Ministry of Justice – Proposals for Reform

MOJ consultation answers due in by 24th January.

The consultation was launched on the 13th December taking into account the Christmas and new year break it leaves little time for consideration of such a very serious issue. It can be seen at.

View this link

They propose reducing the three months within which an application must be made to 30 days for procurement and six weeks for planning.

They have considered two proposals which would prohibit applications for oral hearings after leave for judicial review has been refused on reading the papers “to address the concern that the unfounded or misconceived cases are taking up too much time and causing too much uncertainty”:

  • The first would remove the right to an oral renewal in cases where there has already been a prior judicial process involving a hearing considering substantially the same issue as raised in the Judicial Review claim;
  • The second would remove the right to an oral renewal in cases which the Judge, on written submissions, has determined to be totally without merit.

The Welfare Reform Act has given very wide discretion to jobcentre officials to make decisions about the payment of benefits, the application of sanctions and the repayment of overpayments,  and the Local Government Finance Bill gives wide discretion to local authorities about the creation and administration of council tax benefits. It is to be expected that judicial review and creation of consistent procedures by Judges will be needed.

The most common failure among jobcentre and local authority officials is in failing to fully take into account the relevant facts in cases of vulnerable citizens who are impoverished by the benefit system.  Therefore unreasonable decisions are frequently made. These can normally be dealt with by the tribunals but with so much new benefit law coming into effect there will be a need to review those decisions and may be to take them to the Supreme Court. There should be no bar to that imposed by the MOJ.

Council Tax Changes – Getting Council Tax Benefit? You won’t after April 1st 2013.

Council tax benefit is being abolished – and 90%  of people still do not know. Benefit claimants will have to apply for local reductions – if they exist in your area.

After April 1st 2013 there will be no more council tax benefit and many people, including all adults on benefits will be required to pay at least part of the local tax bill on their home. For example, in Ealing some 33 000 people currently receiving full council tax benefit will lose it after   1st April 2013.

The only exceptions will be pensioners who will continue to get full support, and full-time students and the severely mentally impaired who are exempt from council tax.

Instead of council tax benefit under the Local Government Act 2011 and the Local Government Finance Act 2012, councils have to bring in in a system generally known as ‘local support’ to reduce the bills of those on low incomes.

Instead of national Government setting the council tax benefit level, each council now sets its own local level of support which it has to pay. Each council should have decided by 31st January 2013 who will be getting some help and who will not. There will be winners and losers – mostly losers among the unemployed and those on benefits.

Each local scheme will be different, effectively 326 different schemes for 326 different councils in England. Council tax benefit will remain in place in Scotland  and Wales.

The DWP are to recover debts asking employers to make deductions.

14 March 2013

From April 2013 the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) is introducing the Direct Earnings Attachment (DEA). 

This will allow the DWP to recover debts by asking employers to make deductions from their employees’ earnings and pay those deductions to the DWP without the need for court action.

All debts owed, including Social Fund loans, will be covered. DEAs will be used for collecting debts from people in work where a voluntary arrangement has not been possible. It is expected that the DWP will only use DEAs when people do not get in touch or are unwilling to agree a recovery plan.

The DWP will pilot the new process from April 2013 by randomly selecting cases. Letters will be sent to ask the recipient to make contact so that payment options can be discussed. The letters will explain the possible outcomes if no response or if acceptable recovery arrangements cannot be agreed. These will include the possibility of a DEA. The new process will be monitored and evaluated during the pilot.

The DWP plans to implement the process fully by April 2014.

Supreme Court overturns key test on homeless people and vulnerability

The Supreme Court has today issued a landmark ruling in three linked appeals over when homeless people are to be considered ‘vulnerable’ under the Housing Act 1996 and therefore in priority need.

 

Summary Judgement

Full judgment

 

A key effect of the judgment is said to be that the test set out in the 1998 Court of Appeal case of Pereira has now been overturned.

The background to the cases is that under s. 188 of the 1996 Act local authorities have a duty to secure that accommodation is made available for applicants who are homeless and have priority need.

Priority need is defined in section 189(1) of the 1996 Act and includes at paragraph (c) persons who are “vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason, or with whom such a person resides or might reasonably be expected to reside.”

The appellants in the linked Supreme Court appeals of Hotak v London Borough of Southwark, Kanu v London Borough of Southwark and Johnson v Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council had applied for accommodation on the basis that they had priority need.

The factual situation in the three cases was as follows:

  • The first appellant (Hotak) had very significant learning difficulties and symptoms of depression and PTSD. He was cared for by his brother. Southwark refused his application on the grounds that, if homeless, he would be provided with the necessary support by his brother.
  • The second appellant (Kanu) had multiple physical problems as well as psychotic symptoms and suicidal ideation. He was deemed by Southwark not to be in priority need because he would not be at a greater risk of injury or detriment than an ordinary street homeless person due to the ability of his wife and son to fend for the whole household.
  • The third appellant (Johnson) claimed to be vulnerable because he had become addicted to heroin while in prison and was in poor physical and mental health. Solihull found that he was not in priority need on the basis that he would not be less able to fend for himself than an ordinary homeless person.

The first and third appellants were unsuccessful in the courts below. The second appellant succeeded in the County Court but lost in the Court of Appeal.

Three issues arose in the subsequent appeals to the Supreme Court:

(1) Does the assessment of whether an applicant is vulnerable for the purposes of s. 189(1)(c) of the 1996 Act involve an exercise in comparability, and, if so, by reference to which group of people is vulnerability to be determined?

(2) When assessing vulnerability, is it permissible to take into account the support which would be provided by a family member to an applicant if he were homeless?

(3) What effect, if any, does the public sector equality duty (PSED) under s. 149 of the Equality Act 2010 have on the determination of priority need under the 1996 Act in the case of an applicant with a disability or any other protected characteristic?

In the Supreme Court ruling Lord Neuberger – with whom Lord Clarke, Lord Wilson and Lord Hughes agreed – dismissed the first appellant’s (Hotak’s