Law Centre NI

Law Centre (NI)

promoting social justice through legal advice,
representation, policy, training and publications


Welcome to our February 2013 e-newsletter.  We hope that you find it useful. Please feel free to circulate to interested colleagues.

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Long term patients victory

Tribunal reform

Impact of austerity

Frontline 86

Training opportunities

Welfare reform

DOJ group on trafficking

HMRC fast track procedure

Macmillan lunch at Law Centre

Important legal victory for long-stay patients

Muckamore Abbey hospital administration building. Photo: Brian Shaw

In a landmark judgement on 31 January, the High Court clearly established the obligation on DHSSPS and on health and social care trusts to regularly complete an assessment of need of all those who require community care services in Northern Ireland.

The Law Centre had brought the case on behalf of a patient who had waited more than ten years to move out of a learning disability hospital and into the community.

Justice McCloskey found that the DHSSPS and the trust owed a legal duty to assess and review, on a regular basis, the community care needs of long stay residents in learning disability hospitals.

Maureen Piggott, Mencap's Northern Ireland Director, commented: 'Mencap welcomes today's decision and congratulates Law Centre (NI) for taking and winning this important case. People with a learning disability and their families need this strong advocacy.'

Read more

Conference launches tribunal consultation

Speakers at the welfare reform conference. Photo courtesy of University of Ulster

Justice Minister David Ford announced proposals for major reform of the tribunal system in Northern Ireland at a conference organised by the University of Ulster and the Law Centre.

Tribunal Reform: the Way Ahead was held in the Bar Library, Belfast, on Friday 25 January.

Law Centre (NI) director Les Allamby said: ‘We are delighted that many of the findings and recommendations of research we commissioned have influenced the consultation document. The document recognises the importance of the tribunal user and the need for an independent and accessible tribunal system with appropriate oversight. Independent advice and support are also vital.’

The Department is inviting responses to the consultation document, The Future Administration and Structure of Tribunals in Northern Ireland, by Friday 19 April.

Download Law Centre commissioned research on tribunal reform here.

Roundtable on the impact of austerity

Attendees at the JRF / Law Centre lunch.  Photo Catherine Couvert

The Law Centre hosted a roundtable discussion on the impact of austerity measures on local communities and individuals in Northern Ireland on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Part of a UK wide investigation, the 17 January event aimed to gain a perspective from Northern Ireland organisations. 

The Foundation is  visiting different parts of the UK to interview people in need and the organisations working with them. The findings will be published on the JRF website.

Frontline 86: focus on employment

Cover of Frontline 86

Frontline 86 focuses on employment and unemployment matters, and also discusses the progress of the Welfare Reform Bill at Stormont, long term adult care, older people’s strategy, using the tax credits fast track procedure, and more.

Other publications to look out for

Social security and judicial review, February 2013, explains when judicial review can usefully assist in tax credit and other social security challenges.

Alternatives to Court in Northern Ireland, a joint publication of Law Centre (NI) and the Northern Ireland Ombudsman, has been updated to include new mediation services. 

Training opportunities at the Law Centre

20 February Personal Independence Payment, Belfast

21 February Mental Health and Criminal Justice, Belfast

27 February Employment Law, 2 days, Derry

6 March Children and Young People in the Immigration System, Belfast

7 March Understanding Universal Credit and Other Changes, Belfast

14 March Understanding Universal Credit and Other Changes, Derry

19 March Commissioner Appeals, Identifying Errors in Law, Belfast

20 March Challenging Tax Credit Decisions, Overpayments, Belfast

21 March Legal Research Skills for Advisers, half day, Belfast

26 March Benefits for Carers, Belfast

28 March Personal Independence Payment, Derry

NOTE: The course on Social Security, Seeking Work, Other Requirements and Sanctions, which was planned for 14 February, has been postponed to 24 September.

All our courses carry CPD points for solicitors, barristers and CAB advisers.

For more details, visit the training section of our website or contact, 028 7126 2433.

Welfare reform bill

Last month, the Law Centre gave evidence to the Assembly Ad Hoc Committee on welfare reform.  The Committee has now reported to the Assembly. 

The Committee has concluded by majority vote that there were no specific human rights or equality breaches in the Bill but has highlighted areas of concern.

Read more

DOJ engagement group on trafficking

The Engagement Group on Human Trafficking. Photo courtesy of Department of Justice

The Law Centre attended the first meeting of the Engagement Group on Human Trafficking.

The group, bringing together the Department of Justice, police, health and social services and relevant statutory and non governmental organisations, aims to inform the development of human trafficking policy and programmes.

Its work will include sharing resources and expertise and identifying best practice and gaps in information and in the provision of services and areas of research.

Photo courtesy of Department of Justice.

Child benefits: using fast-track procedure

In a case referred to the Law Centre by ARK Housing Association, we ensured that a Sudanese refugee and his family received their entitlement of Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit.

The case highlighted an ongoing problem with delays in the processing of claims for Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit, especially for refugees, which can take up to six months to process. 

HMRC has a statutory duty to make decisions on claims.  Under the fast track procedure, the Jobs and Benefits Office can verify original documentation to ensure the claim is paid more quickly. 

Unreasonable delays need to be challenged as they leave vulnerable clients living on half what the law says they need to live on.

Our client was incorrectly refused Child Benefit. HMRC sent a request for further information about his Child Tax Credit claim even though he had already given this information through the fast track claim at the Jobs and Benefits Office.

The Law Centre adviser sent a pre-action letter to HMRC and this resulted in backdated payment of Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit within fourteen days.

For more information on the fast track procedure, see social security update in Frontline 85 and Frontline 86.

Macmillan lunch at Law Centre (NI)

Law Centre staff and management committee members at fundraising lunch for Macmillan Cancer Support.  Photo Catherine Couvert

Law Centre (NI) staff and management committee met for a fundraising lunch on 30 January in the Belfast office.  The event raised £135 for Macmillan Cancer Support.