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Accessible legal tips, know-how and news for anyone with a complaint or legal issue from Stephen Gold, author of The Return of Breaking Law, the book

Wednesday 28 February 2018

New Laws For Homeless

Homeless or threatened with homelessness? Some good news for a change. You can demand more help from the housing department of your local council as from 3 April 2018 when the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 comes into force (through commencement order SI/2018/167) and applies only to England.  A code of guidance on how councils should discharge their new duties towards you  has been issued by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government which you can access at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/homelessness-code-of-guidance-for-local-authorities  It's well worth doing so. You will there see spelt out  in language which is almost digestible without the aid of medication what is expected of councils.

Councils will have to begin giving help earlier than is currently required. That's because you will be treated as threatened with homelessness if it is likely you will be actually made homeless within 56 days, compared with the present 28 days. You will also be treated as threatened with homelessness if you are an assured shorthold tenant and have received a valid notice under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 which requires you to leave within 56 days. 

Provided the council reckons you have a priority need and have not intentionally made yourself homeless they they must secure you suitable accommodation. That's the law now and will remain the law. But the situation is tough on those who do not have a priority need like most  single persons and the intentionally homeless. The new law imposes duties on councils to help even the non-priority and intentionally homeless who have been neglected for too long. 

The first new duty to those eligible is to assess your case and to give you the assessment in writing. It will look at the circumstances in which you came to be homeless or under threat, your housing needs and what support is necessary. The council is also to try and agree a housing plan with you. If there's no agreement on the plan then the council must record any steps it considers it reasonable for you to take and what steps it will take itself. 

There is a revised separate duty towards an eligible person threatened with homelessness which will be to take reasonable steps to ensure that accommodation does not cease to be available to you. Those steps could extend to providing some accommodation. When looking at what steps are reasonable, regard will be had to that assessment I mentioned. This duty will normally run for 56 days but it could be longer for the recipient of a section 21 notice who remains where they are when the notice expires and awaits court proceedings to evict them.

Once the council is satisfied that you are actually homeless, there is a new duty to take reasonable steps to help you secure suitable accommodation for at least six months. That duty will last for 56 days unless it is brought an end by the council at an earlier date in one of the situations that are specified by the legislation.  The duty will not arise if the council refers you to another housing authority because you lack a local connection with the council to which you have gone for help. 

Decisions by the council on theses duties will generally be open to review at your option. Where you reckon the council is not doing its job, you should seek help from an advice agency such as the CAB or local law centre or you may be eligible for legal aid. You will find others sources of help in Breaking Law. Shelter gives free housing advice in any London borough on 0344 515 1540 and some legal advice for those who pass a means test may be available from the Legal Aid Agency on 0345 345 4345. Good luck.

Sunday 25 February 2018

Litigants In Person: Must Read

If, despite the fact you could not tell the difference between a left leg and  a right arm, you performed surgery on yourself, nobody would expect you to do as good a job as a surgeon. But if you acted for yourself in civil legal proceedings, the court would generally expect you to follow the rules of procedure as correctly as a trained lawyer. Or would it?

I am afraid so. That's clear from judgments last week by the Supreme Court.* Three of the Justices agreed that a litigant in person was not entitled to greater indulgence in complying with the procedural rules and practice directions - they are to be found in and with the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 - than their opponent who was represented by lawyers. Any advantage enjoyed by a litigant in person, they said, imposed a corresponding disadvantage on the other side which had  a lawyer. It was reasonable to expect a litigant in person to familiarise themselves with the rules which applied to any step they were about to take unless the rules and practice directions were 'particularly inaccessible or obscure.' These Justices were in no doubt that what the litigant in person in the case had needed to check up on if he had chosen to do so was readily accessible on the internet and elsewhere. 

You may find as a litigant in person that your claim or defence has been thrown out by the court or you face the treat of that happening because you have fallen foul of a procedural requirement. Well, you can always have a go at running the argument that  you are a litigant in person and that the requirement was buried away in a document which was 'particularly inaccessible or obscure' though don't hold your breath. And in a borderline case where you are asking the court to forgive your transgression - it's known as an application for relief from the sanction the court has imposed because of your  mistake- the fact you are on your own may just tip the balance so never be shy about emphasising it.

The Supreme Court rulings concerned the strictest type of procedural requirement over service of a claim form where the court's approach may be different to that on a relief from sanction application.  The litigant in person in the case had  failed to serve the claim form on the other side in an approved manner. He had faxed it to them when he was not entitled to do so and by the time he discovered the error, it was too late to remedy it. The claim form was by then invalid and it was not possible for a fresh claim to be made because time had expired for starting claims of that kind. My book Breaking Law covers the time limits for starting proceedings.

Breaking Law (here he goes again) is oozing with material which is aimed at preventing those litigating without a lawyer to avoid procedural traps - and much else. 

* The case was Barton v Wright Hassall LLP [2018] UKSC 12

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Employment Tribunal Awards To Increase

If you were thinking of procuring your unfair dismissal from work, it could pay you to hold on just a little bit longer. The amount of compensation to which you would be entitled if an employment tribunal decided that your boss had broken employment law is increased for dismissals and other employer transgressions which take place on or after 6 April 2018. 

The compensation is reviewed annually in line with the inevitable increase in the retail prices index. The relevant increase for September 2016 to September 2017 was 3.9% and so the Employment Rights (Increase of Limits) Order 2018 SI 2018/194 reflects the increase in the new compensation figures. For example,the maximum compensatory award for unfair dismissal jumps from £80,541 to £83,682 and the amount of one week's pay for the purposes of calculating redundancy payments and the basic award for unfair dismissal rises from £489 to £508.

Also on 6 April 2019 new laws come in which will compel employers to particularise in pay statements the number of hours worked where you are time-paid and this and other pay slip requirements will be extend to all workers. For more, watch this space.

Sunday 18 February 2018

The Curse of Interest on Business Debts: New Laws

If you aren't in business then I suggest you do something more worthwhile than reading this post - like washing your hair or cutting your toenails, or both. It's about interest which one business has to pay to another business when it is late in settling a debt. The terms and conditions of the creditor  business may dictate the interest rate for which the debtor business is stung. Where it is silent or the creditor wishes to take advantage of it then the The Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998 kicks in and allows for statutory interest at 8% over bank base rate for goods and services debts and a fixed enforcement prize to the creditor (£40 for debts under £1,000, £70 for £1,000 plus and £100 for £10,000 and over). 

As from 26 February 2018 the representative bodies for businesses like trade associations are given the power to challenge ‘grossly unfair’ terms and practices of creditor businesses relating to the date or period for payment of a debt, the right to interest for late payment and compensation for late payment by way of a court injunction application. This is thanks to the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Amendment) Regulations 2018 SI2018/117 which are themselves ridiculously late in being given the kiss of life following an EU directive and previous domestic legalisation which should have gone further than it did.

Tax Trouble Medicine

Oh dear, you didn't get your tax return on time, did you? And your friends at Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs have started to talk about penalties and more penalties and more, more penalties and you haven't got the cash to pay the tax you should have paid by 31 January 2018. Don't stick your head in the sand. Go to http://www.breakinglaw.co.uk/search/label/tax%20penalties  It might just help you.

If you decide to appeal against the imposition of a tax penalty or assessment then now you can do it online so that it's just as pleasurable as buying from Amazon or cursing the Revenue on Facebook.  Go to https://www.gov.uk/government/news/appeal-your-tax-bill-online immediately after you have finished your egg and chips this evening. And almost as exciting, from this Spring a trial begins of video hearings of appeals to the tax tribunal. You may have the opportunity to participate in your appeal from the comfort of your kitchen or the table by the from door of your local Cafe Nero. Do remember, though, to dress with relative smartness - nothing too expensive or they may think you can pay the penalties yesterday - and don't hit your head on the web cam when you bow to the judge.

Sunday 4 February 2018

Power of Attorney Registration: Money Back!

You could be in the money. Well, a little bit of money.

The fee for registration of a power of attorney was reduced on 1 April 2017 by £28 to £82 
(see http://www.breakinglaw.co.uk/search/label/powers%20of%20attorney). The fee should have been reduced earlier as the cost of dealing with the registration process diminished and this was not reflected in the fee which was being charged before the reduction. The result is that if you paid a fee between 1 April 2013 and 31 March 2017 which is the period over which an excessive fee was being charged, you will qualify for a refund. 

You can apply online - visit https://www.gov.uk/power-of-attorney-refund and enjoy yourself. Or,if you fancy a natter before Loose Women comes on, call 0300 456 0300 and select option 6 but I fancy there will be a call charge.

Friday 2 February 2018

No Pets In Flat Legal Challenge; the Fate of Vinnie

No pets 'ere, thank you very much ! It's not uncommon to see this in a lease or tenancy agreement.  If you agree to it and the lessor or landlord hasn't gone on to say that you can ask for consent which won't be unreasonably withheld, then you are stuck with the prohibition. 

Say the lessor or landlord has in fact agreed not to unreasonably withheld consent. Then they cannot act unreasonably. Saying 'no' to a herd of elephants in a two bedroomed flat would probably be more than reasonable. 

The buyers of a flat in London's Limehouse were faced with a prohibition in the long lease they acquired in these terms:

No dog bird cat or other animal or reptile shall be kept...without the written consent...

Nothing about not unreasonably withholding it. That consent was needed from the development owners plus the management company. The buyers wanted consent for their young Yorkshire/Maltese terror Vinnie to live in the flat.  The owners gave consent but not the management company. When Vinnie was installed the management company obtained a county court injunction compelling the buyers to remove the dog. The injunction was challenged by the buyers in the High Court which gave its judgment this week. 

The majority of lessees in the development were against pets being kept there. And so the management company's policy was to refuse consent unless there were special reasons such as a guide dog being needed to live in. In this case, the buyers had said that they wanted Vinnie in their flat because the dog was part of the family and there were therapeutic reasons too for Vinnie's presence which would be supported by a medical report. Alas, that medical report never came. 

A challenge to a 'no' decision where consent like this is needed can normally be mounted on the grounds that the refusal was effectively decided in advance or, to put it more dryly in lawyer-speak, on the grounds that the refusal was an illegitimate predetermination to reach a particular decision (and put that in your letter to your negative management company and tell them to insert it into their pipe and smoke it) and also that it was unreasonable or irrational. 

But the High Court was having none of it. It ruled that it was implied that the management company would operate a reasonable process in deciding consent requests:  but no more and no less. In considering requests, it had been quite reasonable to take account of a policy as set by a majority of the lessees that dogs would not be permitted unless there were special circumstances. That did not amount to an illegitimate predetermination.

The challenge failed and Vinnie must go.

The case is Victory Place Management Co Ltd v Kuehn and another [2018] EWHC 132 (CH).