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Welfare reform: free specialist awareness training at the Law Centre

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Legal remedies for victims of labour exploitation

The Law Centre has published a policy briefing outlining the legal remedies available for victims of labour exploitation and making suggestions to improve the compensation system. 

Read it here:

Legal Remedies for Victims of Labour Exploitation

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Work-related activity component of ESA ends on 3 April

From 3 April, the work-related activity component will be removed from both contributory and income-related ESA in Northern Ireland.

See: the Welfare Reform and Work (Northern Ireland) Order 2016 (Commencement No. 2) Order 2017 (SR.No.46/2017), which brings into force provisions of the Welfare Reform and Work (Northern Ireland) Order 2016

If you are worried about the impact of this new regulation on you or your clients' ESA, please contact the Welfare Changes Helpline: 0808 802 0020

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Law Centre (NI) guide to Northern Ireland’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act 2015

The Law Centre's Anti-Trafficking Young People Project has produced an online guide to Northern Ireland’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act 2015.

This guide is of particular interest to the legal profession and other representatives of people identified as potential victims of human trafficking. 

The 5 chapters of the guide consider existing criminal offences prior to the introduction of the Act, and the provisions contained in the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015, including: 

Read the guide here:

A guide to Northern Ireland’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act 2015 - © Law Centre (NI) 2017

 

 
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Community care: information for service users and providers and their advisers

The Law Centre's Independent Advice, Support and Mediation Service (Community Care) has prepared four new information briefings to help health and social care staff, advisers and service users understand the law relating to the provision of community care services in Northern Ireland.

This briefing examines the legal position governing whether a Health and Social Care Trust’s (HSC Trust) may take into account receipt by a service user of disability related benefits when making decisions about the provision of domiciliary care services.

This briefing examines the legal position governing a Health and Social Care Trust’s (HSC Trust) duty to identify an adult service user’s future care needs and to make timely and appropriate preparation and provision for longer term care planning to address social care needs which may arise at a later stage in a service user’s life.

This briefing explains what Personal Independence Payment is and how people will qualify, and how receipt of PIP, as a source of income, will be treated by a Health and Social Care Trust when conducting a financial assessment of an individual’s means to determine whether they must contribute towards or pay for the costs of their placement in a residential or nursing home.

Self-Directed Support is currently being rolled out by the five Health and Social Care Trusts (HSC Trusts) in Northern Ireland. Self-Directed Support Part 2 examines how people can access Self-Directed Support and the role of HSC Trust professionals in facilitating an individual service user/carer’s request for Self-Directed Support.

Self-Directed Support is currently being rolled out by the five Health and Social Care Trusts (HSC Trusts) in Northern Ireland. Self-Directed Support Part 1 explains what Self-Directed Support is and the different forms of Self-Directed Support available in Northern Ireland.

For a full list of the Law Centre's community care legal information visit: 

The Law Centre's Independent Advice, Support and Mediation Service (Community Care) runs a specialist advice line and representation service, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, with out-of-hours voicemail service available: 028 9024 4401.

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Meet our Welfare Changes specialist advisers

Law Centre (NI) specialist legal advisers on welfare reform changes Ronald Vellem and Carolyn Rhodes

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Read more: Meet our Welfare Changes specialist advisers

   

Resolving tax credit delays for refugee family

Law Centre (NI) helped a couple who had been suffering hardship through unnecessary delays in obtaining Child Tax Credit (CTC). They had been granted refugee status a few days after registering their baby’s birth. They made a joint claim for Child Tax Credit soon afterward but were not given a decision for over four months.

They contacted HMRC on three occasions and were told that their case was with the compliance unit and that they should allow four weeks for their claim to be processed. The same explanation was given to a British Red Cross support worker who enquired why the claim to CTC had not been processed when Child Benefit had been awarded.

British Red Cross contacted us for help and we notified HMRC that if a decision was not made within 14 days we would initiate JR proceedings. HMRC promptly awarded weekly payments of £63.84 and paid nearly £1,295.04 in arrears. 

This case illustrates an issue we have often encountered with refugees experiencing unexplained delays with payment of tax credits. The problems often appear to be resolved only when HMRC are threatened with legal action on a case-by-case basis. We have met with HMRC to address the causes of these delays in processing.

Others affected and their representatives should take advice from the Law Centre. Our specialist social security advice line: 028 9024 4401

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Justice Restored for Trafficked Fisherman

Last November, Law Centre (NI) secured a repayment of wages for a Filipino fisherman who was trafficked into Northern Ireland. HMRC found that the client had been underpaid by just over £3,000 during a 10 week period. 

The client was recruited in the Philippines by a Filipino shipping agency to work on a ship in the UK.  He believed he was going to England but he in fact arrived in Northern Ireland.  During his time on the fishing boat he was frequently working on board for 20 hours a day and when not on board he was put to work on land for long  hours. Some payment was made to his family in the Philippines but this did not reflect what had been agreed in his contract and was nowhere near sufficient to cover the hours worked.  He was rescued by the PSNI and came to the Law Centre for assistance.

In these cases, HMRC can issue a Notice of Underpayment which could result in the employer being fined with a penalty of 200% of the underpayment amount.  HMRC also has discretion  to whether to 'name and shame' the employer. Law Centre (NI) continues to monitor the situation.

This case first came to the attention of the Law Centre’s anti-trafficking unit, which provides advocacy and immigration advice for young people who have been trafficked, and was referred to our employment legal advice unit.


Any similar cases can be referred to the Law Centre’s employment legal advice line: 028 9024 4401

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Helping older carer plan for son's future care needs

Law Centre (NI)’s Independent Advice, Support and Mediation (Community Care) unit has acted for an older carer who needed advice and assistance about her needs as a carer and those of her son who lived with her.

Her son has complex physical and mental health needs following a road traffic accident as a child. The client contacted the Law Centre for help to reach agreement with the HSC Trust relating to the future care of her son so she could be assured that a care plan was in place as her ability to care declined.

Following a number of meetings with the HSC Trust, an increased Trust support package was agreed. The Trust also agreed to an adaptation to her property to enable care workers to attend her son without having to go through her home.

For many older carers in Northern Ireland, worried about their future ability to continue to provide care to loved ones, this important case underscores the importance of advice and assistance in reaching a concrete plan for future care.

People with similar needs and other health and social care services issues can contact Law Centre (NI)’s Independent Advice, Support and Mediation Service (Community Care) helpline on 028 9024 4401, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Out of hours voicemail service available.

Find out more about how we can help you: www.lawcentreni.org/casework/community-care.html 

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Towards a better Border Force approach to victims of trafficking

In summer 2016, Law Centre (NI) was the only Northern Ireland organisation to feed into an inspection of the UK Border Force approach to victims of human trafficking. The Chief Inspector has just issued the inspection report, where many of our concerns are reflected.

In particular, we had highlighted that Border Force had made only one NRM (National Referral Mechanism) trafficking referral in three years (out of a total of 139 referrals). The report discusses the extremely low rate of referrals and recommends more robust training to ensure that Border Force staff are better able to identify victims of trafficking rather than focus on immigration and criminality matters.

The Law Centre will request that Northern Ireland's Department of Justice makes note of the findings and seeks to monitor progress.

Law Centre (NI) submission
Chief Inspector’s report
Independent Anti Slavery Commissioner’s comment

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Welfare reform: update on supplementary payments to mitigate 'bedroom tax'

The Housing Benefit (Welfare Supplementary Payment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 (SR.No.35/2017) will come into force on 20 February.

They provide for welfare supplementary payments to mitigate the impact on Housing Benefit of the social sector size criteria under regulation B14(2) of the Housing Benefit Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006.

In particular the regulations:

  • make provision for welfare supplementary payments to be made to social sector claimants subject to reduced housing benefit awards as a result of the bedroom tax;
  • provide for payments to be made without a claim and to be paid four weekly in arrears;
  • provide that entitlement will cease if the person moves within the social sector and continues to under-occupy to the same or a greater extent than before, unless the move happens because the person has Management Transfer status; and
  • set out the circumstances when the Department for Communities is entitled to recover an overpayment, and the methods of recovery.

SR.No.35/2017 is available from legislation.uk

With thanks to RightsNet

Supplementary Payments can be paid to landlords

Housing Rights would like to alert advisers to section 18 of the Supplementary Payments regulations, which explains that the benefit cap supplementary payment can be paid direct to landlords, even if they are private landlords/agents, as long as they are registered: 

The Welfare Supplementary Payment (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017

More information on welfare reform issues

www.lawcentreni.org/welfare-reform.html 

Affected by welfare reform? Need advice? 

Ring Welfare Changes Helpline: 0808 802 0020

 

 

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Welfare changes November 16-January 17

Recent changes in Northern Ireland welfare reform:

15 November 16 - New provisions on changes to overpayments and how they can be recovered come into effect

28 November 16 - Discretionary Support Payments replace parts of the discretionary Social Fund (Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants). Budgeting loans will remain (probably until full introduction of Universal Credit)

December 16 Start of “managed reassessments” of existing DLA claimants for PIP

16 January 2017 For Income Support, the age of the youngest child for which a person is responsible in order to be treated as a lone parent changes from 7 to 5 years old, with a phased-in process for existing claimants. Similar changes are made to JSA regarding availability for work for lone parents where the youngest child is aged 5.

Bedroom tax - The Housing Executive has issued guidelines for tenants on the 'bedroom tax'.

If a household is considered to be ‘under-occupying’, the rent used to calculate Housing Benefit will reduce by:

  • 14% if under-occupied by 1 bedroom, or
  • 25% if under-occupied by 2 or more bedrooms

There are mitigations in place for those affected but only until 31 March 2020.

Affected by welfare reform? Ring the Independent Welfare Reform Helpline: 0808 802 0020

For more information on welfare reform issues, visit: www.lawcentreni.org/welfare-reform.html

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Strategic Litigation: what does it mean? What is it for?

Last October, the Law Centre held a conference on Litigating for Social Change in partnership with the Social Change Initiative and Atlantic Philanthropies.

Ever wondered what Strategic Litigation really is about? Find out more by watching this short news item:

WATCH: Strategic Litigation Conference - Focal Point Tuesday 25 October 2016 from Northern Visions NvTv - starts at 9.18 minutes.

Strategic Litigation Conference - Focal Point Tuesday 25 October 2016 from Northern Visions NvTv.

More information on the conference here: Litigating for Social Change

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Law Centres Network meet in Belfast

The annual national conference for Law Centres was held in Belfast this year, with numerous delegates from Law Centres and partner organisations from across the UK and abroad.

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Read more: Law Centres Network meet in Belfast

   

Northern Ireland Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery Strategy

The NI Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery Strategy 2016/17 was published at he end of November.

The purpose of the strategy is to raise awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery offences and contribute to a reduction in the number of such offences. In doing so it also seeks to improve victim identification and recovery and ensure that appropriate protection and support measures are in place for victims.

Download the strategy here

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Welfare Changes Helpline: 0808 802 0020

Pol Calaghan, CAB, Ursula O'Hare, Law Centre (NI), Bob Stronge, Advice NI

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Read more: Welfare Changes Helpline: 0808 802 0020

   

Law Centres Network conference and AGM to be held in Belfast

The Law Centres Network, a UK wide umbrella organisation of which Law Centre (NI) is a member, will hold this year's conference and AGM in Belfast, from 12 noon Thursday 10 November to 5pm Friday 11 November, Assembly Buildings Conference Centre (Spires Centre).

See the  draft programme HERE. Please note, the venue has changed to Assembly Buildings Conference Centre.

Book your Conference 2016 place here on the Law Centres Network website. 

When booking please note that the conference tickets do not include accommodation or travel although they do include meals and the drinks / dinner on Thursday evening. You will also see there is the option, if bringing a non-delegate, to pay for them to attend the Thursday evening events.


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Welfare reform news: ESA, Benefit cap, Discretionary Support, benefit freezes and more

Welfare reform changes are gathering speed. See some of the changes below. For regular updates, follow our Welfare Reform News and information pages.

  • ESA 365 days payment limit introduced for some claimants from 31 October. Read more on NI Direct website
  • The Benefit cap will be lowered from 7 November. 

The new limits will be:

- £384.62 a week for households made up of a couple (with or without children), for lone parents with children living with them and that they are responsible for, or

- £257.69 a week for single persons who have no children living with them.

  • Direct Earning Attachments come into force on 15 November

As part of the Welfare Changes in Northern Ireland, the Department for Communities will be introducing Direct Earnings Attachments (DEA) on the 15 November 2016.

A DEA will allow DfC to recover overpaid social security benefits in circumstances where there is no agreement to a repayment plan by asking employers to take deductions directly from an employee’s earnings.

DEAs will impact people who are employed, not currently in receipt of a social security benefit but who have an outstanding benefit debt (including a Social Fund loan) and do not have a repayment arrangement currently in place.

In advance of the introduction of DEAs, DfC has written to approximately 6,000 people who are not currently in receipt of benefit but have an outstanding debt and have not yet agreed a repayment plan. The letter will encourage them to contact the Department to discuss their repayment options.

More information on the benefit cap, exemptions and additional protections is available in a Law Centre briefing published in May: http://www.lawcentreni.org/Publications/Law-Centre-Information-Briefings/Benefit-Cap-Law-Centre-NI-information-briefing-May-2016.pdf. Please note, the benefit cap rates in the briefing were correct at the time but need to be updated to the new limits from 7 November.

  • The new Discretionary Support service will replace the current discretionary aspects of Social Fund (Crisis Loans & community Care Grants) from 28 November in Northern Ireland.

This service is aimed at helping people on low incomes (working and non-working) at times of exceptional or crisis situations. The service will be delivered primarily through a telephony based service in Antrim and Dungannon Jobs & Benefits offices (JBos), a face to face service will be available in local offices. Freephone: 0800 587 2750. Free textphone: 0800 587 2751

  • The Welfare Reform and Work (NI) Order 2016, which introduces the new level of benefit cap, benefit freezes and other important changes, is available here: Welfare Reform and Work (NI) Order 2016

The Order amends social security law relating to the Benefit Cap, Employment and Support Allowance, Universal Credit, the expenses of vehicle hire and loans for mortgage interest and other liabilities. In addition the Order introduces a freeze on certain benefits and makes provision in relation to mitigation payments in connection with welfare reform.

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Work with us: Advisers (Welfare Reform)

Advisers (Welfare Reform)

35 hours per week. Based in Belfast

Salary £25,440 + pension contribution, fixed term to 31 March 2018 with possibility of extension.

These new adviser posts will give legal advice through the Welfare Reform Support Project advice line and face to face to clients in the area of welfare reform law as well as preparing and presenting cases to tribunals.

Candidates will be required to have a degree in law (min 2.2 hons) and at least the full time equivalent of one year’s advice experience in social security law or be an adviser with at least the full time equivalent of three years’ experience of providing advice in social security law.

Please see person specification for full criteria

Applications must be received at the Law Centre’s Belfast office by 12 noon, 31/10/2016

Job Description and Person Specification (PDF)

Application Form (Word document)

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Law Centre (NI) welcomes conviction for human trafficking offenses and calls for proper compensation for victims

Law Centre (NI) has welcomed the recent conviction of two men for human trafficking offences. Ioan Lacatus was given a sentence of two and a half years while Samuil Covaci was given a conditional discharge for time already served.

The convictions arose out of a PSNI operation in August 2014 when 15 people were recovered from a house in Portadown.  The workers had been duped into coming to Northern Ireland on the promise of good pay, food and accommodation.  However, on arrival they were put to work for long hours in a variety of jobs, given little food to eat, had their wages taken off them and were living in substandard conditions.

Caroline Maguire, employment caseworker at Law Centre (NI), welcomed the sentence and commented:

“The Law Centre commends the work of the PSNI Human Trafficking Unit for pursuing this investigation and securing convictions.  We hope that the sentences handed down will serve as a warning to others who seek to profit through the exploitation of other human beings that such exploiters will be pursued and brought to justice.”

Ursula O’Hare, Interim Director of the Law Centre stated:

“This case highlights the importance of prosecutions as a vital part of the fight against modern slavery. As an organisation which seeks justice for victims of human trafficking and slavery, we believe that victims need to be adequately compensated for the exploitation they have suffered.”

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