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Law Centre adviser explains PIP changes on BBC On Your Behalf

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Read more: Law Centre adviser explains PIP changes on BBC On Your Behalf

   

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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Read more: Welfare reform training at the Law Centre

   

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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Our response on a generally positive Programme for Government

The Law Centre commends the Executive Office on the aims of its draft Programme for Government.

We agree that the 14 outcomes set out will contribute to a more positive society.

We have submitted a response which suggests additional measures which will make a positive difference to people's rights, including older people, people of working age and children, within our areas of work:

  • social security,
  • employment,
  • community care and mental health,
  • social justice,
  • anti-trafficking and the rights of migrants and refugees.

We look forward to the publication of the action plans, which are essential in order to make these ideas real and meaningful.

Read more here:

Law Centre (NI) response to The Executive Office programme for government 2016-2021

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How we help: protecting older person's right to live in her own home

The Law Centre’s community care team is often called on to help negotiate with trusts on behalf of older people who lack capacity.
In a recent case, an elderly woman with advanced dementia had been cared for at home by one of her sons for some time, with support from the local health trust. There had been no concerns about her care.

Other relatives felt that she should be in care and organised for her to taken into a nursing home against the son’s wishes. Aware of the disagreement, the trust should have made a formal decision on what living arrangements were in the best interests of the mother and if necessary seek a ‘Best Interests Declaration’ from the High Court. This was not done. Instead, her care team informed the day centre that she attended that she would be taken to the nursing home later that day.

In the nursing home, she suffered distress, disorientation and severe unhappiness. She resided there for 14 weeks before a friend referred her to the Law Centre’s Community Care Unit.

The Law Centre adviser contacted the trust, citing local health and social care law and guidance and explaining that this case also raised deprivation of liberty and right to home and family life issues under the Human Rights Act.

The client was returned to the care of her son. She is now happily living back at home with appropriate care.

 

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How we help: resolving benefit problems for young mother

Law Centre (NI) resolved a benefits issue for a Portuguese worker who suffered financial hardship through the late stages of pregnancy and the arrival of her child.

She had been living in Northern Ireland since 2011. Her most recent employment was on a zero-hour contract, as a cleaner in a local nursing home. 

When her employer could not give her any more shifts, she claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) but was refused. She claimed Income Support two weeks later when she came within the maternity period for Income Support.  She was refused again.

The Department’s decision was based on the fact that, because there was a four weeks gap between the date when she last worked and the date she claimed JSA, she was not thought to have a right to reside for benefit purposes.

The Law Centre adviser lodged appeals for the two benefits, arguing that she continued to be a worker for benefit purposes. During the four weeks, she had first been on holiday leave and then temporarily incapable of work due to pregnancy-related illness. After that, she was entitled to worker status because she gave up seeking work during the late stages of pregnancy and would retain that status for a reasonable period after the birth of her child. This argument was based on the St Prix decision.

The adviser also helped her make a claim for Maternity Allowance.

The Department revised its decisions but did not need to pay JSA and Income Support as she was entitled to Maternity Allowance, having paid sufficient national insurance contributions, and to Working Tax Credit.

As the principle of right to reside has been established, the client should now be able to claim Income Support if she needs to extend her maternity leave after her entitlement to Maternity Allowance and Working Tax Credit ends.

The Law Centre has also advised her to seek immigration advice concerning her right to permanent residence later this year when she will have been resident for five years.

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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UNCRC echoes concerns on children in immigration and asylum system

In June this year, the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child published its fifth periodic report on children’s rights in the UK.

The report echoes the concerns of the Law Centre and Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People on the treatment of children in the asylum and immigration system.

In particular, the report notes:

  • the continued detention of minors as part of the asylum process
  • the lack of legal guardians for unaccompanied minors who are over 16 and have not been formally identified as victims of trafficking
  • restrictions on the right to family reunion
  • difficulties in accessing education and health care
  • risk of destitution
  • as part of the Immigration Act 2016, removal of entitlement to leaving care support for unaccompanied children in care if they have an irregular or unresolved immigration status,
  • also under Immigration Act 2016, new policy of ‘deport first, appeal later’, including in cases where deportation undermines family unity
  • children returned to country of origin without adequate safeguards
  • lack of reliable data on asylum seeking children, including those whose age is disputed.

The Committee's recommendations include:

  • establishing legal guardians for all unaccompanied minors,
  • appropriate age assessments, to be conducted only in cases of serious doubt
  • end to all immigration detention of children
  •  review policy on family reunion
  • ensure sufficient support and access to services for families and unaccompanied children
  • review the Immigration Act to ensure its compatibility with children’s rights
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Refugee Week: MPs meet Refugee Asylum Forum at Law Centre (NI)

Gavin Robinson MP meets representatives of Refugee and Asylum Forum at Law Centre (NI) 24 June 2016

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Read more: Refugee Week: MPs meet Refugee Asylum Forum at Law Centre (NI)

   

Learn more about Personal Independence Payment

Training session at the Law Centre June 16

Personal Independence Payment came into force on 20 June 2016. 

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Read more: Learn more about Personal Independence Payment

   

Are you up for the £10 Refugee Week challenge?

Refugee Week challenge - Feed yourself for £10 - a week's shopping

Our colleague Liz Griffith thinks she is. Here is her week's shopping.

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Read more: Are you up for the £10 Refugee Week challenge?

   

At least 16 separated children still missing from Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Health Minister's response to a written question by Lord Morrow suggests that between 16 and 20 unaccompanied minors who went missing in the last ten years are still unaccounted for.

See question AQW 466/16-21 on Northern Ireland Assembly website.

The response suggests that:

  • 67 separated children are known to have come to Northern Ireland since 2006
  • 22 of them went missing
  • of those, between 16 and 20 are still missing

Earlier in June, a BBC Spotlight programme had uncovered that 8 children who had disappeared while in the care of the trust are still missing.

Law Centre (NI) believes that a guardianship system for all unaccompanied minors could help prevent further disappearances. This measure is provided for in Northern Ireland's Human Trafficking Act 2015 but has not yet been implemented.

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Work with us: Finance Officer

Finance Officer - maternity cover

Reference number: FO 03-16, based in Belfast

We are seeking a person with at least two years of experience in a finance position including preparing accounts to trial balance, financial reporting, budgetary control, and operating computerised accounting systems including payroll. The successful candidate will have a relevant finance/bookkeeping qualification preferably as a fully qualified accounting technician. Experience of charity accounting and legal aid is desirable. Please note the quick turnaround of applications for this recruitment with interviews planned for 29 June. The post is temporary and for 28 hours per week.

For more information and an application pack, see: Work with Us

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No place for exploitation in agriculture

It’s the time of year for seasonal workers in Northern Ireland. Law Centre (NI) stresses that there is no place for modern slavery in agriculture. Employers and people in the supply chain should be aware of a recent English court decision in favour of exploited chicken catchers.

The Law Centre welcomes the court's judgement in favour of six Lithuanian men who had been severely exploited by the company that employed them as chicken catchers.

The judge found that the men were not paid the minimum wage for agricultural workers and also found in their favour on other key issues.

They were paid for the number of chickens caught on farms, rather than for time worked at minimum rates including night rates and for time spent travelling. They were also charged prohibited fees, had wages unlawfully withheld, and did not have adequate facilities to wash, rest, eat and drink.

Caroline Maguire, employment legal adviser at Law Centre (NI), commented:

“It’s the time of year for employing seasonal agricultural workers. Northern Ireland’s employers and people in the supply chain must be aware that there is no place for exploitation in agriculture.

This judgement is just a first step, as the level of compensation payment still has to be decided. However, the case should act as a warning to exploitative employers.”

The men’s employer had its licence revoked by the GLA in 2012 and 38 workers were referred to the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which confirmed that all the men were victims of trafficking. Sixteen of them are being assisted by law firm Leigh Day.

Caroline Maguire added: "Everyone should be vigilant about signs of hidden exploitation and forced labour, and people should not be afraid to report such cases."

The Law Centre has produced an information leaflet for workers to identify signs of labour exploitation and encourage them to seek help (picture below: Stephen Farry MLA and Sinead Mulhern, Law Centre (NI), launching 'Problems at Work?' leaflet)

Read more:

The judgement

Background to the case

The labour exploitation leaflet

 

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Universal Credit to start in Northern Ireland in 2017

New Regulations on the introduction of Universal Credit, published on 6 June, complement Part 1 of the Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015 (S.I.2015/2006 (N.I. 1)

They make provision for the gradual introduction of Universal Credit and abolition of income-related Employment and Support Allowance and income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance.

They also amend other pieces of legislation on matters affected by the change such as Income Support and other related benefits, Child Support and housing renewal grants and provide that a person entitled to universal credit will be credited with a class 3 national insurance contribution.

See: SR.No236/2016

Government plans are that Universal Credit will be gradually phased in starting in 2017.

 For regular updates on welfare reform developments, visit our welfare reform news page.

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NIHRC film highlights experiences of forced labour victims

Law Centre (NI) was delighted to help with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission's Hidden Rights film on the labour exploitation of migrant workers.

The film was launched on Thursday 9 June, along with short films on disabled rights and homeless people's rights.

Watch the films here:

 

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DLA and PIP: payments time limits removed for under 18s in hospital

From 6 July 2016, the rules for children who enter hospital and who receive DLA (and PIP when it is introduced on 20 June 2016) are changing.  

Until 6 July, a child under the age of 16 ceases to receive DLA and PIP after 84 days of being a hospital in-patient.  A child who is over the age of 16 but under the age of 18 will cease to receive DLA or PIP after the 28th day. 

From 6 July, the Social Security (Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 change the existing rules [1] so that a child under the age of 18 on the day in which they enter hospital can receive DLA or PIP for the duration of their stay in hospital.  It will not be time limited.

The Regulations have been introduced following the UK Supreme Court decision in Mathieson v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2] which was delivered on 8 July 2015.  The Supreme Court ruled that the 28 and 84 day restrictions were discriminatory and could not be objectively justified as pursuing a legitimate aim.

In addition, the Regulations provide that any person under 18 when they begin their treatment as a hospital in-patient who might otherwise be invited to make a fresh claim for PIP will not have to do so until their treatment as an inpatient ends.  Their award of DLA will be protected during the entirety of their stay in hospital.

 

[1] These Regulations amend the Social Security (Disability Living Allowance) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1992, the Personal Independence Payment Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 and the Personal Independence Payment (Transitional Provisions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016.

[2] Cameron Mathieson, a deceased child (by his father Craig Mathieson) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Respondent) [2015] UKSC 47

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How we help: protecting older person’s right to live in her own home

A little known use of the Human Rights Act is in complementing local legislation to ensure older people receive the care they are entitled to.

Law Centre (NI)’s community care team often use the Act in tandem with local legislation when negotiating with the health board and trusts on behalf of clients.

In a recent case, the Act's Section 6 – a Local Authority must not act incompatibly with the ECHR  (Article 8 – right to respect for family and private life and Article 5 – not to be deprived of liberty were both engaged in this instance) helped the Law Centre ensure that a client’s wish to live in her own home was respected.

The Alzheimer’s Society referred her to the Law Centre when she was discharged into residential care against her wishes and those of her family.

The Trust had decided that she lacked capacity and argued that the move into residential care was in her best interest. Her close family felt that she did have the capacity to decide but the Trust had not taken their views into consideration and had not carried out a full assessment of capacity.

The Law Centre contacted the Trust and its legal department. The adviser argued that failing to carry out a proper assessment and placing her in residential care without her consent was in breach of the Human Rights Act as well as capacity caselaw and the Department’s own guidance.

The Trust was persuaded to carry out an assessment of needs. The client was discharged and a care package was put in place so she could live safely at home.

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Implement independent guardianship to protect separated children

Anti-trafficking young people project poster

Following the finding by BBC NI’s Spotlight programme a BBC Spotlight programme that eight separated children went missing in Northern Ireland since 2005, Law Centre (NI) is calling for independent guardians to be put in place urgently.

Law Centre (NI) understands that the Health Board has taken measures to ensure that separated children (under 18s who have come to Northern Ireland without a parent or legal guardian) are now better protected. However, the Law Centre believes that all separated children should have access to independent legal guardians and calls on the Department for Health to put this in place urgently.

Law Centre (NI) head of policy Ursula O’Hare said: “One child going missing is one too many. While Independent Guardianship cannot offer a guarantee against children going missing, we believe guardians will go towards minimising the risk of this happening”

Independent Guardianship is a ground breaking provision of the anti-trafficking legislation, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015. Unfortunately, this provision has not yet been implemented.

Ursula O’Hare continued: “We owe it to these extremely vulnerable children to ensure that Northern Ireland’s laws do not just sit on the statute books but are instead implemented and made a reality”.

See the Law Centre's briefing on protection for separated children subject to immigration control (note: this background briefing predates the 2015 Act).

Read a statement by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People.

Read an Irish Legal News article about the issue.

Read BBC articles on the disappearances and on MLAs’ calls for an inquiry.

Law Centre (NI)'s Anti-Trafficking Young People Project was pleased to contribute to the programme. The Project offers legal support and advocacy to young people who have been identified as possible victims of trafficking.

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