losses. 

If you can go into a local branch then clearly that will be the surest way to access your account, but that might not be feasible or possible for many customers, and in any event, damage might have already been incurred - so what can you do?

Your remedies: The golden rule is to 'keep all evidence' - receipts, bills, extra charges you have sustained, anything you think might be relevant - and keep a good written note of what has happened, itemising your losses and recording any significant inconvenience or distress, explaining how and why.

Clear-cut losses: There will be 'clear-cut losses', for example, where funds have not shown up in your account and direct debits have bounced with bank charges imposed - including third party creditor charges - all of these losses are directly caused by the bank's system failure, so they are liable to put you back to the position you would have been in, if this problem had never happened. In other words the bank should meet the cost of all charges, including third party charges levied for missed or late payments.

Consequential losses: Losses which are 'consequential' will require proof, and must be reasonably foreseeable and not unreasonable or remote. For example, you could not access your funds due to the bank's system failure and missed a flight or train, and ended up being charged for the hotel you booked and then had to cancel. Such consequential losses should in principle be recoverable because they are reasonably connected to the failure on the part of the bank - but you will need to keep evidence of your actual loss. 

Obtaining redress: You should log a complaint with your bank in the first instance. This can be done over the phone or in writing, and it is always best to follow things up in writing to have an evidential written record, and it may also be necessary to provide copies of receipts or bills for losses sustained (make sure you keep the originals). 

Inconvenience: If you have also sustained significant inconvenience or distress you can also claim for a monetary payment to reflect this - how much will depend upon the circumstances and the severity of the inconvenience. 

If your bank refuses to help: If after you have complained, your bank refuses to make reasonable recompense to your satisfaction you should make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service. The link provided will take you through the simple procedure which you can do yourself. Whatever you do, don't pay anyone to do this for you, and do not use a Claims Management Company - because the system is designed for consumers to do this for themselves for free. 

NatWest, RBS and Ulster Bank have indicated that they will not see their customers out of pocket, so you should obtain redress for yourself.

If you need help you can always get free impartial advice from a money advice agency or CABx. If you cannot obtain redress through the Financial Ombudsman Service you may wish to consult a qualified solicitor to ascertain if there is any legal remedies available to you.

The Future We Don't Want

Every cloud is supposed to have a silver lining.  We saw some evidence of that this week as global financial concerns trapped world leaders including President Obama, Angela Merkl and David Cameron at the G20 Summit in Mexico, making it impossible for them to attend the Rio+20 summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Rio+20 is the 20th anniversary birthday bash of the United Nations' 1992 Earth Summit.  That Summit gave birth to Agenda 21 and it's offspring--Smart Growth, Smart Code and Sustainable Development.  Today through Friday, over 50,000 attendees are expected to be at Rio+20 to reaffirm the goals of Agenda 21 and to develop concrete action plans which will move the world into the direction of global governance by the U.N.

Each attendee is receiving a copy of "The Future We Want" which is the Rio+20 outcome document for the summit.  This 40+ page document reaffirms commitment to all the goals of Agenda 21 and lays out general guidelines for the summit.  The goal of the summit is to eradicate poverty, hunger and "climate change."  "We reaffirm that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and we express profound alarm that emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise globally."  Therefore, much of the document is devoted to conservation, green jobs, sustainable development, sustainable building and sustainable farming.  The document is a blueprint for managing the world's people, resources, land usage, oceans, forests, farms, businesses--pretty much everything. The youth of the world are entitled are apparently entitled to employment and therefore the document addresses the need for a "strategy on youth and employment building on the work of the International Labour Organization."

All people are entitled to health care so "The Future We Want" recognizes, "the importance of universal health coverage to enhancing health, social cohesion, and sustainable human and economic development."  This includes the right to "universal access to reproductive health, including family planning and sexual health and integration of reproductive health. We reaffirm our commitment to gender equality and to protect the rights of women, men and youth to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including access to sexual and reproductive health." (In other words, access to abortion and birth control must be universal.)

Of course, the Future We Want stresses the need for more sustainable living strategies, including "sustainable transport and energy [public transportation]  promotion, protection and restoration of safe and green urban spaces, safe and clean drinking water and sanitation, healthy air quality, generation of decent jobs and improved urban planning and slum upgrading. We further support sustainable management of waste through the application of the 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle.)"  The Future We Want recognizes, "that the planet Earth and its ecosystems are our home, that Mother Earth is a common expression in a number of countries and regions" and therefore we must all be encouraged to live in cooperation with the Earth.  Other goals include promoting "sustainable consumption and production patterns."  Devoloped nations are called upon to transfer their technology to developing countries on "on favourable terms, including on concessional and preferential terms,"  and social and financial inequalities among people are to be eradicated. 

Of concern to the Rio+20 attendees is a commitment to "sustainable agriculture practices" including "the need to significantly reduce post-harvest and other food losses and waste throughout the food chain."  In another document about Rio 20 this week entitled: Seven Issues Seven Experts, Carlos Sere, chief development strategist at the International Fund for Agricultural Development answered the following question about food consumption:

UN News Centre: What are the most pressing issues that governments need to act on regarding food security?

Carlos Sere: Well, on the one hand, in most developed countries, the basic food and the calories have become very cheap and we find lots of people are consuming those types of empty calories. This is very much related to consumption patterns which are leading to obesity. We used to say this is just a developed country problem, but we are finding out that, more and more, the consumption pattern with this high-density energy food is also something we’re seeing in the middle classes of developing countries. So this is really becoming a very significant problem.

At the same time, we do have the issue of malnutrition still remaining and it is largely not that we do not produce enough food, but that these people do not have incomes to buy the food they need. It is an issue closely related to nutrition and poverty, not just an issue of production. Obviously, if we can keep prices low, it’s easier for more people to have access to it. This is why food price volatility is seriously bad for the poor, who spend a lot of their income on food.

It is also an issue - particularly the obesity side of it - that has to do with consumption patterns and education, which are very difficult to change. This needs to be addressed by governments.

And, of course, the ultimate goal of Rio 20 is to "protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms for all." Those stated goals make this afternoon's conference speakers particularly notable:  Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and French President Francois Hollande. Premier Jiabao is ruling a country that made international news last week with the forced abortion of a twenty-three year old, seven months-pregnant Chinese woman who broke the law by deciding to have a second child.  She was arrested by authorities, beaten and forcibly aborted, and then her dead baby was laid beside her on the hospital bed. (The grisly photos of her lying next to her mutilated child spread over the internet before making their way to Huffington Post).  Ahmadinejad's country has sentenced an Iranian pastor to be executed for converting from Islam to Christianity. (We could also cite his stated intention to exterminate the Jewish race and destroy the nation of Israel as further proof that he is no champion of human rights.)  Socialist French president Francois Hollande just won his election and has not had a chance to commit any egregious human rights violations, but we do know that he promised his people cradle to grave care in exchange for their votes. 

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was lamenting last week that Obama would not attend the summit--calling the president's participation "crucial."  The truth, however, is that whether Obama stayed away because of the G20 summit or simply to avoid giving his critics another photo-op, he and his Progressive pals are already implementing the goals of Rio+20.  Obamacare gave us universal coverage and ensures abortion and birth control for all--although hopefully the U.S. Supreme Court will rule at least part of this bill unconstitutional next week. Smart Growth and Smart Code are bringing sustainable development to every major city in the United States.  Young people today really do believe that the government and society at large owes them an education, a great job and an easy living.  Heavy taxation starting in 2013 will have the net effect of reducing income disparities by making everyone poorer.  And, increasingly, our government is telling us what we are allowed to eat, use and consume.  NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended his attacks on soft drinks, popcorn and ice cream last week by saying that the government has a responsibility to protect our health. (Where does the Constitution say that?  I must have missed that section somehow.)

The question for us is not whether Rio+20 will affect our lives--it already has. The nanny-state, socialist agenda this conference is promoting has spread throughout our society.  But this is definitely not the future I want and I plan to vote against it this November by casting a vote against every liberal/Progressive politician who thinks global governance, massive bureaucratic micro-management and redistribution of wealth are the secrets to the survival of the human race.  I hope that every freedom-loving American will do the same.

Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen. Her newest novel,The Planner, about an out-of-control, environmentally-driven federal government, will be released June 30, 2012. For more information, visit her website at Frontier 2000

GLC unfair bank charges update: 'phase 2'

GLC has been developing and refining new legal and factual arguments to reclaim unfair bank charges, with success following the UK banks victory before the UK Supreme Court in late 2009. 

The process has been slow and challenging, not least because all banks have sought to remit consumer claims from the small claims procedure to the ordinary court, exposing clients to the risk of significant awards of expenses. To counter this we have obtained civil legal aid to protect our clients, but that in itself was a tortuous process with the banks objecting to the granting of civil legal aid to the legal aid board.

We remain of the opinion that the ability of UK banks to push consumer small claims into the ordinary court  with an exposure to potentially unlimited expenses is not ECHR compliant. Pursing a case before the European Court of Human Rights is a slow process and two years down the line, we await to hear whether our case of Walls v. United Kingdom will have traction. 

That said, the time spent has been invaluable. The process has disclosed the multiple lines of defences through very long and detailed adjustment processes. We know the arguments and defences of the banks. We have ingathered case law, refined and adjusted our position.

The Board of GLC has agreed that we should now move to 'phase two' of our three stage strategy. This will involve, working with our partners at the Glasgow Advice Agency Ltd, raising much larger groupings of litigations on behalf of consumers in the East of Glasgow, and across the South of Glasgow.

John Owens joins GLC Board of Trustees

GLC Board, left to right: Frank McGuigan,
John Owens, Danny McColgan, Bill Pritchard
Mike Dailly, Georgina Hay, Tommy McMahon.
The Govan Law Centre Trust is delighted to announce that John Owens has joined our Board of Trustees.

John was formerly Head of Service within Glasgow City Council Social Work Adult Services Team. His responsibilities included a number of key service reform areas including Telecare.

He is a professionally qualified Social Worker, with 35 years of public service, and has a wide range of experience as a practitioner and manager in the field of Child Care; Community Care and Criminal Justice.

Throughout his career, John has worked hard to foster a partnership approach to tackling problems. Educated to Masters level he has a passion for evidenced based practice, the need to encourage research and evaluation into emerging health and social care approaches and innovation. 

The CFPB Wants to Hear from You--Just Before They Destroy Your Business

While some Americans are heading out for a vacation, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is hard at work this summer seeking comment on a series of proposals which will further restrict access to credit and depress the housing market. The proposals were issued May 9, 2012, and the public comment period will continue until July, 9.  The rules are expected to be finalized by January 21, 2012.

Since Obama appointed Richard Corday to be the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he has been moving steadily forward with his mission of enforcing all of the provisions of the Dodd Frank bill.  These include:

1. Creating a new mortgage disclosure to replace the current Good Faith Estimate and Truth in Lending.  Never mind that the current good faith estimate, although ridiculous, is the result of six years of research and industry round table meetings which resulted in changing the GFE from a one- page form that listed all charges individually, and included an estimated monthly payment with taxes and insurance and the estimated funds to close, to a three-page-form which bundles similar charges together, includes an estimated payment without taxes and insurance and does not show total funds to close anywhere.  The original form also had a signature line, but after six years of round tables and discussion, The Department of Housing and Urban Development decided that borrowers no longer need to sign their estimates.  Still, the Dodd Frank bill requires a brand new disclosure, so after our industry spent much time and money changing all of our systems and retraining to learn how to use the 2010 GFE, the CFPB is determined that we will have new forms--at a new expense of time and money.

2. Setting the guidelines for the qualified residential mortgages, as required by Dodd Frank.  These are extremely critical because these are the only mortgage products that most originators will be allowed to sell in the brave new world of mortgage lending.  Under the current restrictive guidelines, many potential homeowners cannot qualify to purchase or refinance a home, but the new proposed guidelines will eliminate most of even the current qualified applicants from the market.  For a summary of the proposed requirements of qualified residential mortgages see Risk Retention and Qualified Residential Mortgages--The Worst Idea Yet.

3. Revising loan originator compensation, again.  This last item is not required by Dodd-Frank; it's just something that Cordray wants to do on his own.  Part of Dodd Frank required that loan originators be prohibited from steering borrowers into loans where the originator could make more money.  Starting in April of 2011, loan originators had to sign a disclosure that they had provided options to their borrowers including the lowest cost loan or verifying that the loan originator had identical compensation contracts which each investor.  Now, the CFPB wants to clarify "anti-steering rules" to clear up any misconceptions, and they also want to set caps on originator compensation by banning compensation as a percentage of the loan amount and instead implementing compensation as a flat fee.

According to the National Association of Mortgage Brokers, the new changes would initially affect only consumer paid loans.  Therefore, if you are loan originator, whether you originate a $200,000 loan or an $800,000 loan, if the consumer pays your fee, he can only be charged the flat fee.  Since your loan cannot trigger the high cost thresholds, this fee is going to have to be low enough to meet the needs of your $80,000 to $100,000 clients.  (I know that compensation is supposed to be able to vary from loan to loan on a consumer based transaction, but try explaining the disparity to a CFPB auditor.)

The government is opening a real can of worms with this new rule.  First: They are setting up loan originators to be found guilty of violating the anti-steering provisions of their own rule.  If the loan originator can charge only $1500.00 as a flat consumer paid fee, but could make three times that amount under lender paid compensation, chances are that he will choose the lender paid fee every time.  Therefore, he is "steering" the customer into a higher cost loan--no ands, buts or maybes.

Second, the federal government is capping the fees that a private business can earn from its own individual customers. The loan origination industry has been blamed for every problem plaguing the U.S. in the last five years, and so the greater public does not particularly care when we are used as a whipping post.  What other businesses and industries really need to see, however, is that our industry is really being used as a Petri dish for experimental projects on federal micro management of local businesses. Fees should be regulated by market factors--period.   As a loan originator of fourteen years, I can say without reservation that competition is the best deterrent to unreasonable pricing--consumers will actually drive 10 minutes to save $20.00 a month on their payments.  But if the government can tell us what we can charge, they can also tell the super market how to price the lettuce, or the local restaurant how to price the enchilada plate, or the department store how to price the prom dresses.  This is not about consumer protection and it never has been--it is only about control.

The CFPB says that it wants to "engage" with consumers and industry this summer and that they will be setting up a Small Business Review Panel to meet with groups of small financial services providers that would be directly affected by these proposals.  Representatives from "small providers" will be asked to provide feedback to the Small Business Review Panel which will in turn issue a report to the CFPB to consider in formulating its final rules. Each of those steps will likely take place, but I am certain that in the end they will be nothing more than completely meaningless exercises in front of an agency thats only real goal is and always has been to consolidate the mortgage industry into the hands of a few powerful elite banks and eliminate "small providers" entirely.

This past weekend, talking heads on Fox News were complaining that Americans have lost a large percentage of their net worth--including equity in their homes--over the last five years, and that home values are continuing to drop.  Home values are indeed continuing to drop as I can personally verify from appraisals I have seen this week.  The reason that they are is that financing has become so difficult to obtain that desperate sellers continue to reduce the prices of their homes hoping to get them down low enough so that they can find a qualified purchaser.  In the meantime, the CFPB is spending the summer researching ways to further impede small business people and close down the very businesses that could be aiding in the housing recovery. 

Unfortunately, Cordray answers only to the President--the CFPB director is not responsible to Congress at all.  And the President is busy this summer asking for public input on the issue that appears to be closest to his heart--which Hollywood celebrity he should dine with next.

Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen. Her newest novel,The Planner , about an out-of-control, environmentally-driven federal government, will be released June 28, 2012. For more information, visit her website at

Reid v. Clydesdale Bank plc

The case of Reid v. Clydesdale Bank plc has been settled extra-judically and no further comment will be made.

SunTrust $21Million Settlement with DOJ

This past Thursday, Businessweek covered a massive settlement in a federal lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in SunTrust’s lending practices. The suit, filed by the US DOJ, was filed in the U.S. District Court in Richmond, VA, alleging more than 20,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers were charged more than similarly-situated and qualified non-Hispanic white borrowers, between 2005 and 2009.

The suit alleged that minority borrowers in 75 geographic markets from Virginia Beach, VA to San Francisco, CA, paid more in loan fees, or were charged higher interest rates based solely on race or national origin.

A consent order filed with the complaint says SunTrust denies any wrongdoing, but agreed to the settlement. "SunTrust strongly believes in the principles of fair lending," company spokesman Mike McCoy in Atlanta said. "We are pleased to have reached a settlement and put this matter behind us."

Settlements like this come as a surprise, considering the massive $335 million fair-lending settlement with the “Big 5” banks. "At the core of the complaint is a simple story: If you were African-American or Latino, you likely paid more for a SunTrust loan than a similarly qualified white borrower simply because of your skin color ... You paid what amounted to a racial surtax that ranged from hundreds to thousands of dollars," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.

The suit sprang forth from a referral from the Federal Reserve, which reviewed the Richmond-based mortgage company's compliance with the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The DOJ said it reviewed more than 850,000 residential mortgage loans originated by SunTrust between 2005 and 2009.

According to the data, SunTrust set prices based on objective credit-related criteria but allowed its own loan officers as well as its national network of brokers to adjust those prices without regard to borrower risk, often resulting in black and Latino customers paying more than white borrowers. SunTrust "incentivized discrimination" by sharing the inflated charges with those loan officers and brokers, Perez said. “Those minority borrowers had no idea white customers with similar credit would pay less ... That is discrimination with a smile."

Brokers generally extracted larger overpayments. For example, Latino customers in Dallas borrowing $200,000 through a broker paid about $1,360 more than similarly qualified white borrowers while black customers in Atlanta were charged about $745 more than white voters.

According to the consent decree, SunTrust will be required to put the $21 million into an interest-bearing escrow account. Borrowers in 34 states and the District of Columbia who paid too much will be contacted. Any money left over after borrowers are compensated will be distributed to fair-housing and credit-counseling organizations.

The settlement is pending court approval.

If You Think the EPA Is Overreaching...

If you think the current Environmental Protection Agency is overreaching and infringing on the rights of citizens, small businesses and even in some cases, religious institutions, try to envision a world where the environmental police are not federal agents under the authority of men and women we can vote out of office, but rather international cops empowered by the U.N.  Such an agency is one of the goals of the Rio 20 Summit, taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in about two weeks.

Rio 20 celebrates the twentieth anniversary of Agenda 21, a globalist environmental action plan developed by the UN in 1992.  All U.S. presidents have affirmed the goals of Agenda 21 since its creation.  Earlier this year, in preparation for this conference, I began a series explaining Agenda 21 and its ramifications for Americans. For anyone unfamiliar with Agenda 21 I have included a link to the first post in this series UN Agenda 21 and Smart Growth--Transforming American Life.

The last twenty years have seen our culture embrace the ideas of sustainable, green living even though we increasingly do so at the expense of private property rights and individual freedoms and economic growth and prosperity. Now, Rio 20 continues us down the road of sustainability with over 50 recommendations for the world including the redistribution of resources and the creation of a powerful new international environmental agency, the U.N. Environment Organization (UNEO).  The UNEO would take the place of the current UNEP.  The UN Environmental Program is currently based in Nairobi and voluntarily funded by member nations, including the U.S. which according to the Office of Management and Budget contributed $22.9 million of U.S. tax dollars to the organization in 2010.  Those funds represented just under 10% of the UNEP's budget.  An Agency, however, is funded through assessments on members which are calculated using gross national product and national income.  The U.S. rate of assessment is 22%, so as an environmental agency the UNEO would enjoy a much bigger budget as well as much more international authority.

Although all U.S. Presidents have affirmed the goals of Agenda 21, the Bush Administration opposed UN mandated restrictions on member nations and opposed the formation of an Agency with the power to make such restrictions.  The Obama Administration has already signed the U.S. up for membership with one such organization, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) which, although not a UN Agency uses the same formula as the UN to fund agencies, which means that US tax payers have to pay 22% of the budget. Proponents of green agendas are now lobbying diligently for Obama to attend the Rio Conference.  Although he has indicated that he will not, he has not apparently given a final answer, leaving the door open for him to change his mind and go at the last minute.  US participation is so critical to the UN's goals for Rio 20 that on April 20, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Obama's participation in the event "crucial".  On the same day, the Center for Global Development released, "Energizing Rio20: How the United States Can Promote Sustainable Energy for All at the 2012 Earth Summit." The paper calls on the U.S. to find large investors for sustainable energy projects worldwide. (Can anybody say "Solyndra?")

The Rio 20 Summit will not create new international treaties--just a huge police power with the express goal of redistributing the world's resources and the ability to rob us of our sovereignty.  This is a dangerous agenda and one we should not be supporting in any way.

The posts this month will examine the goals of Rio 20 and some of the ramifications for the U.S. and our way of life.  The conference takes place June 20-22.

Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen.  Her newest novel, The Planner, about  an out-of-control, environmentally-driven federal government, will be released June 30, 2012. For more information, visit her website at