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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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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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Eligibility rule for DLA and PIP declared unlawful: Refugees and those with humanitarian protection no longer to be discriminated against

Law Centre (NI) has recently been challenging the past presence test as it applied to refugees and those with Humanitarian Protection. This test said that refugees and those with humanitarian leave could only apply for DLA once they had been in NI for a certain period of time. This was originally 26 weeks out of the last 52 weeks but was increased for DLA and PIP on 20 June 2016 to 104 out of the last 156 weeks. The same past presence test applied to Attendance Allowance and Carers Allowance.

A test case in GB (MM & SI v SSWP [2016] UKUT 149 (AAC) (30 March 2016)) held that this rule amounted to discrimination contrary to the Qualification Directive and could not be justified. Whilst originally intending to appeal the decision the DWP later confirmed that it would not be doing so and issued departmental guidance that the test would no longer be applied to those categories of claimants. This change in policy has been extended to PIP also. Law Centre (NI) kept a close eye on these developments and, in addition to challenging the rules through the appeals process here, invited the Department for Communities to adopt the verdict and guidance.

The Department has now confirmed that it will not be applying the past presence test for DLA or PIP (or Attendance Allowance or Carers Allowance) to refugees or those with Humanitarian Protection or their family members. It has issued its own guidance to that effect in the last few weeks. See here for guidance: www.communities-ni.gov.uk/publications/decision-makers-guide-memos-volume-2. This development is welcome across the board and will benefit may disabled people in NI who have fled conflict. In particular, this change will have a significant impact on the Syrian families settled in NI as part of the Syrian Vulnerable Person Relocation Scheme. This will ensure that the most disabled people will be eligible for essential costs towards their care and mobility needs without having to comply with any qualifying period. The MM & SI case confirms the rights of refugees and those with Humanitarian Protection of full access to social assistance free from discrimination as enshrined in the Qualification Directive.

Representatives should be advising all refugees, those with Humanitarian Protection and their family members to claim DLA or PIP immediately where they could meet the other qualifying conditions. These benefits can not be backdated. Any decisions refusing DLA or PIP based on the past presence test should be challenged in the normal way by first requesting a mandatory reconsideration and then appealing.

Law Centre (NI) is happy to advise generally and/or receive referrals in cases where the test is still being applied.

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Litigating for Change: conference programme out now

Graphic from conference programme cover

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Welfare reform training for frontline advisers

Welfare reform mitigations training at the Law Centre

Citizens Advice and Law Centre (NI) are offering a joint, DfC funded, training programme to fully equip advisers to advise clients affected by welfare reform changes. 

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WRAP: empowering welfare rights advisers

Eamon Doherty, Law Centre (NI) training officer, with some of the WRAP students, Derry 2016

Congratulations to advisers from the Foyle area who completed the latest round of our Welfare Rights Adviser Programme (WRAP).

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Immigration experts discuss implications of Brexit on island of Ireland

North South Immigration Forum at Law Centre (NI) Sept 16

This event brought together academics, policy makers and NGOs with immigration expertise, creating a space to consider the implications of Brexit on immigration on the island of Ireland.

Participants discussed the future of the Common Travel Area; the principle of free movement and cross border workers; and refugee resettlement schemes north and south of the border.

Speakers included experts on the Common Travel Area as well as in EU and refugee law, including (pictured above) Catherine Cosgrave, Immigrant Council of Ireland, Professor Colin Harvey, QUB, Liz Griffith, Law Centre (NI), and Professor Bernard Ryan, Leicester University.

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Lady Hale to speak at Law Centre social justice lecture 2016

 Lady Hale, Deputy President, UK Supreme Court

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Personal Independence Payment: notes for advisers

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Social security and Brexit

A recently published House of Commons research paper outlines the likely impact of the UK leaving the European Union in a number of areas, including social security:

"Entitlement to welfare benefits for people moving between EU Member States is closely linked to free movement rights.  Brexit could have significant implications both for EU/EEA nationals living in or wishing to move to the UK, and for UK expatriates elsewhere in the EU/EEA, and those considering moving abroad.

If Brexit means the end of free movement rights, the UK will be able to impose restrictions on access to many social security benefits via immigration law. Entitlement to contributory social security benefits could be limited by limiting access to employment.  It will also be possible to restrict the ability of EU nationals to apply for social housing.

The UK could seek to secure bilateral social security agreements on reciprocal rights with individual EU/EEA states, but negotiations could be difficult and protracted.  Alternatively, the UK could seek a single agreement with the EU/EEA as a whole.  Such an arrangement could, however, end up closely resembling existing provisions in EU law.  Whatever the solution, decisions would have to be made on how to protect social security rights already accrued at the point of withdrawal from the EU."

Advisers in Northern Ireland should read the Law Centre's briefing on the social security impact of BREXIT.

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A fond farewell to Glenn Jordan

Glenn Jordan says goodbye to Law Centre colleagues

Law Centre staff and Management Committee said goodbye today to Glenn Jordan who is moving on from his post as Director of the Law Centre to return to full time studies.

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Litigating for Social Change - conference

Bringing together NGOs, community activists, litigators, academics and funders to reflect on how strategic litigation can transform lives and enable people and communities to realise their rights.

Strategic Litigation Conference 19-21 Oct 16 Law Centre (NI) Social Change Initiative The Atlantic Philanthropies

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Your Rights in Northern Ireland: a guide for migrants workers

Your Rights in Northern Ireland, a guide for migrant workers, fourth edition, front coverLaw Centre (NI) has published the fourth edition of Your Rights in Northern Ireland: a guide for migrants workers, in association with Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and The Executive Office.

The guide focuses on the rights and responsibilities of migrant workers in Northern Ireland. It covers the law on social security, health and social care, employment rights, immigration law, human rights and equality.

 

Download it hereYour Rights in Northern Ireland, a guide for migrant workers

This edition is currently in English only. 

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3-day conference - Litigating for social change

Hold the date

Three day conference

Litigating for Social Change

Wednesday 19 - Friday 21 October 2016

Belfast, Northern Ireland

This international conference will bring together NGOs, community activists, litigators, academics and funders to reflect on how strategic litigation can transform lives and enable people and communities to realise their rights.

The conference will explore:

  • lessons learnt to date
  • how strategic litigation can be made more effective
  • strategies and models for supporting strategic litigation

 

Find out more here.

Logos: Law Centre (NI), Atlantic Philanthropies, Social Change Initiative

Law Centre (NI), Social Change Initiative, the Atlantic Philanthropies

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How we help: resolving complex disablement benefits issue

The Law Centre helped secure the right amount of Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit for a man left incapacited after falling from a roof when working as a plumber.

He had first received a one-year provisional award at the 22% rate of the benefit. On reassessment, the medical examiner recommended lowering the rate because there had been a slight improvement in his ankle function.

The Law Centre’s social security adviser successfully argued at Tribunal that his overall health had since deteriorated and that this should be considered, rather than the assessment focusing solely on the ankle issue. His award was increased to the 26% rate as a result.

The client is not currently financially better off as a result because he is in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance Related Activity Component.

However, this decision, and the medical evidence collected by our adviser, will help the client when his entitlement to Employment and Support Allowance is reassessed later this year.

Advisers are welcome to refer similar cases and other social security cases involving complex issues. Law Centre (NI) advice line is open Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 1pm: 028 9024 4401

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Children's Law Centre seeks apprentice solicitor

The Children’s Law Centre (Belfast) has received funding from The Legal Education Foundation’s Justice First Fellowship Scheme to recruit an Apprentice Solicitor from May 2017 – August 2019. A key component of the Scheme will be undertaking a project, agreed with the host organisation, which will advance access to justice. 

Candidates must be eligible to apply for September 2017 admission to the Solicitor’s Practice Course at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies, Queen’s University, Belfast. Appointment will be conditional upon the candidate subsequently being accepted on the course.

The full job description and person specification for this post may be found at jff.thelegaleducationfoundation.org/host/childrens-law-centre/

Applications must be completed on-line and submitted via The Legal Education Foundation’s website.  The online application form will be available on jff.thelegaleducationfoundation.org/how-to-apply/application-form/ from Monday 15 August. Applications deadline is Tuesday 20 September.

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Victims of trafficking need better access to justice

Access to Compensation for Victims of Human Trafficking, a working paper by Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), was launched on 11 July. The Law Centre was pleased to contribute to this important document.

Research carried out for this paper found that, although the Modern Slavery Act has now been in place for a while, little has changed for victims seeking justice. They still face significant legal and practical barriers to getting compensation for the abuses committed against them.

FLEX is calling for a comprehensive review of access to compensation that will address the complex nature of trafficking and other forms of modern slavery.

Read a FLEX blog post on this issue here.

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