Put a freeze on bailiff visits and wheel-clamping  during the corona virus outbreak Bailiffs and wheel-clampers pose a risk to public health


 

Nucleus is warning that a freeze needs to be put on debt and parking enforcement during the corona virus outbreak.

Amid concerns about increasing numbers of people going into debt, reckless enforcement poses both the threat of accidental transmission and disruption by clamping the vehicles of NHS workers and emergency staff.

A moratorium needs to be placed upon using bailiffs to collect debts going around door-to-door for the whole period the corona virus outbreak and wheel clamping of vehicles needs to stop.

On Sunday 22 March 2020 shift workers from Bournemouth Hospital who parked in a closed leisure centre car-park near the hospital arrived back to find their vehicles had been clamped.

However, as yet no official announcement has been made concerning bailiffs or any freeze or suspension put on their actions.

 

The advice from Nucleus is not to allow bailiffs to enter your home and you have the right refuse entry. Also be conscious where you park your vehicle.

 

The risk of transmission of the corona virus is significant.

Enforcement agents who visit the homes of debtors have large case loads and make many calls at day, especially with bulk orders over council tax and utility debts.

Currently, it is not clear what steps the bailiff industry is taking, but at this time anyone making door-to-door calls or trying to enter homes pose a real risk of transmitting the infection.

Ultimately, creditors  have control of whether bailiffs are used. They should suspend debt collection during the outbreak.

 

Government advice

The risk of corona virus being spread by personal calls during the outbreak is clearly  given in  official Government advice saying you should self-isolate:

 

See: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance/stay-at-home-guidance-for-households-with-possible-coronavirus-covid-19-infection

  • you are over 70 years of age, have a weakened immune system, an underlying health condition, or are pregnant

 

with further calls for self-isolation being made to the rest of the population.

 

Existing Bailiff Guidance on the sick, elderly and vulnerable groups

Guidance for bailiffs that has been in place since the introduction of the National Standards for Enforcement Agents in April 2002 and updated  in April 2014

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/bailiffs-and-enforcement-agents-national-standards

These standards put particular emphasis on there being proper safeguards and protection for the following groups which overlap with at-risk groups.

 

 

Bailiffs should withdraw and contact the creditor if they encounter the following:

* the elderly; 

*people with a disability; 

* the seriously ill; 

* the recently bereaved; 

* single parent families; 

* pregnant women; 

* unemployed people; and, 

* those who have obvious difficulty in understanding, speaking or reading English. 

 

The role of creditors and authorities using bailiffs

Should a debtor be identified as vulnerable, creditors should be prepared to take control of the case, at any time, if necessary  and call off the bailiffs.

Paragraph 14 states:

Creditors must consider the appropriateness of referring debtors in potentially vulnerable situations to enforcement agents and, if they choose to proceed, must alert the enforcement agent to this situation.

Hotels and B & Bs expelling the homeless could face legal action

Injunctions may provide one remedy – and compensation may be
another
Travelodge and other hotels and provides of bed-and-breakfast who close
their doors and evict homeless occupiers could be opening themselves up
to legal claims.
A report published by The Guardian on-line on 25 March 2020 ‘Homeless
Travelodge Residents turned out on the Street’ states that hundreds of
residents of the budget hotel chain Travelodge, including homeless
families housed there by local councils, have been summarily turned out
on to the street after it closed its premises.
https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/coronavirus/homeless-travelodge-
residents-turned-out-on-to-street/
Homeless families will have been placed there by local authorities under
the Housing Act 1996.

One solution for local authorities may be to seek an injunction against
budget accommodation hotels and hostels that begin summarily evicting
people in this way.
Injunctions can be obtained from the County Court and High Court
including outside normal business hours, and may be granted over the
telephone. A form N244 needs to be completed and supported with a
statement of truth.
This could prevent the immediate eviction or enable a family to return.
Hotels that summarily eject people would also lay themselves open to
compensation claims and for reasonably foreseeable losses. Given the
possible risks to health, such claims could be substantial.
According to the report in the Guardian The chain issued letters to all
residents on Tuesday asking them to leave as soon as possible as they
were “temporarily closing the hotels until further notice” in the light of
the government’s extended coronavirus physical distancing guidelines
issued on Monday 23 March 2020.
The Guardian points out that the step of eviction flies in the face of
government guidance issued the same day which said that hotels looking
after homeless families who had been placed in temporary
accommodation at in hotels should not close.

CORONA VIRUS : CONTACT INFORMATION FOR HOMELESSNESS

Ealing Council Staff have confirmed that will continue to help people who are at risk of homelessness, as the law requires.  Click here to go to their site.

However, in the interests of customer and staff safety, the service will now be by telephone.

People who already have a homelessness application should e-mail or call their case officer on their normal number, for queries about their application.

There are also two generic numbers if case officers are already dealing with a call.  These are 020 8825 8881 and 020 8825 8888

They that you please contact us for urgent matters only, at this busy time.

If you are in temporary accommodation provided by the Council and there is a problem, use the usual contact number 020 8825 8866.  This includes queries about Council hostels.

If you have a query about your Housing Register application, use 020 8825 7274 (there will be further updates about social housing lettings, as the situation develops)

If you are at threatened with homelessness but do not have an existing homelessness application, you need to use a new number 020 8825 6444.  This phone line will take you through to a team of officers.  If the line is busy, it means all five officers are dealing with a customer, so you will need to call again.  Being threatened with homelessness means that you are going to lose your home within the next 8 weeks.

New rules for benefits : following Covid 19 breakout

Child poverty action have just released  info on benefit changes to help claimants

For people already claiming support

Special arrangements will be in place for people in receipt of benefits who cannot attend reassessments or jobcentre appointments because they are required to stay at home or are infected by coronavirus.

The arrangements are:

  • disabled and sick claimants who cannot attend a reassessment for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit will continue to receive their payments while their assessment is rearranged
  • people who need to claim ESA or Universal Credit because of coronavirus will not be required to produce a fit note.
  • when claimants tell us in good time that they are staying at home or that they have been diagnosed with coronavirus, they will not be sanctioned – we will review their conditionality requirements in their claimant commitment, to ensure they are reasonable
  • claimants who are staying at home as a result of coronavirus will have their mandatory work search and work availability requirements removed to account for a period of sickness

For people who need to make a new claim for financial support

We understand people who are required to stay at home or are infected by coronavirus may need financial support, and quickly.

We announce that:

  • those affected by coronavirus will be able to apply for Universal Credit and can receive up to a month’s advance up front without physically attending a jobcentre
  • the 7 waiting days for ESA for new claimants will not apply if they are suffering from coronavirus or are required to stay at home – so it will be payable from day one

Employees and self-employed people

To make sure people in work can take the necessary time off to stay at home if they are suffering from coronavirus or to prevent its spread, changes have been made to Statutory Sick Pay and how Universal Credit supports self-employed claimants.

This includes:

  • people who cannot work due to coronavirus and are eligible for Statutory Sick Pay will get it from day one, rather than from the fourth day of their illness – we intend to legislate so this measure applies retrospectively from 13 March 2020
  • Statutory Sick Pay will be payable to people who are staying at home on government advice, not just those who are infected, from 13 March 2020 after regulations were laid on 12 March 2020 – employers are urged to use their discretion about what evidence, if any, they ask for
  • if employees need to provide evidence to their employer that they need to stay at home due to coronavirus, they will be able to get it from the NHS 111 Online instead of having to get a fit note from their doctor – this is currently under development and will be made available soon
  • self-employed claimants on Universal Credit who are required to stay at home or are ill as a result of coronavirus will not have a Minimum Income Floor (an assumed level of income) applied for a period of time while affected

Businesses

The government wants to ensure businesses are supported to deal with the temporary economic impacts of an outbreak of coronavirus.

Employers with fewer than 250 employees will be able to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay for employees unable to work because of coronavirus. This refund will be for up to 2 weeks per employee.

Find out about other government support for businesses.

Temporary closure of Drop ins from 18th March 2020

To protect the safety of our clients and staff we have taken  the decision to stop face to face advice  appointments and drop in for the next few weeks.
You can ring us  for advice as usual and we will try and help with the usual problems.

Stay safe … and share any good fortune that comes your way ( and any spare toilet paper!)

Body-worn cameras to curb aggressive bailiffs

A welcome announcement has come from the Ministry of Justice.

People in debt will be given greater protection from rogue bailiffs as the government on 22nd July 2019 announced the introduction of compulsory body-worn cameras. This will be helpful in all cases of complaint and  wrongful enforcement.

See: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/body-worn-cameras-to-curb-aggressive-bailiffs

Missing footage

 Obviously, it will not look good for enforcement agents if the relevant film is lost or proves of poor quality, in the event of a claim.  

 

It is accepted in English law that a failure to produce a relevant document or piece of evidence in a civil case may be construed against a party.

 

 There have already been cases reported where enforcement firms have settled claims where body camera footage has been found to be unavailable.

 

Rogues without cameras

Moreover it will contribute towards dealing with the problem of persons  not regulated at all who pose as civil enforcement agents. These characters who lack proper credentials, ID and certainly won’t have a camera to film themselves. 

They will also want to avoid wanting to be filmed by householders (increasing numbers of households have their own CCTV facilities and people can make their own films if they wish).

In all cases the best protection is that debt collectors and bailiffs cannot force entry to private homes for civil debts (save with criminal fines).

Use of films should be restricted 

In cases where such footage is obtained and retained, care will also have to be taken with the use that images obtained are only used for legitimate regulatory purpose, and not for other commercial purposes 

 

e.g. selling to television companies or used as casual entertainment amongst the industry or creditors. 

Breach of privacy claims for wrongful filming 

Such shows can give rise to successful claims for breach of privacy  as shown in Ali & Anor v Channel 5 Broadcast Ltd [2018] EWHC 298 (Ch)). If footage obtained legitimately is misused , leaked or people are identified in public, a claim may arise.

In recent years there have been a growing number of broadcasts and television programmes intent on turning debt collection and enforcement law into entertainment, including footage filmed with the help of body cameras.

The High Court awarded damages to a couple who found their eviction featuring into an episode of Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away the inclusion of the Claimants’ private information on the television show was a breach of privacy and that the Defendant’s disclosure of what Arnold J found to be “fairly sensitive” private information to 9.65 million viewers, awarding each Claimant £10,000. 

The Court of Appeal upheld these rulings in April 2019.

Essentially, as digital images, body camera obtained footage will be demandable under Data Protection provisions and the GDPR  Directive will also apply to material from 18 May 2018.
In addition to Data Protection and GDPR, firms such as bailiffs  collecting taxes or fines for government, the filming will also fall under the remit of the Office of Surveillance Commissioners (OSC) which oversees the conduct of covert surveillance and covert human intelligence sources by public authorities.

Ban on tenant fees, including admin and agency fees: Tenant Fees Act (2019)

The Tenant Fees Act will come into force on 1st June 2019.

From 1st June, all tenant payments will be banned by default unless the Act specifically permits them. .

Summary :

  • tenancy deposits limited to 5 weeks’ rent
  • holding deposits limited to 1 week’s rent

landlords Face fines of £5,000 for first offence (civil) to £30,000 for second offence (criminal)

What’s in the Act?

Here are the key new rules contained in the Act.

1. All Payments Prohibited Except Rent, Deposits and Three Exceptions

Landlords or their agents will no longer be allowed to charge tenants for anything except: the rent, the tenancy deposit and a holding deposit (more on these below).

This means you will no longer be allowed to ask tenants to cover the cost of their own referencing. You also won’t be able to charge check-in, inventory or admin fees.

2. The 3 Exemptions

The only exceptions are for contract amendments and two kinds of ‘default’ fees, when the tenancy agreement is broken.

(a) Late Rent Fees

Landlords can still charge fees for rent payments that are over 2 weeks late, these are a maximum of 3% plus the Bank of England base interest rate on an annual basis.

(b) Lost Keys

Landlords can still charge tenants for losing their keys (or other security device if your property is high-tech),  they should provide evidence of the cost to you.

Remember, both default fees will need to be included in the tenancy agreement for you to be able to charge them, and previous rules about fair clauses will still apply.

(c) Changes to Tenancy

Landlords can charge up to £50 for making changes to the terms of the tenancy. For example, adding a new tenant to the tenancy or allowing a pet. This exception does not apply to renewals or changes to the length of the tenancy.

3. Cap on Tenancy Deposits

Tenancy or security deposits will be limited to 5 weeks’ rent for annuals rents under £50,000.

4. Cap on Holding Deposits

Likewise, holding deposits will be limited to 1 week’s rent.

5. New Rules on Holding Deposits

The holding deposit must be returned to the tenant: either in payment back to the tenant, or being put towards the first rental payment, or the security deposit.

There are some exceptions. In these cases the landlord can keep the holding deposits:

  • The tenant withdraws
  • The tenant doesn’t take all reasonable steps to enter the tenancy
  • The tenant fails a right to rent check
  • The tenant provides misleading information which materially affects their suitability to rent the property

6. Repayment of Holding Deposits

Landlords will only be able to hold the holding deposit for 15 days unless another ‘deadline’ date is agree in writing.
After the deadline, the holding deposit must be repaid within 7 days according to the above rules (see 5).

Hold my deposit with care please!

The holding deposit can be repaid to the tenant, or it can be put towards the rent or tenancy deposit.

What Are the Penalties to Landlords Who Charge Tenant Fees?

Landlord (or agents) who charge illegal fees will face paying huge fines : £5,000. If the offence is repeated within five years, there would be either a criminal offence or a fine of £30,000.

Local Trading Standards organisations will enforce the ban.

The rules will apply to all existing tenancies from 1st June 2020. So If this tenancy runs past 1st June 2020, then  the new laws apply  ie the deposit needs be less than the maximum five weeks’ rent before that date. You should get the excess back

The following is can still be charged as Part of the Rent?

  • Council tax
  • Utilities, e.g. gas, water, electricity
  • Television license
  • Communication services (e.g. broadband)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

sting tenancies from 1st June 2020. So If this tenancy runs past 1st June 2020, then  the new laws apply  ie the deposit needs be less than the maximum five weeks’ rent before that date. You should get the excess back

The following is can still be charged as Part of the Rent?

  • Council tax
  • Utilities, e.g. gas, water, electricity
  • Television license
  • Communication services (e.g. broadband)

Do you have a younger Partner ? Protect your Right to Pension Credit.

From 15/5/2019, mixed-age couples will be excluded from entitlement to Pension Credit.
At present, and until that date, mixed aged couples can claim the more generous Pension Credit as long as the member of the couple above retirement age makes the claim. They can also claim Housing Benefit(without the Benefit Cap or the bedroom tax) rather than Universal Credit. There are no extra elements for being a pensioner under Universal Credit, making clients worse off.

Clients who claim either Pension Credit or Housing Benefit, before this date will remain on those benefits for as long as they are still entitled. They would also be able to claim the other benefit in the future as well.

As both these benefits can be backdated for 3 months, then in effect couples may be able to make claims under the existing rules on or before 13/8/2019. DWP guidance confirms this.   The guidance also confirms that if a couple are entitled to Pension Credit/ the more generous form of Housing Benefit on 15/5/2019, they can continue to be entitled as long the conditions for at least one of those benefits remain met.

AGE UK warn this could leave some couples £7,000 per year worse off. Advisers should consider looking out for clients who might be entitled and advise them to make a claim for Pension Credit/ Housing Benefit now.

DWP research predicts- how couples are affected.

Year            No.of couples Savings
2019/20     15,000                      £45m
2020/21     30,000                     £130m
2021/22     40,000                     £220m
2022/23     50,000                     £315m
2023/24     60,000                     £385m

Protect your pension rights. If you currently receive pension credit (or start receiving it by 14 May) you’ll carry on getting it even if you have a younger partner.
Call the Pension Service on 0800 99 1234  or claim on line or if you live locally contact us for more help.

Have you been paid the right amount?

You are thrilled. You have a new job and everything is going well until pay day. You see the money hit your bank account, but you have no idea how it was calculated.
If you are an employee (more later), your employer has to give you a pay slip either on the day you are paid or before. It needs to be clear and tell you the gross and net pay, and it should say what HMRC income tax code has been applied to your pay.

It is common today for employers to use an on line portal to communicate with employees. There has been no case law on these yet, and it is not clear if giving you access to the portal meets the requirement that the employer has to give employees a pay slip. What if you are off sick with no access to the portal? Or away on business? Or a remote worker with no access to the portal? In these cases it is reasonable to ask your employer to email you the pay slip.

Pay day at last !

As of April 2019, there is good news for workers, zero hour workers and agency workers. The same obligations to employees will extend to you, and the employer must give you a pay slip. In addition, from April 2019 if you are paid hourly, your pay slip must state your hourly rate and the number of hours for which you are being paid and the pay period. Again, if you are unhappy with the method used by the employer to communicate the pay slip, remember that the obligation is on the employer to give it to you, and ask for it to be emailed and open an email folder to keep them safe.
A more obvious point is also check that its right! We get a surprising number of clients who do not read their pay slips. Make sure you understand what all the deductions are for and what the abbreviations mean – they can be really confusing. It is so much easier to sort out mistakes early on and don’t be afraid to ask about anything you do not understand. It will usually be HR who deals with this and not your line manager, but he or she will be able to give you a contact if you don’t have one.
If you keep asking your employer for a pay slip and it doesn’t make one
available, you can refer it to ACAS for Early Conciliation. This is really easy and follow this link: https://ec.acas.org.uk/Submission/Create. In your employer still doesn’t give you a pay slip you can refer them to the Employment Tribunal, but make sure you do this within 3 months of when you were paid.

The importance of treating housing costs as priority debts. Effective debt advice prevents homelessness.

By Alan Murdie

It is over 10 years since Nucleus took the decision to specialise in debt advice, ahead of financial crisis of 2008 (then known as the ‘credit crunch’). Traditionally, housing was one of the key areas of the work for Nucleus, and over this last decade we have seen it evolve into an area of debt law where money advice is an integral part of the support and services provided to prevent homelessness.

Housing debt….top of the list and the bottom line

Debt is a multi-headed beast that blights lives of many in the UK. Its most serious effects arise when it causes homelessness, directly or indirectly.
As any money adviser worth their salt will state, housing costs – rent and mortgage payments – are the top priority which must be paid ahead of any other liability. Housing costs are the most important ones to meet. Falling into debt with these will put your home at risk. And if the roof above your head is lost all other debts and liabilities become irrelevant.

Advice that needs repeating
Although this may seem obvious, this is a lesson that needs repeating.
It’s not always grasped because losing your home appears initially to be a long drawn out process but one that progressively speeds up. Easy to miss a rent or mortgage instalment when stressed or ill, undergoing a family trauma or a relationship break-up. Unfortunately, housing debts soon increase, just as a car speeds up like a car careering down a hill. Putting a brake on this process and getting the
vehicle into reverse is what effective debt and housing advice seeks to do, to prevent the otherwise inevitable crash in the form of a possession order or eviction.
The bottom line is housing costs need to be paid first ahead of other debts.
….And creditors need to realise this too

It is a message that needs to be realised more widely, and not just those in debt. Creditors, both private sector and governmental need to recognise this too. One reason why people miss out on meeting housing costs and debts is often that they are being pressurised into making other payments – what debt advisers identify as ‘non-priority’ debts.

The message needs to get across to government departments, council tax collectors, fuel companies, credit controllers and debt collectors large and small that chasing non-priority debts too harshly may end up causing homelessness through mortgage or rent areas, with end result that they get no money back either.
The better-informed creditors and branches of local government realise this, as do the more responsible financial institutions, and some are taking positive steps. But the lesson does need to keep filtering down the lower levels of many organisations who communicate directly with debtors and ourselves when acting on behalf of our clients.
Misunderstanding of the debt law and procedures and often unthinking assumptions and even prejudice against debtors is still surprisingly widespread. Tackling these are among the many goals of Nucleus and Ealing Advice with our work in this vital sector in 2019.