Housing disrepair case study

Landlord disrepair Case Note: Jan and Rik (Pseudonyms) were Image result for housingsuccessfully re-housed in a property owned by a housing association. Unfortunately, their second baby was born with a serious condition and had to spend months in hospital after birth. Their baby was in need of sterile and clean conditions. However, the problem was the bathroom in their new home. They pointed out to the housing association that it had severe problems with mould, condensation and damp. They asked for urgent repairs as their baby was coming home from hospital. However, the housing association told them that they could not treat the repairs as a priority and showed no interest in doing the work quickly. The housing association also refused an offer by Rik (who is a qualified builder) to repair the bathroom himself and forbade him from doing so. Jan and Rik came to Ealing Advice for help.

Under the tenancy agreement the landlord was liable for disrepair as well as under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 and at common law. However, it would take a considerable time and possible expense to use the County Court procedure. Because the condition of the bathroom was so bad, the couple were informed that the housing association as an owner could be prosecuted under environmental health legislation. Under section 79 (1)(a) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 it is a statutory nuisance for any premises in such a condition as ‘to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance.

Under the Act local authorities may inspect such premises and issue abatement orders. Prosecutions can also be brought under section 80 following service of such an order. It is also possible to bring a private prosecution under these provisions, and the owner of premises can be prosecuted through the magistrates’ court and fined up to £20 000. Various forms of evidence can be used including witness statements, photographic or video evidence, surveyors reports and medical evidence. Reminding the housing association of its potential liability under the EPA led to the problem with Jan and Rik’s bathroom being speedily being resolved.

Fees for Employment Tribunal claims – now ruled unlawful

The system of fees for bringing employment tribunal claims was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court on 26th July 2017. Fees are not payable for claims brought now, and fees paid in the past should be repaid.Image result for tribunal

Nucleus has argued that the fees deter people from exercising their rights. There is also an argument that the government was profiting from proving access to justice. The decision is based primarily on UK constitutional law: that the rule of law requires people to have access to the courts unless Parliament has clearly said otherwise.

Submitting a tribunal claim now

As at 28th July:

  • claims can be submitted without a fee, either by post, or in person to those tribunal offices which accept service in person: see www.gov.uk/employment-tribunals/make-a-claim
  • the facility for making claims online is temporarily unavailable while it is changed.

Past claims, including repayment of fees

Employment tribunal fees paid in the past should be repaid. The government will announce details of a refund scheme.  WE are keeping a eye on what happens if the tribunal ordered the employer to reimburse the fee to the claimant, including if the tribunal ordered this but the employer failed to pay; or if fees were reflected in an amount paid by the employer under a settlement agreement.

The government have issued this press release

THE PRE-ACTION PROTOCOL FOR DEBT CLAIMS FROM 1 OCTOBER 2017

A new Protocol for creditors bringing debt claims will operate from 1 October 2017, issued by the Master of the Rolls under  the Rules of Court.

Prior to this date there is no specific Pre-Action Protocol for debt claims, although parties are expected to comply with the existing Practice Direction for Pre-Action Conduct.

WHEN THE PROTOCOL WILL APPLY

The Protocol applies to ‘any business’ including sole traders and public companies.Related image

The Protocol sets out the conduct the court will normally expect of those parties prior to the start of proceedings, including a template Information Sheet and Reply Form to be provided to debtors in all cases.

The Protocol applies to any business (including sole traders and public bodies) claiming payment of a debt from an individual (including a sole trader). The business will be referred to as the “creditor” and the individual will be referred to as the “debtor”. It does not apply to business-to-business debts – commercial debts – unless the debtor is a sole trader. The Protocol operates in accordance with any specific regulatory provisions (which take precedence in the event of any conflict).

The Protocol is intended to complement any regulatory regime to which the creditor is subject.

The Protocol should also be read in conjunction with industry and government guidance relating to good practice in the recovery of debt and does not apply when there is another protocol in place e.g. mortgage arrears and HM revenue and Taxes.

Under the protocol the creditor will be required to send a Letter of Claim to the debtor before proceedings are started.

The Letter of Claim should –

(a) contain  key information

(i) the amount of the debt;

(ii) whether interest or other charges are continuing;

(iii) where the debt arises from an oral agreement, who made the agreement, what was agreed (including, as far as possible, what words were used) and when and where it was agreed;

(iv) where the debt arises from a written agreement, the date of the agreement, the parties to it and the fact that a copy of the written agreement can be requested from the creditor;

(v) where the debt has been assigned, the details of the original debt and creditor, when it was assigned and to whom;

(vi) if regular instalments are currently being offered by or on behalf of the debtor, or are being paid, an explanation of why the offer is not acceptable and why a court claim is still being considered;

(vii) details of how the debt can be paid (for example, the method of and address for payment) and details of how to proceed if the debtor wishes to discuss payment options;

(viii) the address to which the completed Reply Form should be sent;

 

Nucleus will be providing further bulletins and updates on the Protocol and its implications.

 

Key benefit cahnges April 2017

The Government is currently bringing in a number of changes to benefits, some of the key changes are listed below. Full details can be found here.

Image result for benefits cuts

  • * The minimum wage has gone up. The main wage is now £7.50, and all of the rates can be found here.
  • * The rate for the ESA work-related activity group (WRAG) has been reduced from £102.15 to £73.10 per week for new claims made from the start of April. Previously, claimants only received £73.10 during the initial “assessment period” of around 13 weeks, and then the amount went up once they were placed in a group. Now, if placed in the WRAG, the amount will not be increased.
  • * Child Tax Credits will no longer cover third (and subsequent) children, if they are born after 5th April. There are exceptions if the additional children are due to multiple births or rape.
  • * In addition, Child Tax Credits will no longer include a “Family element” (i.e. an extra amount for the first child), a reduction of £545 across the year.
  • * Bereavement payments are becoming significantly less generous for widowed parents whose spouse dies after 5th April. The widow(er) will now only receive weekly payments for 18 months. Previously, payments lasted until the earliest of the following: them reaching retirement age, them moving in with a new partner, or the youngest child no longer qualifying for child benefit. Further details here.
  • * There have also been a number of changes to Universal Credit (including the exclusion of most under 21s from the housing element).

The Big Issue …Wipe out: The tax debt scandal forcing people from their homes. A special report by Nucleus Chair Alan Murdie

Council tax arrears are now the single biggest issue clogging up British courts, as fees and fines cause the original debt to spiral. The result is often homelessness. In a special Big Issue report, barrister Alan Murdie describes a chaotic and faceless system.Big issue

STUDENT LOANS AND DEBT COLLECTORS

On  6th February 2017  the Government announced plans to sell the collection  of 12 billion pounds of outstanding student loans to private debt collectors. These are debts which have arisen from the failure to repay student loans taken out before 2006, which otherwise were normally recovered when a certain threshold in earnings was reached direct to the Student Loan Company and the Government.

LOANS IN THE LATEST SALE

The first part of the transfer covers loans which became liable for repayment between 2002 and 2006. The sale is being undertaken in accordance with the Sale of Student Loans Act 2008.

Normally, student loans become repayable when graduate income reaches a certain income threshold. The previous sale in November 2013 of £890 million in outstanding loans went to Erudio Student loans who paid £160 million for the right to recover this money arising from loans taken out between 1990-98. The conduct of the company led to numerous complaints and an apology when it tried to recover excessive amounts from students whose income fell below relevant thresholds.Displaying image.png

The latest announcement  means that many students or former students from the period  prior to 2002 may find themselves contacted by debt collection companies who will be seeking to collect the outstanding money.

For more information see:

http://www.studentloanrepayment.co.uk/portal/page?_pageid=93,3866911&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL

THE SALE OF STUDENT LOANS ACT 2008

Of particular concern is that section 3 of the Sale of Student Loans Act 2008 allows the purchaser to transfer the right to collect the loans to another debt collector. So the debt may end up with a different company to that the Government has selected. Under section 1(6) of the Act transfer can be made without the borrower’s consent.

Claims by debt collectors for student loans are already known to Nucleus and caution has to be taken with any claim or contact coming from a debt collector. Claims may arise not just for student loans but also for   unpaid fees arising from college accommodation or unpaid utility bill claims. Private debts collectors are also used for store cards and some  utility debts and many former bank debts.

SOME RULES FOR STUDENT DEBTS AND OTHERS PASSED TO DEBT COLLECTORS

  1. Everyone liable to repay a student debt included in this sale should receive a letter within 3 months from the Student Loan Company. The SLC will write to all customers, at their registered address, advising if their loans are included.2.Student loan related debts are not priority debts. They should not be placed ahead of paying rent, council tax and essentials such as food or utilities.
  1.  Debt collectors have no right to force or demand entry to your home – even if they suggest that they have. As a basic safeguard people should keep their doors closed and beware of bogus callers and people impersonating debt collectors.
  2. If telephoned or texted by someone purporting to be a debt collector do not share personal information or data – it may be a bogus caller. If the company is serious it will put details in writing.
  3. Anyone contacted about student loan debts should seek advice, particularly if a document from a court or purporting to be from a court is involved. It is important not to ignore anything that resembles a court claim but debt collectors have been known
  4. Liability to repay these debts cannot be transferred from the student to spouses, parents or third parties.
  5. A check should be made to see any paperwork is genuine, particularly to check if any right to recover the debt has been properly transferred in law to the debt collecting company,
  6. If an alleged debt is old – i.e. over 6 years it may be statute barred. This does not apply to alleged social security payments which since 2012 have no time limit on recovery (but may not be recoverable for other reasons).
  7. Any repayment agreement reached over a student loan should be one that is affordable, based upon ability to pay. If you have other debts then a payment plan needs to be worked out.
  8.  The amount being claimed should always be checked. With so many claims involved, the possibility of errors is considerable.

Social Tariffs are being phased out – what to do…

Home energy bills are one of the biggest expenses faced by many households.

But if 10% or more of your income goes on paying for your gas and electricity, the government classes you as being in “fuel poverty”.

And this means that you can qualify for grants and cheaper tariffs – called social tariffs – to help you cope.

What is a social tariff and who is it for?

Energy suppliers have been offering their most vulnerable customers cheaper tariffs for some time now.

Called social tariffs, they offer cheaper gas and electricity prices – regulator Ofgem’s rules state that they must at least match the cheapest deals available – and extra free services to certain customers.

You may qualify for a social tariff if you are over 60, on means-tested benefits, are living in fuel poverty or are on a low income.

How can I get on to a social tariff?

If you are not already on a social tariff, there is little point applying for one now as they are currently being replaced by the Warm Home Discount.

This is an annual credit the suppliers will subtract from your overall bill, currently worth £120.

There are currently two distinct groups that can benefit from the Warm Home Discount.

These are:

  • Households that are in receipt of the guaranteed element of Pension Credit
  • People on low incomes, living in fuel poverty or in receipt of benefits – in other words, the same people who qualify for social tariffs.

Most social tariffs have been phased out already

British Gas’ Essentials Combined, npower’s Spreading Warmth Tariff, Scottish Power’s Fresh Start Tariff and SSE’s Energycare Plus tariff, for example, have now all been closed to new applicants, while existing customers on these tariffs are being moved on to the Warm Home Discount.

It charges all customers the cheaper direct debit rate, even if they use another payment method and also offers an annual discount of £75 for dual fuel customers.

Other features of the tariff include free energy efficiency advice and free or discounted energy efficiency measures.

However, only EDF Energy customers who spend more than 10% of their income on household energy costs each year, or receive either Income Support and/or the Pension Credit, qualify for Energy Assist.

What else do suppliers do to help vulnerable customers?

Gas and electricity providers offer advice on everything from managing energy debts to improving your home’s energy efficiency.

Even if your provider no longer offers a social tariff, it is therefore worth contacting it to find out more about how it could help you cope with your bills, and whether you can benefit from the Warm Home Discount.

There may even be a fund to aid those really struggling to cope.

EDF, for example, operates an Energy Trust fund for its customers, from which it can draw funds to help vulnerable consumers clear their gas or electricity debt.

Is there any help available from the government?

The government provides energy efficiency grants, which can fully or partially cover the cost of home improvements such as installing loft or cavity wall insulation, for vulnerable customers in England, Wales and Scotland.

If you are at least 60 years of age, you may also qualify for a Winter Fuel Payment of between £125 and £400.

The Energy Saving Trust can give you more details about what grants may be available to you, while information about the Winter Fuel Payment and how you can apply for it can be found on the DirectGov website.

The ‘Home Heat Helpline’, which is funded by energy companies, also offers advice about social tariffs, grants for energy efficiency improvements, and benefits.

You can call it free on 0800 33 66 99.

PREPARING FOR AUTUMN AND WINTER ENERGY BILLS

Nucleus has long experience with advising on energy bills and debts. With the £23 000 benefit cap looming many people in receipt of benefits are facing a squeeze on income.

More people will be entering fuel poverty as a result this winter.

Under the old definition fuel poverty was where 10% or more of your available income went on fuel bills. The Government now uses the Low Income High Costs indicator. Basically, you will be in fuel poverty if you live in a cold or damp home which you cannot afford to heat and what money you have left puts you below the poverty line.

 

What to do

If you are facing difficulty paying your gas or electricity bills this autumn or winter 2016/2017 it is important that   you inform your energy supplier as soon as you can about your position and that you have  – or will have – problems in paying your bill.

 

Protected groups

 

You should not be disconnected between October to March if you are:

* a pensioner

* or have children under 18 If the supplier knows or has reason to believe you are such a customer, it must not disconnect you if you live alone or live with another pensioner or children under 18.

 

Other cases – hardship and poverty

If you are threatened with disconnection because you cannot pay your bill,  there are other methods of recovery. Disconnection of supplymust be a last resort.

 

Standard Licence Condition  27 issued by Ofgem which applies to all energy suppliers states:

 

  • You are entitled to a payment arrangement to repay your arrears at a rate you can afford.
  • To pay by regular instalments and through a means other than a prepayment meter.
  • If you are on a qualifying benefit to have an amount deducted from Fuel Direct
  • If you have not been able to manage a payment arrangement, you must be offered a prepayment meter (if safe and practical) as an alternative to disconnection.
  • The meter must be set to recover arrears at a realistic rate which you can afford.
  • If you are below pension age and your household includes persons who are of pensionable age, disabled or chronically sick,  Suppliers must take ‘all reasonable steps’ to avoid disconnecting your supply in winter.
  • You should be offered information about how you can reduce your charges by using fuel more efficiently

However, you will be expected to pay for energy you consume unless the supplier agrees to write-off an amount or you can get the bill covered by any advice agencies that have “Income Maximisation” services to tackle low incomes by making sure clients are claiming all the welfare benefits to which they are entitled. There is a free benefits check calculator on the Turn 2 Us websitehttp://www.turn2us.org.uk and they also have a telephone helpline. Nucleus can assist with this.

Nucleus can help with applications for benefits and dealing with energy debts and helping people fill in application forms.

The energy regulator Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) and the Government take the view that the only way a consumer can really combat rising energy costs is by shopping around for the best deal and switching to a cheaper tariff or cheaper energy supplier.

The energy regulator Ofgem has a list of approved price comparison websites. You can visit their energy shopping website at http://www.goenergyshopping.co.uk/en-gb/how-to-shop

However, a lot of people are not able to engage with the internet or resources on the web. From experience Nucleus recognises that many people may have difficulties with switching like this. We offer help and advice to individuals and organisations assisting people with these problems and also help with applying for grants and bills.

People affected include partially sighted and disabled people and those who have difficulty with written and spoken English (however occasioned), many of the elderly or those who have had telephone  land-lines disconnected. Web-based services are difficult for many of those who are the most vulnerable to used (we realise not every disabled person is Stephen Hawking or a team GB Para-Olympian).

If you don’t feel confident enough to switch yourself, some local councils and housing associations have Affordable Warmth/Energy Efficiency officers who can guide you through the process.

If you do not currently have a central heating system in your home or if your existing system/boiler is broken, you can apply to www.britishgasenergytrust.org.uk which provides free grants for boilers/central heating systems. You do not need to be a British Gas customer to apply and the only criterion for applying is financial hardship. They help people in work as well as those in receipt of benefits.

 

AVOIDING DISCONNECTION

It is rare that an energy supplier will disconnect your supply completely.

More often than not, the supplier will apply for a Court Warrant through the magistrates’ court to gain legal access to your property to change your meters to pay as you go meters.

It is important you attend any hearing to explain your position.

Any debt on the account(s) will be transferred onto the pay as you go meters so every time you put credit on the meter, it will deduct money to repay the debt. For example, if you put £10 credit on the meter, it may deduct £3 to repay the debt. There could also be additional deductions from the meter for standing charges and to replace any emergency credit used.

If you are on a low income and you are on pay as you go meters, this can lead to self disconnection because if you haven’t got the money to top up your meters, you cannot afford to have a gas or electricity supply in your home. This is why it’s important to make sure you are claiming all the benefits you are entitled to.

Priority Services Registers for vulnerable customers (people who are disabled, of pensionable age or have long term health problems.) are operated by some suppliers

If you have a health problem or you are elderly, I recommend telephoning your energy supplier to inform them of this and request to be added to the Register.

 If you do get into financial difficulties paying your bills, the energy supplier will have to take into consideration your vulnerability when considering enforcement action. Additional services can also be provided such as a password scheme or bills printed in large print.

Social tariffs for vulnerable clients  over 60, on means-tested benefits, are living in fuel poverty or are on a low income have been able to claim a special tariff  – THESE ARE BEING PHASED OUT : If you are not already on a social tariff, there is little point applying for one now as they are currently being replaced by the Warm Home Discount.
For more information please refer to our news item on social tariffs. 

If you have a large debt with your energy supplier which you are struggling to repay, there are several charitable trusts which provide free grants to clear gas and electricity debts but it can take several weeks for applications to be processed.

If you are an EON customer, you can apply to http://www.eonenergyfund.com

If you are an N Power customer, you can apply to  http://www.npowerenergyfund.com

If you are an EDF customer, you can apply to http://www.edfenergytrust.org.uk

If you are a Scottish Power customer, you can apply to https://www.sedhardship.fund

Finally, if you are a British Gas customer it has http://www.britishgasenergytrust.org.uk (The British Gas Energy Trust accepts applications from customers of all energy suppliers but if your energy supplier has its own energy fund, you will be expected to apply to that first.

National Minumum Wage and National Living Wage

From 1 April 2016 the National Minimum Wage rises from £6.70   to £7.20 for people aged 25 or over and will be known as the  National Living Wage.wpid-minimum-wage.jpg

The NMW will continue to apply for those aged 21 to 24, with the premium added on top for those aged 25 and over, taking the total hourly rate to the national living wage.

The first increase will be introduced in April 2016, however, when workers will receive £7.20 an hour.

That compares favourably to the current £6.50 an hour minimum wage for over 21s. The government argues that a lower wage must apply to younger people in order for them to “secure work and gain experience” and to “maximise the opportunities” available to them.

A further increase of the National Living Wage to £9.00 is planned for 2020.

For more information see:

https://www.livingwage.gov.uk/

 

ARE YOU RECEIVING BENEFITS? – REPORT THE CHANGE!

If you are working on National Living Wage and receiving any form of means tested benefit or a council tax reduction, make sure you contact the DWP or the local council.

The increase of pay rates on 1 April 2016  may affect the level of benefit you receive.

For example if you are working a few hours as well as receiving income support , universal credit or job seeker’s allowance or any other means tested benefit from the DWP, you should report the pay increase.

Similarly if you get either housing benefit or a council tax reduction from your local council you should report the increase.

The duty to report changes in come is one placed on all benefit claimants and may avoid an overpayment of benefit or an accusation of fraud.

If you risk losing either housing benefit or council tax reduction you may be able to apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment or a Discretionary Council Tax reduction – contact Nucleus or Ealing Advice  for more information.

Nucleus at Toynbee Hall and Capitalise Debt Conference

Debt and the future of debt advice were themes explored at the Capitalise Debt conference held in London on 26 February 2016, organised by Toynbee Hall and the  Capitalise Debt partnership. The partnership is funded by the Money Advice Service (MAS) and attracted money and legal advice workers from across the capital.

Alan Murdie, chairman of Nucleus held a workshop for the conference telling attendees that council tax debt is biggest debt problem of our time, with local taxation debt problems now over-taking credit cards as the number one area for enquiries.
The workshop included a new and original presentation ‘A Brief History of the Council Tax 1993-2016’ explaining how the situation has come about and how council tax has been transformed which was well received by the audience.

Other speakers included Caroline Sairkiewicz, Head of the UK Debt Advice Service for the Money Advice Service, Jahanara Hussein  from the Hyde Group speaking on behavioural economics,  Alex MacDermott from the Financial Conduct Authority speaking on preparing for FCA regulation, and Sim Ilyas, client service manager for Averture speaking on new developments on insolvency.