Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act 2020

Rabab Ali (Student)

The Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 comes into force on 6 April 2022. The Act, which received Royal Assent in June 2020 aims to introduce significant changes to divorce law and move towards a “no fault divorce”.

The new act allows either party to allege  an irreversible breakdown of the marriage without establishing a fault or separation fact. By eliminating the need for one party to “blame” the other, the court might determine that it would be unreasonable to expect the parties to continue married.

Because a declaration of irretrievable breakdown is irrefutable proof that the marriage has ended, the court must now grant a divorce. This is significant as it puts a stop to one spouse contesting a divorce even when the other wants it. It also allows spouses to divorce even if they cannot provide a reason why.

 Former Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP has said: ‘These new laws will stop separating couples having to make needless allegations against one another, and instead help them focus on resolving their issues amicably.’

Importantly, the new law permits some separated spouses to file a joint divorce petition. Joint divorce petitions are already permitted in other jurisdictions but not in England & Wales.

The new law also extends the time it takes for a Conditional Divorce Order (formerly known as Decree Nisi) to be granted to 20 weeks, giving spouses more time to make practical arrangements. While this is a major expansion of the present six week and one day term, many divorces do not end in that time owing to ongoing financial issues.

Amongst many other things, the language used is set to change, with Decree Nisi becoming “Conditional Divorce Order” and Decree Absolute becoming “Final Divorce Order”. By using more user-friendly terminology, it is hoped that people would better understand the two stages of divorce proceedings, and that the removal of the ‘fault’ facts will encourage amicable proceedings.

Here at SULAC we offer free legal advice on all family matters including divorce and financial affairs. If you would like an appointment, please call 01782294458 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

Legal Clinics Move into Hospitals

Jack Marshall (Student)

The need for free legal advice centers is continually growing, especially in light of cuts in legal aid. Many people cannot afford to instruct a solicitor, so these centers are often a lifeline for the general public. They give specialist advice to members of their community on issues such as debt, housing, family law, employment and education. These clinics use their knowledge to help people to save their homes, keep their jobs and protect their families. This is classed as Social Welfare Law.

In 2019 the Minister of Justice committed to pilot early legal advice as part of its Legal Support Action Plan in hospitals. The Justice Minister Lord Wolfson of Tredegar confirmed that the preparation work for this has commenced, such as registration for early legal advice for debt, housing and welfare benefits which will commence later this year. The pilot will be launched in Manchester and Middlesbrough.

When questioned on why there is a need for a pilot Lord Bird Lord Wolfson responded by saying “you need a test to ensure that what you are doing is the most useful thing you can do, we are looking at putting legal advice in Hospitals as we know that people who have legal problems often have other social welfare problems as well”. He also went on to say that “it is often the case that you cannot resolve all your problems through the law you need a holistic approach”. He also said that we need to see hard evidence about this and that the pilot will help in this area. Getting clinics into the NHS will not be easy as in April 2017 the Department of Health issued a ban on personal injury firms advertising in hospitals . The Chief Executive of NHS England  quoted that the Health Service wanted “Lawyers out of Hospitals and Doctors out of court”.

Also in the debate there was cause for the Government to restore Legal Aid funding as Labour’s Lord Watts said that “the Government got it really badly wrong when they cut millions of pounds from this area” he also expanded further by saying “would it not be better to restore these cuts and then do a proper review and make sure that, this time, it covers people and gives them some rights?”. Lord Wilson commented that he has no intention of going back to the pre Legal Aid cuts  position.

SULAC saw the need for clinics in hospitals when it first launched its service in 2019. Before the pandemic SULAC provided clinics at Shrewsbury hospital, Stafford and Royal Stoke. These clinics were very successful. Following the pandemic SULAC now operates online, and we interview clients on Microsoft Teams. If you have any issues on housing, debt, employment or family and would like an appointment please call 01782 294458 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

 

Domestic abuse rises sharply as cause of homelessness in England

Lauren Foster (Student)

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, in England the number of households left with no home because of domestic abuse has risen by more than 1/3. The following statistics illustrate the vast vulnerability of homelessness households, causes by domestic violence. 

6,310 households were acknowledged as homeless according to the local council due to domestic abuse between July and September 2021. In comparison in July and September 2020, there was 5,550 homeless households reported. This was a clear increase of 13.7% Domestic abuse victims accounted for 17.3% of the households that were made homeless during this period.

There was a total of 9,730 homeless families with children. This was 26.7% of the overall homeless households. Again, there was a 15.1% increase from 2020, and an increase of 8.6% from 2019. It has been stated by the chief executive of Shelter that they urgently require the support of the public, so that they can provide free, and expert help to the people in need.

These figures are likely to increase in the future especially with the cost of living increasing and previous protection from eviction introduced during the pandemic having been removed.

All councils have a responsibility to try and prevent people becoming homeless in the first place. Families with children should be housed by the councils if it is found to be the best way to help.

Being homeless is a terrifying time for anyone, more increasingly so if there are children involved. If they did not already have a history of mental health problems, then they would most likely acquire mental health conditions. This would be caused from the desperation, stress, and uncertainty. From the 67,820 homeless or at risk of homelessness households, 51.1% had at least one extra support need. It was found a quarter of the homelessness statistics had a history of mental health problems. 16.5% had a support need relating to physical health or disability, and 21.1% had experienced or were at risk of domestic abuse.

Here at SULAC we can help with housing needs. If you would like an appointment please telephone 01782 294800 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

Woman’s Distress After Landlord Admits Harassment

Jorjoh Touray (Student)

A tenant in County Down, Northern Ireland has been harassed by her landlord to such an extent that criminal proceedings were brought.

Zyndzie Akimodo rented a property from Matthew Betty in Bangor, County Down.

On 24 February, Betty, 41, pleaded guilty to harassment under the 1978 NI Rent Order and was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for two years.

Ms Akimodo said on one occasion men, allegedly posing as paramilitaries, were sent to the house to intimidate her and her daughter. Whilst it could not be proved that Mr Batty was directly involved it was found that he facilitated the visit.

On another occasion a representative from NI Water turned up at the property to disconnect the water supply. He told Ms Akimodo that the landlord told him that the property was vacant.

Ms Akimodo said “Our homes are meant to be a safe and secure place and because of the actions of the landlord, she had no peace at home.”

In England it is illegal for your landlord to harass you or try to force you out of a property without using the proper procedures. You could claim damages through the courts if they try and do so.

What constitutes as harassment?

This can be anything a landlord does or fails to do that would make you feel unsafe in the property or forces you to leave. This can include stopping services like electricity, refusing to carry out repairs, anti-social behaviour by a landlord’s agent or the landlord directly.

Your landlord also cannot evict you without a court order and he/ she would be guilty of illegal eviction if they did so. Even if your landlord’s property is repossessed by their mortgage lender, the lender must give you notice so you can find other accommodation.

What can I do?

If you think you’re being harassed or threatened with illegal eviction, or the property you rent is being repossessed, talk to your local council. It may have someone specialising in tenant harassment issues.

Local councils can also start legal proceedings if they think there’s enough evidence of harassment or illegal eviction.

You could also contact a legal adviser, a Citizens Advice office or Shelter’s housing advice helpline. Your local area may also have other housing or legal advice organisations – your local council or library should have details.

If physical violence is involved, contact the police.

For further advice, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has a detailed guide for tenants facing harassment and illegal eviction.

Here at SULAC we can offer advice on all housing issues. If you would like an appointment, please call 01782 294800 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

 

 

Applying for unfair dismissal within the right amount of time

Erin Dean (Student)

When claiming for unfair dismissal, a claim must be brought in the Employment Tribunal within 3 months of the date of dismissal. If the claim is made after this, then the Employment tribunal wont hear the claim and the chances of the employee receiving any compensation is very low. The fact that the employee did not know about this time limit will not be any defence.

This happened to Miss S Dillon who was a solicitor claiming unfair dismissal against the Crown Prosecution Service. She applied five months after the date of the dismissal but was told her claim was too late. The law on unfair dismissal comes from section 94 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. Miss Dillon’s argument for the late claim was that it was not reasonably practicable for her to present her claim any sooner and she also thought that she had 3 years to bring the claim which is the limitation period for personal injury.

The judge dismissed her application as he stated given her experience and contacts as a solicitor, she should have checked the time limit. Judge Woffenden decided that Dillon was not trying to avoid litigation by looking into different remedies but had just not even considered going to court. The facts were that she had brought her claim too late and that it was dismissed.

It is important that in unfair dismissal claims, the judge uses and applies employment law correctly so that neither the employee nor employer are wrongfully accused. A lot of the information on unfair dismissal and grievance process can be found on the ACAS website.

Here at SULAC we can advise on all aspects of employment law. If you would like an appointment please telephone 01782 294800 or email Sulac@staffs.ac.uk

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