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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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Law Centre adviser explains PIP changes on BBC On Your Behalf

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Welfare reform training at the Law Centre

Training session at the Law Centre - June 16

We have limited places left on three courses to bring you up to date with welfare reform developments

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McGuinness launches guide for Syrian VPR refugees

On Monday 18 July, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA launched a guide on the rights and responsibilities of Syrian VPR refugees in Northern Ireland. 

The Minister took the opportunity of an information session held by Law Centre (NI) for Syrian refugee families at Holywell Trust in Derry to formally launch the guide. 

51 Syrian refugees were welcomed to Derry in May, the second group to arrive under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. Produced by Law Centre (NI), the bi-lingual English and Arabic Guide will help the Syrian families integrate into the community.

Under the Scheme, when refugees first arrive in Northern Ireland, they are accompanied by key-workers from the Vulnerable Syrian Refugee Consortium who help them settle in their new home. Key workers help families in the first weeks to register for healthcare, schools and benefits and with any other urgent issues that may arise.  The Guide is intended to give them the tools to understand their rights, responsibilities and entitlements as they start the process of settling in Northern Ireland, looking for work and integrating into the community.

The Minister said: “I am proud of the north of Ireland and the people of the North West who have risen to the humanitarian challenge and opened their arms and hearts to Syrian refugee families in their time of need.

“We trust this new start will offer hope, opportunity for all and the conditions to live with their family in peace.  

"We want to play an active part in ensuring everyone feels welcome, accepted and valued. Access to information, services and knowledge of your rights are an important element of this and The Executive Office is proud to fund this useful guide. 

"I commend and congratulate the Law Centre and the Human Rights Commission on the publication of this guide and for their ongoing work in supporting vulnerable refugees.”

Law Centre (NI) Director Glenn Jordan added: “The Syrian families arrive in Northern Ireland from a very different society, with very different laws and systems. At the Law Centre, we have years of experience of working with refugees and asylum seekers and we hope this Guide helps them to understand more about life in Northern Ireland, including their  rights and entitlements and how to get help and advice.  The aim is to equip them to make informed decisions and ease their integration in the community.”

The guide covers the law on social security, health and social care, employment rights, immigration law, human rights and equality.

It was funded by the Executive Office with support from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

Les Allamby, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, commented: “We were delighted to support this important initiative taken by the Law Centre. It is vital that Northern Ireland welcomes Syrian refugees alongside other asylum seekers and assists people fleeing persecution as effectively and practically as possible”.

The guide is available here.

(Photos courtesy of The Executive Office)

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New regulations on discretionary support published

Regulations on discretionary support payments in the form of grants and loans in Northern Ireland were published on 11 July.

The new system will come into operation when Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants are abolished. This is currently planned for November 2016. 

Discretionary support will be provided through loans for:

  • immediate assistance with short term living expenses;
  • household items, or assistance with the repair or replacement of household items;
  • travelling expenses in proscribed circumstances; or
  • rent in advance to a landlord other than the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

Discretionary support will be awarded through grants where:

  • the grant is to provide assistance for a claimant or their immediate family to remain or begin living independently in the community;
  • the claimant or their immediate family are prevented from remaining in their home;
  • the grant is to provide assistance in the form of living expenses where the claimant is over the acceptable debt threshold; or
  • the claimant is eligible for a loan for living expenses and cannot afford to make repayment.

The regulations also set out provisions in relation to:

  • claims and payments,
  • eligibility conditions including income and capital,
  • recovery methods and the provisions required in any review process which may be set up under the regulations. 

SR.No.270/2016 is available from legislation.gov.uk (with thanks to RightsNet)

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Improving access to compensation for victims of trafficking

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.

The paper considers the ability of victims of human trafficking and other forms of modern slavery to access compensation, one year on from the enactment of the Modern Slavery Act. 

Its research findings indicate that 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 trafficking victims’ access to compensation in the UK to address the complex nature of these crimes.

Read a FLEX blog post on this issue here.

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