Thursday, June 28, 2012

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.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Saturday, June 23, 2012

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.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

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. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

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.