Reforming the law on divorce

Erin Dean (Student)

Currently in order for a couple to get a divorce, they must prove that their marriage has irretrievably broken down. To do this they must prove one of the following five facts: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years separation (with consent) or five years separation (without consent). These grounds (particularly adultery and unreasonable behaviour) have often created further conflict between the parties and damaged children by undermining the relationship further after the divorce.

Aidan Jones, OBE, has noted that the process for divorce is damaging to a child’s welfare and makes it harder for the couple to create good relationships as co-parents due to the element of having to show that the relationship has irretrievably broken down.

The UK Government has since proposed reforms to the process on how to prove that the marriage has broken down by keeping the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage as the only ground without the need to prove the other facts. Hopefully, by not having to prove the reason for the irretrievable breakdown, the adversarial aspect of the process can be significantly reduced.  Other reforms include creating a joint application for divorce, removing the ability for a party to reject the divorce, and putting in a time frame of 6 months from the first to the final stage of divorce to avoid dragging it out.

Divorce can be a very damaging and distressing thing to go through for both the couple and any family involved and so it is important that the process is as easy and smooth as it can be. This is why it is important that the government are making these changes. These changes are due to come into force later this year.

Here at SULAC we can advise on divorce, financial affairs and children applications. If you would like an appointment please call 01782 294800 or email sulac@staffs.ac.uk

Average house price hits record high of £255,000

Lauren Foster (Student)

In December 2021, house prices reached an average of £253,822 according to Nationwide. A standard sized house has increased in value by around £23,902 since January 2021. This is the largest increase of house prices since 2006.

Despite this, it has been predicted that the market will slow over 2022 due to the stamp duty holiday ending and because of the Covid-19 variants

Nationwide’s chief economist Robert Gardner said

“The Omicron variant could reinforce the slowdown if it leads to a weaker labour market,”

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed how people live which has impacted the housing market. It has influenced buyers to substitute their homes in large cities, to live in suburban and rural areas. London has appeared to be the prime city affected by this.

The increase in interest rates will also affect the housing market.

The Bank of England increased their borrowing interest rates from 0.1% to 0.25% at the beginning of December 2021, in an effort to tackle the rise of inflation. The consequence of this meant less people can join the property ladder. The correlation of increased interest rates, and people being prevented from work due to the pandemic, will mean that people may be discouraged from buying homes. House prices have also risen yet the growth of income has slowed.

The data statistics below represent the average increase of house prices across the UK, this was collated from 1973-December 2021.

  • Northern Ireland: Up 12.1% to £167,479
  • South West: Up 11.5% to £294,845
  • Outer South East: Up 11.3% to £329,869
  • North West: Up 11.2% to £196,806
  • Yorkshire and Humberside: Up 10.8% to £190,855
  • East Anglia: Up 10.4% to £268,146
  • East Midlands: Up 10.4% to £221,813
  • Scotland: Up 10.1% to £172,605
  • West Midlands: Up 9.4% to £227,031
  • Outer metropolitan area of London: Up 8.8% to £410,992
  • North: Up 7.7% to £148,105
  • London: Up 4.2% to £507,230

Here at SULAC we can help with any property related issues. If you would like an appointment please call 01782 294800 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

Domestic Abuse Victims Facing Homelessness

Aryan Sharma (Student)

According to the Guardian, domestic abuse has caused nearly 1 in 6 new homelessness cases, from April to June of 2021.

Data from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities further suggests that even as the overall amount of homeless people is decreasing, the amount of domestic abuse cases are only going up. According to research, in 2021, out of approximately 34,830 households that were considered homeless, about 5,590 of them were caused by domestic abuse.

Representatives from Women’s Aid believe that it is absolutely unfair for victims to have to make the choice between living with an abuser or facing homelessness. Further research by Women’s Aid in 2020, reported that most women living with an abuser, had said that the abuse had gotten worse during the pandemic. According to estimations, it would take an annual investment of at least £409m, in order to support victims and organise domestic abuse services across the country.

A spokesperson from the Local Government Association stated that the recent domestic abuse bill was more focused on accommodation, rather than any community-based support services. These support services are vital as victims need more support than just accommodation. They would need accepting communities, valuable job opportunities, and safe places to grow from.

A change in the new domestic abuse bill could allow victims to leave their homes, while also having a reliable place to go to, without the risk of domestic abuse.

It is no secret that homeless people have had to suffer over the years, due to poor weather conditions or ineffective government policies, or even a lack of support from local authorities and organizations. With the COVID-19 pandemic only increasing domestic abuse cases, homeless people and domestic abuse victims need support now, more than ever.

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) provides free legal advice on matters regarding domestic abuse, or housing issues. We are working remotely during the pandemic and interviews are conducted via Microsoft Teams. If you would like to make an appointment, please call us at 01782 294800 or email us at SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

Are Employers Perpetuating the Gender Pay Gap by Asking About Salary History?

Lauren Foster (Student)

The Fawcett Society is the UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights at work, at home and in public life. They are asking employers to stop asking prospective employees about their salary history.

The Fawcett Society stated that asking about previous pay in interviews can contribute to keeping women on lower wages.

They presented a survey of 2,200 working adults and found 47% of people had been asked about past salaries. Also, 61% of women said the questions asked had an effected their confidence to negotiate better pay.

Jemima Olchawski, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society told the BBC that unless more is done, the gender pay gap will not be closed until at least 2050.

The survey of the Fawcett Society also found that 77% of people felt their salaries should reflect the value of the quality of work they do. The reality is that 58% of women and 54% of men felt salary history questions meant they were offered a lower wage than they might otherwise have been paid. 

Only a quarter of people that have participated in the survey felt that pay should be based on past salaries, in contrast to 80% of respondents who felt that their pay should be based on their ability to carry out their job role regarding skills and responsibilities.

The campaign group found 77% of people felt their salaries should reflect the quality of the work they do.

The Fawcett Society stressed that more needed to be done by both the government and employers to tackle issues like discrimination within the workplace.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone on the grounds of the following:

  • Age,
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage or civil partnership,
  • Pregnancy and maternity,
  • Race,
  • Religion/belief,
  • Gender,
  • Sexual orientation

Here at SULAC we offer free advice on all matters relating to employment and discrimination. If you would like an appointment please call 01782 294458 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

 

Land Registry announces first mandatory digital process

Jack Marshall (Student)

The digital age is now upon us. Previously if conveyancers wanted to make changes to an existing title it would have been sufficient for them to provide a scanned copy of the form

From November 2022 it is compulsory to use the digital registration process. This is significant as it is the first time the Land Registry have made a digital channel mandatory.

Currently, fewer than 10% of the population make application changes to titles through an online registration service.

Simon Hayes who is the Chief executive and Chief Land Registrar has been quoted as saying “this is a game changemaker”. He also went on to say that “doing an application process based on data rather than the traditional paper based method is fundamental to transforming the way we register and will pay a vital role in improving the end-to-end conveyancing journey”

Statistics show that doing an application through an online registry service cuts down errors by 25% and the amount of time it takes to process applications is halved.

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic offers free legal advice on all land registration issues. If you would like an appointment please call 01782 294458 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

New Law to Protect Domestic Abuse Victims

Syed Zainul Abedeen Shah (Student)

Domestic Abuse Bill

Several new amendments have been made to the Domestic Abuse Bill which will hopefully provide victims of domestic abuse with more protection and increase punishment for the offenders.

What important changes are being added to the bill?

  • It introduces a new offence of non-fatal-strangulation punishable by up to 5-years in prison. The offence involves an abuser strangling or intentionally affecting the victims breathing. The reason for the new offence is because it is often difficult for a person to be convicted of offences such as actual bodily harm (ABH) as in most cases there is no visible injury (i.e. bruises). 
  • The legislation around ‘controlling or coercive behaviour (CBB) will be strengthened as it no longer requires the victims and abusers to be living together. The amendment acknowledges that people who leave their abusive ex-partners, can still be subjected to controlling or coercive behaviour post-separation. The amendment will also widen the scope of the definition of “personally connected” in a CBB offence, meaning that the offence may apply to former partners and family members who do not live together. 
  • ‘Revenge Porn’ laws were initially introduced in 2015 by the government- but now this piece of legislation will be widened to include threats to disclose private images, with the intention to cause distress.

At Staffordshire University Legal Advice clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice on any domestic abuse related matters. If you would like to book an appointment with us call 01782 294 800 or you can also email us at SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

Renters: Eviction ban in England extended until end of March

Anitha Anton Motham (Student)

It has been stated by housing secretary Robert Jenrick that renters will be protected during this difficult time.  

The eviction ban has been extended until the end of May.  

According to Robert Jenrick the government have taken unprecedented actions in order to help both tenants and landlords.  

However, many charities have also stated that the government have not done enough to support both parties. 

 The extension on the eviction ban ensures that bailiff evictions are banned until 31st May, however there are exceptions that remain in more serious circumstances.  

These include: 

  • Illegal occupation
  • False statements provided by the tenant
  • Anti-social behaviour
  • Arrears of 6 months’ rent or more
  • Breach of Immigration rules. 

 Landlords have also been required to give 6 months’ notice period to tenants before any proceedings are started unless the above exceptions apply. There is additional help for renters as the government will distribute Discretionary Housing Payments to councils.  

 If there are any issues between tenants and landlords, then the government has launched a free mediation platform to support both parties and resolve any disputes before it escalates. This will benefit tenants when there are in the early stages of the possession process and may prevent them becoming homeless and find another accommodation. 

Only 548 repossessions were recorded between April and December 2020 compared to 22,444 in the same period in 2019. 

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic offers free legal advice on all housing issues. If you would like an appointment please call 01782 294458 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

 

Unfair Dismissal

Ayesha Zabir (Student)

 Employment Tribunal numbers are increasing yearly. A report by the Ministry of Justice shows that Employment Tribunal claims increase 26% year on year:

  • There were 27,916 claims between April 2017 to March 2018.
  • There were 35,429 claims between April 2018 to March 2019.

Unfair dismissal claims have increased by 19.97%

Before the Industrial Relations Act 1971, there was no statutory right to protection against unfair dismissal and an employer could dismiss an individual for any reason. The only protections available were established in contract and enforced through the common law. Unfair dismissal is governed by the Employment Rights Act 1996, within this act section 94(1) states ‘An employee has the right not to be unfairly dismissed by his employer.’ The Employment Rights Act sets out strict criteria which individuals must satisfy for protection under the Act.

If the criteria are not satisfied, then the individual will not be protected under the Act and their only claim will be contractual. The criteria are:

  1. The individual must have ‘employee’ status

The ‘employee status’ means the individual is an employee and/or a worker and is not self-employed. Only employees have the right to claim unfair dismissal.

  1. They must have two years continuous employment

An employee can challenge an unfair dismissal if they have  worked for the employer for two years or more.

  1. They must have been dismissed

 For a successful unfair dismissal claim, the employee has a duty to demonstrate they have been dismissed. The employee has been dismissed if the employer has done any of the following:

  • Ended the contract of employment (with or without notice)
  • Refused to renew a fixed-term contract
  • Made the employee redundant
  • Stopped the employee from returning to work after maternity leave

Evidence of the dismissal will be required, such as official termination letter, emails and text messages from the employer. The employee has not been dismissed if they are suspended or resigned by choice (unless they are claiming constructive dismissal).

  1. The Employer has not acted reasonably procedurally

This could include following a disciplinary procedure, providing the employee with warnings, rights of appeal etc.

The claim must be made within 3 months of the effective date of termination

An extension in some cases may be granted if the tribunal decides it was not reasonably practicable for the claim to be submitted and the delay was reasonable however these matters are determined on the facts of the case.

Remedies for unfair dismissal –

When a claimant is successful in their unfair dismissal claim there are four possible outcomes, reinstatement, re-engagement, compensation and a declaration that a dismissal was unfair. In a third of these claims, compensation, is the most common outcome.

Reinstatement involves the ex-employee returning to work, with full pay, pension rights and any seniority-related increments honoured. The employee must be treated as they were never dismissed. Re-engagement also involves the ex-employee returning to work, but not necessarily into the same job or on the same terms and conditions. The precise terms of re-engagement vary depending on the case. These two outcomes are very rare in an unfair dismissal claim.

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) provides free legal advice on all employment matters. We are working remotely during the pandemic and interviews are conducted via Microsoft Teams. If you would like to make an appointment, please contact us on01782 294800 or email us on SULAC@staffs.ac.uk 

Discrimination Against Pregnant Women in the Workplace

Millie Parkes (Student)

It has become a well-known fact that the United Kingdom is suffering hardship in many sectors, but the threat of job-loss and redundancy for pregnant and women with young children is widely increasing.

Joeli Brearley, founder of the charity Pregnant Then Screwed, has recently said that the pandemic has caused a surge of discrimination against pregnant women and mothers at work.

The Law

The main law which should prevent such discrimination is The Equality Act 2010.

For pregnant women specifically, the Act states that it is unlawful to be discriminated against for being pregnant or suffering a pregnancy-related illness. If you are it may mean that you can take your employer to a tribunal.

Protection from Discrimination as a Pregnant Woman (and After!)

From the time that you become pregnant until when your maternity leave ends (if eligible) or two weeks after you child was born (if not eligible), there is a protection period. This protection period protects you against discrimination within the workplace.

Even after giving birth and returning to work, if you have been treated unfavourably after this, you could still be protected against discrimination because of your sex.

Similarly, it is unlawful to discriminate against you for:

  • Being on maternity leave
  • Having been on maternity leave
  • Trying to take maternity leave, which you are entitled to.

Reversing the Progress During the Pandemic

Brearley highlighted that 15% of mothers and pregnant women (in a survey of 20,000 mothers) have been made redundant or expected to be, during the pandemic. This is said to be reversing the progress of an increase in maternal employment by 9% in the last 20 years.

Brearley’s charity ‘Pregnant Then Screwed’ also emphasised that prior to the pandemic, they would provide legal advice to around 3,000 women per year, who were experiencing pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace. Since the pandemic, they have provided legal advice to over 32,000 women – an almost 1000% increase.

The Women’s Budget Group also explains their findings for women to have been discriminated against more-so throughout the pandemic compared to their spouses, by finding that ‘ Of those furloughed, mothers were more likely to be put on furlough to look after their children (27%) than fathers (23%) and One in five mothers were made redundant or lost hours because of caring responsibilities, compared to 13% of fathers.

Traditional stereotyping

Brearley added that ‘there are deeply entrenched gender stereotypes that mean women blame themselves when they get pregnant and get pushed out of their jobs.’ This basic sexism is all too clear according to the British Social Attitudes Survey, which highlighted that one in five people think women with child under school age should stay at home.

However, it is hoped that  the pandemic has brought some positive changes to families, with some fathers being able to spend more time caring for their children than before March 2020. The Fawcett Society have stated that if this became the norm, it could reduce the ‘motherhood pay penalty’ and help aid maternal and pregnancy employment within the workplace.

At Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice on Equality and Discrimination related matters. If you wish to book an appointment with us call 01782 294 800 or alternatively email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Possession suspensions ‘put neighbours at risk’

Lucy Cooper (Student)

The pandemic has been very hard for many people, some of whom have lost their jobs, aren’t receiving the same income as they used to or are simply struggling with their mental health. To help people who may not be able to afford their rent the government put into place an eviction ban meaning that people could not be evicted, during the pandemic. 

Whilst this has clearly helped some people, some law firms have highlighted the problem this has caused for people who are suffering with anti-social behaviour from their neighbours. Housing Associations have reported that due to the ban on possession action they have not been able to take any action against tenants who were being anti-social, which was having a huge impact on the neighbours and other tenants. One property owner explained that he had experienced significant antisocial behaviour from a neighbour and he has now lost two tenants because of this.  

The stay on possession proceedings was lifted in September of last year, meaning that many solicitors saw the opportunity to sort the anti-social behaviour out and began to use what they called the ‘last resort’ to evict the tenants after giving them multiple warnings and chances to change their actions. 

Solicitors have stressed their concerns about the rise in anti-social behaviour during lockdown and what impact it is having on other people, in a situation which is already mentally challenging. It can have a catastrophic effect on the people who have to endure these issues ever day on top of trying to cope with a global pandemic, some people have been spat on by neighbours, during the pandemic, causing them to have a mental breakdown. 

Solicitors have stressed that there needs to be focus on this by the government as anti-social tenants can seriously impact their local community.

What can people do in the meantime? 

If you are someone who is experiencing anti-social behaviour it is initially best to try and speak to the neighbour (provided it is safe to do so). If this does not help, then keep a diary of all the issues that you have encountered so that if court proceedings are necessary you will be able to show a clearly logged diary of what has happened. 

The next step would be report the problem to the council, it may then be possible for the council or the police to meet with the person who is causing the problem and speak to them and help them come to an agreement about how they should change their behaviour. This agreement can then be put into writing. This is known as an acceptable behaviour contract.

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic Offers free legal advice on all housing issues. If you would like an appointment please call 01782 294458 or emails SULAC@staffs.ac.uk