Welfare Reform (NI) Order 2015 now in force
The Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015 came into force yesterday. Find it here: SI.No.2006/2015
The Order introduces the primary rules for the new benefits Universal Credit and PIP which will be further set out in Regulations in the near future.
Other provisions include a 365 day limit on Contributory ESA, or 'if the Department by order specifies a greater number of days, that number of days' (Article 57). Worth keeping an eye out for as this was one of the first measures to come into force in GB.
The Order confers powers on the Department for Social Development to make regulations for welfare reform but transitory provision in the Order allows the Secretary of State to exercise most of these powers in the first instance to secure the introduction of the reforms. These powers may be transferred back to Stormont at a later date.
As per Stormont's Fresh Start Agreement, the Order differs from GB's Welfare Reform Act 2012 to allow for limited mitigations in top-up payments and sanctions. DSD retains the powers to make provision for discretionary financial assistance.
Caring for Syrian refugees & other trauma survivors
On 8 December, the Law Centre held a roundtable to help shape Northern Ireland’s response to support incoming Syrian refugees and others with protection needs.
Refugee welcome party!
Join Belfast residents old and new for a celebration of unity and community. A family friendly event with music, workshops, fun and information.
Talking about modern slavery at Foyle Film Festival
On 19 November, the Law Centre and Unchosen held a well received film screening and Q&A on forced labour and trafficking at the Nerve Centre, as part of Foyle Film Festival.
The Home Office estimates that there are 10,000 to 13,000 victims of slavery in the UK today. In Northern Ireland, 45 potential victims of trafficking were identified in 2014. This is a 10% increase since 2013. Two thirds of all cases in Northern Ireland involved labour exploitation.
Caroline Maguire is the employment legal adviser at the Law Centre’s Clarendon Street office. She said: “At the Law Centre, we have been dealing with cases of people forced to work in agriculture, food processing and the fishing industry, or exploited in domestic service. We know that this is just the tip of the iceberg as people in forced labour situations are usually unaware of their rights and fearful about coming forward. It is important for the public to learn to recognise the signs so that cases can be uncovered and that exploited people can get the help they need.”
People can find themselves in situations of forced labour in legitimate businesses, not just in illegal enterprises. Many have not been trafficked but are vulnerable to exploitation, maybe because they don’t know their rights or are unsure about their immigration status.
Glenn Jordan, Law Centre (NI) Director, said: “The challenge for Northern Ireland is to identify exploitation where it occurs and to ensure that victims receive full protection and that enforcement measures are put in place to create a strong deterrent.”
The Law Centre’s employment legal advisers provide legal advice and representation to victims of labour exploitation across Northern Ireland. The organisation’s Anti-Trafficking Young People Project helps children and young people who have been identified as victims of trafficking.
Advice line: 028 9024 4401 Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 1pm.
The Law Centre has produced a leaflet that can be handed out to people who are suspected victims of forced labour. We hope to distribute it with the help of local community networks as well as statutory agencies. The leaflet tells them that help is available and that they can contact the advice line.
How we help: resolving tax credit problems caused by computer error
Last year Belfast HSC Trust experienced well publicised difficulties with its new IT payroll system. This year, Tar Isteach referred to us a client who was having severe problems with tax credits as a result. She had been overpaid by the Trust and had immediately returned the overpayment. However, as the Trust system had notified HMRC of the original payment, she was asked to repay £4,500 in tax credits and HMRC stopped her weekly payment of £60.
Although the Trust payroll staff wrote twice to HMRC to explain that they did not know how to correct the figures on HMRC’s system, HMRC insisted it would not change its mind when it carried out a mandatory reconsideration.
We lodged an appeal against the overpayment and final award decisions.
We sent a letter before action to the legal department stating that unless our client's actual entitlement on her current earnings was paid within 14 days, we would seek a court order to compel HMRC to pay her.
On the fourteenth day the tax credit payment was made and our client was informed that arrears would be paid.
Tribunals: new code of practice presented at social security practitioner meetings
The Law Centre held a successful practitioner meeting on appeal tribunals at its Belfast office on 11 November. Adrian McCullough, Legally Qualified Panel Member of the Appeal Tribunal, gave a valuable presentation on effective advocacy, issues and challenges involved in representing at Tribunal. He addressed the new Code of Practice for representatives issued by the President of the Appeals Service. You can download a copy of the Code of Practice from our website, with thanks to the President of the Appeal Tribunals.
The next social security practitioner meeting will be held on Monday 23 November, 2.15pm to 4.15pm in our Western Area Office, 9 Clarendon Street, Derry. Terence Rafferty, Legally Qualified Panel Member of the Appeal Tribunal, will address the meeting.
Participants will also be able to discuss common caseload issues and recent test cases of interest to advisers.
2016-20: help us plan the next phase of our work
The Law Centre is preparing its development plan for 2016-2020. We would be very grateful if Law Centre members could help us by answering this short survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LCNIMembershipSurvey
It should take no more than 5 minutes to answer.
Access to justice in Northern Ireland: where do we go from here?
Law Centre client wins ESA Civil Service Injury Award case
Law Centre (NI) successfully represented a former civil servant who had appealed a decision to reduce her Incapacity Benefit because the Social Security Agency had said her civil service injury award was equivalent to a pension and therefore affected her entitlement.
The Department of Finance and Personnel, which is responsible for the scheme, provided evidence that this type of payment is not a pension but is discretionary and solely attributable to accident or illness, and therefore an Appeal Tribunal allowed the appeal.
Meanwhile, the client migrated to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and the Law Centre ran a parallel appeal for ESA. The ESA office has now revised its decision in the client’s favour, paid arrears of £1,200 and increased ESA by £20 per week. However, ESA office stated that the decision only applies to this case.
Patricia Carty solicitor, social security legal adviser at the Law Centre, said: “Although this is a good result for the client, the decision unfortunately leaves the issue unresolved for other former civil servants in similar circumstances. People who continue to be affected by this issue should contact the Law Centre for advice. We would seek to join their cases together and hopefully obtain a positive decision for everyone in receipt of the civil service injury award.”
The Law Centre’s advice line can be contacted Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 1pm: 028 9024 4401 or 028 7126 2433.
Protecting young people from exploitation: guardianship roundtable
Today, 3 November, the Law Centre and Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People held a roundtable discussion to consider the role and practice of independent guardians for separated children in Northern Ireland, including those who may have been trafficked.
This legal guardians system, provided for in the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (NI) 2015, is in the process of being implemented, and the Department of Health and Social Services is consulting on criteria for the appointment, regulation and monitoring of guardians.
The roundtable brought together delegates from the Netherlands and Britain as well as key players in Northern Ireland.
The discussions were very positive and will feed into individual groups’ responses to the consultation which ends on 6 November.
This event is intended to generate further initiatives to ensure a robust guardianship system is implemented as early as possible.
LSP volunteers make a difference
2-6 Nov is National Pro-Bono Week. At the Law Centre #WeDoProBono. Could you be a Legal Support Project tribunal rep?
Access to Justice: join the conversation on 6 November
The Ulster University Law School and Law Centre (NI) are hosting a conference examining the future of access to justice, on Friday 6 November, 10am to 4.30pm, Clifton House, Belfast.
- Colin Stutt, author of the Access to Justice Review 2
- Professor Pascoe Pleasence, University College London
- Dr Gráinne McKeever, Ulster University
- Matthew Smerdon, Legal Education Foundation
- Ursula O’Hare, Law Centre (NI)
- Representative from the Office of the Lord Chief Justice
- Senior representative from government
Full conference programme is available at:
The future of advice: have your say!
The Department for Social Development has appointed the Strategic Investment Board to undertake a strategic review of advice services.
The objective is to “Develop an appropriate model for the support of Generalist Advice services in the period 2015 to 2020”.
A series of stakeholder engagement events are being held, details are below.
You are very welcome to attend and give your views on the future of the voluntary advice sector in Northern Ireland.
Date – 9 November 2015
Time – 10am – 12.30pm
Venue – Holywell Trust 10-14 Bishop Street Derry/Londonderry BT48 6PW
Date – 16 November 2015
Time – 10am – 12.30pm
Venue – Market Place Theatre Market St, Armagh BT61 7BW
Date – 18 November 2015
Time - 2pm - 5pm
Venue – NICVA HQ, 61 Duncairn Gardens, Belfast BT15 2GB
Why fight poverty? Because we can, and we can win!
Legal profession call for humane response to refugee crisis
Members of the legal profession have called for an urgent, effective and humane response to the refugee crisis. A statement has been released signed by a number of retired judges, barristers and academics with expertise in refugee law, including some based in Northern Ireland and demands:
1. The UK should take a fair and proportionate share of refugees, both those already within the EU and those still outside it.
2. Safe and legal routes to the UK, as well as to the EU, need to be established.
3. Safe and legal routes within the EU, including the UK, should be established.
4. There should be access to fair and thorough procedures to determine eligibility for international protection wherever it is sought.
See here for more info www.lawyersrefugeeinitiative.org/#signatorie
Non EU parents of EU children: claim now to protect your benefit rights
The Law Centre’s social security unit is currently working on behalf of ‘Zambrano’ parents who are not allowed to receive Child Benefit or means-tested benefits under UK rules.
As a test case on this issue is due to be heard by the Supreme Court, we would like to encourage other ‘Zambrano’ parents to lodge claims urgently if they are in need of Child Benefit or means-tested benefits.
The application will be refused but this may give them the right to receive back-payments if the Court decides these rules are unlawful.
The person should contact the Law Centre for advice on how to challenge the decision to protect their rights.
We would also encourage advisers to be alert to this type of situation, and to refer their clients to our advice line if appropriate: 028 9024 4401, 9.30am to 1pm, Monday to Friday.
What is a Zambrano parent/carer?
A Zambrano carer is a non-EU person who is allowed to stay as the parent of an EU/British national, because otherwise the child would be deprived of her/his rights through having to leave the country to accompany the parent. UK law expressly excludes 'Zambrano’ carers from means-tested benefits, Child Benefit and social housing.
For example, this could be an Algerian mother who is looking after her primary school age child, who has Irish / British nationality.
Why apply when they will be refused?
Although the initial application will be refused, there is a chance that the law will change in a way that could benefit Zambrano carers. However, in order to benefit fully, the Zambrano parent must first have lodged a claim for these benefits if their family and financial circumstances require it. The applications will be disallowed under the current rules but the parent can appeal the disallowance and wait for the result of a current test case.
The test case will be determined by the Supreme Court and relates to a case (Sanneh v SSWP and HC v SSWP) where the Court of Appeal decided that this exclusion from benefits was unlawful.
If the Supreme Court confirms that the rule is unlawful, only parents with appeals pending will be paid back those benefits from their original claiming date. Others would only be entitled from the date of the Supreme Court decision. It is for this reason that we urge Zambrano parents to come forward now.
Note: The term Zambrano comes from a European Court case (C-34/09 Zambrano v ONEm  ECR NYR) where Columbian parents who would not otherwise have had a right to reside in Belgium were allowed to stay and claim unemployment benefit because their Belgian-born children would be deprived of their rights if they had to leave to accompany their parents.
In Focus: welcoming Syrian refugees
In Focus: the Syrian Refugee Crisis. In association with NVTV
What can we in Northern Ireland do to welcome Syrian refugees and other asylum seekers and refugees? What can our politicians do? Summer, a Syrian architect living in Belfast, and Liz Griffith, Policy Officer at the Law Centre and a member of Refugee Asylum Forum, discuss what has become known as the 'Syrian Refugee Crisis', Northern Ireland efforts to welcome Syrian refugees, and what more needs to be done.
For more information on the Refugee Asylum Forum's SAFER? campaign, and how you can help, visit: Support the call for five key actions to support refugees
Free mental health legal advice at the Law Centre
In Focus: modern slavery explained
Watch our discussion programme on forced labour and modern slavery, produced jointly with NVTV
Law Centre (NI) Assistant Director Ursula O'Hare interviews Kasia Garbal, Migrant Workers Support Officer at NIC/ICTU and Daire Murphy, Employment Legal Adviser at the Law Centre. The programme gives an overview of the scale of labour exploitation in Northern Ireland, the forms it takes and how to recognise the signs.
This 40 minute programme discusses how we can all play a part in tackling the issue, whether as a consumer, co-worker, employer, neighbour, NGO or government agency.
Myths busting: how many refugees in Northern Ireland?
In the absence of official Northern Ireland data on numbers of refugees and asylum seekers, we provide estimates:
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