Social Welfare Lawyers in the Centre of Birmingham

News

Exceptional Funding

In terms of those areas that are out of scope for legal aid, the Government said people could try and get ‘exceptional funding’ under section 10 of the Legal Aid Act 2012 if otherwise there might be a breach of article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to a fair hearing). For example, housing benefit is now out of scope for legal aid but a housing benefit problem might be the reason for rent arrears that have led to a possession action.

Gypsy Woman Wins in Court of Appeal

This case concerns a planning appeal in the Court of Appeal (CoA).

The Claimant below (the respondent to this appeal), Charmaine Moore, is a single parent who owns the site she lives on. She lives there in a mobile home with her three children, aged 14, 13 and 7.  She and her family are Romani Gypsies.

Before she moved to the appeal site in July 2010, the Claimant and her children had lived for some 12 years in a caravan situated on the front drive of a rented Housing Association property at Orpington.  The house was used only as a day room and the family always slept in the caravan.  The Claimant had “an aversion to living in bricks and mortar”.

Visit to CLP by Lord Low

The Low Commission are investigating the impact of the Legal Aid reforms and making suggestions as to future strategy for legal advice.  Lord Low and two members of the Commission, Steve Hynes and Vicky Ling, visited CLP on Thursday 29 August 2013 and met with the three Partners and Craig Keenan from the Housing Team.  CLP made a number of suggestions as to how things might be improved and all parties agreed that the meeting was very useful. CLP’s letter to Lord Low is attached to this article along with its enclosure.

The draft report from the Low Commission which is currently out for further consultation until 30 September can be accessed at  http://www.lowcommission.org.uk/Can-you-help

Children Reprieved from Life in Tower

A young Birmingham family  have finally won their hard fought battle to be  moved out of a tower block owned by Birmingham City Council after a court was asked to consider the council’s refusal to re-house the family.

Mrs. Warsame, a single mother, was worried that her children would fall from the windows of their 9th floor flat owned by Birmingham City Council at Thames Tower, Nechells,  because they could  open the windows. She also had difficulty managing the stairs when the lifts broke down and on a previous occasion had miscarried twins following  a fall on the stairs. At times Mrs Warsame had to leave the children alone in the flat while she struggled up the stairs with her baby and shopping and this presented a double jeopardy.

The day before Mrs Warsame’s appeal was due to be heard, following a two year fight the council agreed to a court order which confirms that the family will be treated as homeless and that the council accept a legal duty to ensure that suitable alternative accommodation will be secured immediately.

The decision follows a number of cases where children have been put at risk from living in high rise flats. Earlier this month a toddler died after falling from the window of a block of flats in Bristol.

A delighted Mrs Warsame said that she had “carried on the  fight for the sake of the children”.

Her solicitor, Mike McIlvaney, a partner at Community Law Partnership, specialising in housing law said:

Councils must think carefully about continuing to leave or place young familes with children in tower blocks. It is no answer to say  that budget constraints and limited resources are to blame when young lives are at risk. The council have a moral and legal duty to consider the reasonableness of the accommodation they are providing. Anyone in a similar situation to Mrs. Warsame may wish to obtain legal advice.”

LEGAL AID IS CHANGING

Debt and Welfare Benefits

From 1st April 2013 Legal Aid is no longer available for Debt Problems or Benefits Problems (except for a few cases involving the Upper Tribunal).

This is a decision taken by the Government. As a result we regret that we are no longer able to take on debt or benefits cases.

You may be able to get help from your local CAB. You may want to take your problem to your MP, as these changes which prevent us from helping you are a direct result of Government policy.

Housing Cases

Legal Aid for housing cases has been cut back. We can no longer help with many problems faced by tenants, for example the failure to return deposits or disputes over rent which fall short of court proceedings. However, we can still help with the following: 

  • Court proceedings for possession of your home
  • Homelessness Appeals
  • Judicial Review proceedings to challenge the decision of a public body
  • Cases where your house is in such a bad state of repair that your health and/or safety is at risk

 If you contact us we will be able to tell you whether or not we can help you. You will be asked to give us details of your case and your income, as all legal aid is means tested. We will consider your case and let you know within 48 hours whether we can help. In urgent cases we will make an immediate assessment.

Gypsy and Traveller cases

We can still help with the following: 

  • Evictions from unauthorised encampments
  • Evictions from rented sites
  • Planning cases involving court action e.g. appeals, injunctions, etc
  • Homelessness reviews and appeals
  • Judicial Review proceedings to challenge the decision of a public body
  • Possibly in disrepair cases where the disrepair is so bad that your health and/or safety is at risk.

 You should contact us on our Travellers Advice Line on 0121 685 8677. You will be asked to give us details of your case and your income, as all legal aid is means tested. We will take urgent action if necessary.

Public Law

Legal Aid is still available to challenge the decisions of public bodies, including local authorities. The rules relating to who qualifies financially have been made harsher.

Housing Contract

We are pleased to confirm that we have been offered a contract in Housing Law by the Legal Services Commission.  This contract will start from April 2013 and takes over from our current Social Welfare Law contract.  Our contracts covering Public Law and the Duty Possession Scheme continue as normal.