A large number of people are being wrongly evicted for rent arrears when part of their arrears has been bedroom tax.
In the first case of its kind in Scotland, a tenant in Glasgow was saved from eviction last week, thanks to overlooked legislation.
It took an ordinary member of the public and a community minded lawyer to bring this scandal to the notice of Glasgow Sheriff Court.
An average of 150 people a week are now being ‘ejected’ – the court term for eviction – because social landlords take them to court for non-payment of rent.
This number has risen dramatically since the bedroom tax has kicked in.
Accountant Theresa Stirling, who has been studying this area of law, was in Glasgow Sheriff Court recently to offer help to people about to be evicted. She said: “One tenant clearly did not understand what the Sheriff meant when he told her she would be ‘ejected.’ The lady – who has a teenage granddaughter living with her – told him that she was paying off her arrears. And then she asked him: ‘Do I get to keep my house, now?’ This highlighted to me she did not understand what the Sheriff was saying because she certainly would not be keeping her house if she was ejected.’’
At this point Theresa jumped up from her seat in the public gallery and persuaded the Sheriff to re-look at the case. “By law, a person paying money towards a debt of arrears should not be in the eviction process, far less have a decree granted against them,” said Theresa.
She found lawyer John Flanagan willing to take on the case.
When he investigated the tenant’s situation he found several reasons to stop eviction. He said:‘I was able to show that eviction should not go ahead because part of the tenant’s arrears was caused by the bedroom tax and as this particular person had been a tenant in the property since 1996 her Housing Benefit should not have been cut for under-occupancy of a spare bedroom. There is legislation which says that tenants in that situation are exempt from such cuts. This seems to have been overlooked by Government and Local Authorities.’
A former Glasgow City Councillor, John Flanagan formally requested the Court to allow his client time to apply for a housing benefit review because in this tenant’s case, her rent arrears were wrongly calculated. Her case will be re-presented to the Court in a few weeks.
‘This is the first time the legislation around the bedroom tax has been tested in Scotland. Some lawyers are referring to this as a ‘loophole’ but it is not. It is there in law,’ he said.
Theresa Stirling has been so incensed by the large number of people she’s seen wrongly in line for eviction because of the so-called loophole that she has brought the situation to the notice of the Court of Session and every elected representative she could think of in Scotland, the UK and Europe.
She added: ‘It is an extremely worrying state of affairs. Actions are being taken to Court prematurely, based on wrong and misleading information and causing great distress to an increasing number of people. It needs to stop and this case may be the first sign that justice will be done.’
Awareness of fundamental Human Rights would help eradicate much of the inequality being experienced in Scotland today.
Glasgow Human Rights Network gave a platform to three leading exponents of the theme: Poverty is a Human Rights violation. Hosted in Glasgow City Chambers and welcomed by Bailie Jim Scanlon, the event attracted around 50 people on Thursday 17 October 2013.
Kate Lauchlin – a seasoned community campaigner in Partick and now working on her PhD on Human Rights at the University of the West of Scotland, set the scene: ‘Not only is it an outrage that poverty is a violation of Human Rights, it is enshrined in international law that poverty is a violation of Human Rights.’ United Nations conventions, continental ‘groupings’ and national constitutions all set down human rights. But those international conventions the UK has signed, are still awaiting ratification in many cases, she pointed out.
Among the intrinsic human rights are the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to a home which includes local family and community interaction and is much more than just a ‘house’; the right to a free choice to work, the right to social security, the right to take part in cultural life.
An illustration of a dove carrying human rights on its wings but with the bird encased in a cage, summed up the UK’s position on human rights for her, she said.
Part of the solution was for the country to ‘invest in the human rights culture. It matters.’ She said: ‘As far back as 2009 the United Nations’ Economic and Social and Cultural Rights inspectorate was concerned with the low level of awareness of human rights in the UK among all strata of society.’ If human rights were to be integrated into something like the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework, it would make a difference.
Another speaker was Tricia McConalogue of Bridging the Gap an organisation working in the Gorbals supporting refugees and asylum seekers.
She said that people needed to challenge the frequently presented- often Government originated – ideas that people in poverty could be used as a scapegoat. ‘If this isn’t challenged, it is accepted as fact and that is simply not the truth,’ she said.
Having been most of the day standing outside the City Chambers at the Poverty Stone in George Square hearing testimony from people in poverty, Tricia elected to sit to share her thoughts and experience.
She said: ‘Poverty today in Glasgow is the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime.’ She gave details of individual situations when people receiving food from a foodbank could not afford to cook it. Of people being ‘sanctioned’ at the Job Centre even when they had found a job. Sanctioned means that person would be denied any benefits for a period of time because of some infringement of rules which frequently was an administrative mistake.
She also mentioned how people with mental health issues could be left terrified by any appeals process they may have to face. ‘If they are deemed fit for a job, where does that leave them to recover from their mental health issues?’ she asked. Tricia said she’d been moved to tears recently by some of the people she’d talked to – including one young man who was contemplating suicide because of the way he was being treated.
The final speaker was academic and former Amnesty worker Duncan Wilson who represented the Scottish Human Rights Commission. The Commission is working with public bodies – such as the National Health Service – and the third sector to develop Scotland’s first National Action Plan.
Voicing the question: ‘Is poverty a violation of Human Rights?’ Duncan said: ‘To some people it isn’t as clear as torture, for example. But I think it is clear there is a a very strong case to be made for poverty to be seen as a violation of Human Rights.’
He defined poverty as the denial of freedom to live, to develop, to be free from hunger and to be free to take part in society. Around the world, these freedoms are denied. Official reports suggest the issues have been addressed ‘A government report says they’ve achieve their target of having no slums, for example. But what they’ve actually done is clear the land where the slums were- leaving 100,000 people without any place to stay.’
New United Nations targets are to start from 2015 when the UN Millenium Goals programme will be completed. ‘New goals will not be achieved without accountability being incorporated in the framework of any programme. Accountability is lacking in the current framework,’ he said.
He said that poverty exist all over the world – even in Glasgow. ‘Just take a train from Hyndland in the West End to Bridgeton in the East End. There is a difference of ten years’ life expectancy among men in that short journey.
Among the ways to address poverty were that those with the least should be the last to take any cuts. ’That is a fundamental principle of Human Rights, he said.
He instanced people in Edinburgh using candles because they couldn’t afford to switch on electricity. ‘This is the 21st century in the capital of Scotland!!’ he emphasised. ‘
He also said that people working in public services should be empowered to prevent problems rather than having to implement bad decisons of the authorities. He commended the Poverty Truth Commission which stood by its motto: ‘Nothing about us , without us, is for us.’
‘The participation of people and the information they need to understand and take part in those decision is what is needed, especially for the most marginalised.’
Scotland’s first ever Action Plan for Human Rights will be a ‘roadmap’ for everyone at home, in school, at work or anywhere, he said. Expected to be launched next year it will empower people to know about their Human Rights, to take part in decisions, to address stigma and to increase the ability of those delivering services to ‘get it right more often.’
Dr Vikki Turbine of Glasgow University Human Rights Network thanked the panel and said it was an inspiring start to further conversations which would help protect, respect and fulfil Human Rights in Scotland and help produce solutions to poverty.
By Martin Graham
Glasgow City Council has announced a £1.5m fund to help private homeowners to carry out essential repair work.
The fund, along with the new powers granted to local authorities as part of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006, means that the council can enforce work to be carried out to resolve the issue, especially prevalent in tenements, where a minority of owners are unwilling to pay their share of essential repairs.
The money will be allocated from the Council’s Private Sector Housing pot and will be set aside into a fund that can be used to cover the costs of moderate repair work carried out under statutory notice.
Work paid from the fund will be replenished as accounts and fees are repaid to the council, with the local authority charging a fee of 15% to cover its technical and administrative costs.
A lack of participation by some homeowners often means that problems such as rain penetration is not dealt with, dampness not treated and this lack of timely remedial action leads to a much more serious and expensive repair, and misery for those owners willing, but unable, to get consensus to address the problem.
Until now, the council was unable to assist owners or property mangers in carrying out this work because it did not have the necessary resources to cope the scale of the problem and the housing services lacked the appropriate power to enforce the work by all owners.
As reported in the Local News previously, lack of repairs to properties can lead to buildings becoming dangerous, like the property on Cathcart Road in Mount Florida which was in such poor repair that masonry was falling on to the pavement below.
Councillor Elaine McDougall, Executive Member for Housing, said: ‘We regularly receive calls from frustrated home owners, across the city, in tenemental properties, who cannot gain agreement from all owners to pay for minor but essential repair work to their properties.
‘Up until now, we have been unable to assist all of these owners or property managers but this new power allows us to enforce the work to be carried out and recover the full cost from all the owners.
‘This scheme will help to improve the quality of the city’s older housing stock, preserving it for future generations, and I would hope that if proved successful, this self-sustaining fund can be expanded in the future.’
This is a step towards the model for property management common in Edinburgh, where there are no factors for tenement closes, rather the council acts as property manager and issues statutory notices for essential repairs to each homeowner.
Southside parents are invited to an open day at the newly-launched Little Einstein’s kindergarten in Nithsdale Road, Pollokshield, on Saturday, October 31, between 10.00am and 1.30pm.
Nithsdale House Nursery provides a first-class early learning experience for children from shortly after birth until they are ready for the first days of primary school.
The new facility – the latest in a thriving business with four premises in Tayside and two in Glasgow – has created 20 jobs for a team of qualified and professional carers.
Nithsdale House expands and enhances Little Einstein’s offering of the Hillside Crèche and the Hillside Clubhouse in Mansewood in Glasgow, which meet increasing levels of demand from parents in the surrounding area and beyond.
The new facility, at the corner of Nithsdale Road and Shields Road, provides parents with a safe, secure and nurturing environment where children can progress through the early stages of personal development.
For all 52 weeks of the year, it offers four huge and comprehensively equipped learning areas where children of different ages will be cared for by staff in ratios as intensive as one nursery professional to every three children.
Children also have frequent access to a pleasant and secure outdoor garden area and they are further stimulated by outings to the local community.
Nithsdale House’s cook provides healthy nutritious meals and snacks to cater for all dietary and cultural requirements.
Nithsdale House’s Nursery Manager, Leighann Bain, said: ‘We seek to build a strong and effective working relationship with parents so that they can be satisfied that their child is happy, safe and well-stimulated at all times.
‘We aim to provide an environment in which each child can grow and develop at its own pace and where staff plan responsively to children’s needs to ensure that learning is of the best possible value to children as individuals.’