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

 

Is Staying Home Protecting Everyone?

Shivam Kaushik (Student)

The government has implemented measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19 since March 2020. Since then, there have been lockdowns, closures of non-essential businesses and a very strong message from government to remain at home unless absolutely essential. The advertisement for this is “Stay Home, Stay Safe, Save Lives” and this message is broadcast everywhere on government pages, posters and on several official media platforms. During such  time, having a safe place to call home is critical especially when being at home is more important and one is home more now than ever.

Support services are struggling to provide help and resources to those struggling in their households. The restrictions on leaving home result in further barriers in seeking help and reporting any abuse. Gender based violence (“GBV”)has increased. The UN defines gender based violence as as harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender. There has been a sharp rise in the prevalence of such abuse in recent times and has been compounded further by lockdown measures. GBV mainly relates to interpersonal violence, domestic abuse, sexual violence and other forms of abuse. In the UK, 1 in 4 women experience domestic abuse and 1 in 5 will experience sexual assault in her lifetime. GBV does not because of lockdown, nor does it stem from the stress, hardship and economic difficulties which arise from the existence of a pandemic, however, the pandemic and lockdown measures have increased the risk factors for GBV such as substance abuse, being unable to support one’s family, crowding and female isolation.

Services supporting victims of gender-based violence are reporting an unprecedented increase in demand for support and assistance. Domestic abuse charity, Refuge, have reported a 700% increase in contact compared to pre-lockdown levels. Similarly, the Respect phone line has reported a rise of 125% in web traffic and a 16.6% increase in number of calls received. Even during stable periods, GBV is under-reported in the UK. The Home Office found that 83% of victims do not report their experiences to the police. The reporting of such experiences will be further decreased during the pandemic.

 These are very concerning statistics that highlight the scale and urgency of these issues and their impact on the most vulnerable members of society. The added difficulty in reporting abuse and seeking assistance during lockdown is leading to many abusers escaping accountability and punishment. More importantly, it has further eroded the ability for victims and survivors to seek immediate protection for themselves and their children. Access to justice is one of the biggest issues faced by victims of GBV and the government measures have only compounded such difficulties. The continuation of such measures will only worsen the impact the pandemic has had on GBV victims and survivors. The government measures as a result of the pandemic have raised the question whether staying home is truly saving lives and at what cost?

If you have experienced any of these issues and require more advice at Staffordshire Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice. Students are supervised by a qualified solicitor, if you wish to book an appointment with us, then please either call us on 01782 294800 or email us at SULAC@staffs.ac.uk. 

 

Gender Equality in the Workplace

Charmaine Watkins (Student)  

The Law 

In 2010, the Equality Act was introduced to legally protect people from being discriminated against in the workplace as well as in the wider society. This Act replaced the previous Laws on Anti-discrimination with one Act. In the UK, there are 9 protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. These are: 

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

The Act provides a framework to protect against direct and indirect discrimination as a result of one of these characteristics. 

Direct discrimination is when someone is treated unfairly because of one of the characteristics, whereas indirect discrimination happens when there are rules or arrangements that apply to a group of employee causing them a disadvantage because of one of the characteristics. 

The impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic  

The Fawcett Society has indicated that Covid-19 has had a ‘devastating’ impact on gender equality in the workplace.

The Society said that women are more likely to lose work or be burdened with childcare during the crisis then men, and during the pandemic out of 8400 people surveyed, a third of working women reported a loss of work or hours. 

The Fawcett society stated that there is a danger that the gender pay gap (the average difference in pay between men and women) may widen as a result. This has been described as a coronavirus crossroads which may impact the progress of workplace equality for years. 

The UK government has said they are “committed to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to progress in the workplace”.

However, it is hoped that the pandemic could have brought some positive changes. Some fathers have said that they now spend twice as much time caring for their children then before March 2020. The Fawcett Society have stated that if this became the norm, it could reduce the “motherhood pay penalty” and curb the gender pay gap. 

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 

 

Wills and Covid

Charmaine Watkins (Student) 

For a Will to be valid there are three main requirements, as set out in the Wills Act 1937, these are: 

  • It must be in writing
  • Signed by the testator, who is over 18
  • Witnessed by two witnesses, who are over 18, in the presence of the testator

Creating a will is important for protecting your assets including property, money and sentimental objects. A will is a legal document that ensures your wishes are fulfilled.  

However, Covid changed this. In September 2020 a statutory instrument was introduced to allow for wills to be witnessed virtually. This allows the will to be sent to the various parties and witnessed using a virtual platform such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. This allows for wills to be executed even during lockdown. 

However, according to the government guidance on video-witnessed wills,virtual witnessing should be the last resort and people should attempt to arrange for physical witnessing of wills where it is safe to do so. 

A spokesman from the ministry of justice has stated; ‘We know the pandemic has made it more difficult to make a will. That’s why we are changing the law to ensure video-witnessed wills are legally recognised. These changes will give peace of mind to many that their last wishes can still be recorded while maintaining all the existing safeguards against fraud or disputes.’ 

Simon Davis the Law society president has welcomed this decision however has said that solicitors will need the correct training to ensure this is done correctly. And that in the long term, wider reforms for the wills Act will be needed to bring it into the 21st century.  

There has however, been more recent criticism with this reform, probate specialists have called it ‘pretty unattractive’ as the remote system can cause delays because the will has to be physically signed by three people, the testator and the two witnesses, who can be all over the country, who will need the will to be posted to each member to be signed which will cause a delay between each signature.  

She also added that there are issues with ensuring the testator has capacity and is not acting under undue influence as well as making sure the client is correctly identified.  

At Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice on probate matters (although we do not draft wills). If you wish to book an appointment call us on 01782 294 800 or alternately email us at SULAC@staffs.ac.uk 

 

Lasting Power of Attorney & the Ability to Plan Ahead

Harry Gabell (Student)

A Lasting power of attorney (LPA)  is something which you can (and perhaps ought to) have set up before your health deteriorates An LPA is a legal document whereby a trusted friend or family member is given the powers to make some decisions on your behalf, if you no longer have the mental capacity to make these decisions by yourself. Generally speaking, LPA’s are usually considered by the elderly, but the option is available to anybody over the age of 18.

What does an LPA do exactly?

The LPA formalises a relationship between a ‘donor’, who creates the power, and the ‘attorney’, who may use the power if the donor loses mental capacity. To have capacity, a person must be able to understand the information they need to make a decision, evaluate it, and then communicate their intentions. So, while you still have mental capacity, you can appoint somebody to make decisions on your behalf in two areas, should you ever lose it. These are:

  • Health and welfare
  • Property and finance

Your attorney can cover just one of these areas, or both, but they must be arranged using different forms. Also, by creating these arrangements, it does not mean that the donor is giving up any control. The powers should only be used at the point of the loss of mental capacity.

Health and welfare power of attorneys concern medical treatment and other interactions with healthcare staff. Health and welfare powers could also cover more serious medical decisions, but these kinds of decisions could already be made by the donor in advance using a ‘living will’.

Property and finance powers cover money, tax, bills, accounts, property, pensions and benefits, among other things. They could also deal with situations where there is a need to pay for equipment or supplies, for example a wheelchair, or new clothes. Wherever possible, the donor’s property and finance should be kept separate from the attorney’s, although some couples using shared bank accounts won’t be able to do this. Unlike health and welfare powers, property and finance powers may be used before the loss of mental capacity.

What does an LPA cost?

In England and Wales, setting up an LPA carries a cost of £82 (for both health and welfare and property and finance, that would be £164). This is the fee for the compulsory registration of the power of attorney. If you instruct solicitors to help you get the power there will be further fees..

Arranging an LPA comes strongly recommended from both a financial and a personal protection standpoint. Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) offers free legal advice and can advise on matters of lasting powers of attorney arrangements (although we do not draft the applications). SULAC is offering appointments online, through Microsoft Teams due to COVID – 19. For additional information, or to book an appointment please call on 01782 294800 or email at SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

 

 

 

Changes to Divorce Law

Emma Peake (Student)

The law on divorce us due to undergo a radical change. The changes are likely to come in effect in the Autumn of 2021 or early 2022.

Under the current law you must prove that your marriage has broken down irretrievably. You show this you must prove one of the five grounds: 

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour. This can include:
    • Physical violence,
    • Verbal abuse- such as insults and/or threats,
    • Drunkenness and/or drug-taking,  
    • Refusing to pay towards shared living expenses. 
  • Desertion- your husband or wife has left you for at least two years since separation 
  • You have been separated for at least two years and the opposite spouse agrees to the divorce, or
  • You have been separated for five years; the opposite spouse does not need to agree to the divorce.

The  majority of applications rely upon adultery or unreasonable behaviour. The very process of listing allegations can often aggravate the other party and can sometimes mean that negotiations in respect of children and the finances can become very acrimonious.

So what is changing? 

The changes involve the introduction of the concept of “no-fault divorce”. The new procedure will no longer require blame to be put on the other party. The main benefit of this change is to reduce blame and acrimony and allow parties to deal with finances and children in a more constructive manner. 

Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland said, “The bill reform will not come into force upon Royal Ascent because time needs to be followed for careful implementation.” This means that once the bill has been accepted as new law, the law will not be enforced immediately on that date until it is fully satisfied that is has been interpreted correctly.  

What triggered the need for change?  

Practitioners have been suggesting that this would be beneficial for some time. The issue was highlighted in the case of Owens V Owens Their marriage had completely broken down, but none of the grounds for divorce could be fully satisfied, they just simply “fell out of love”.  Mr Owens was able to successfully contest the divorce. The case then went to the Court of Appeal, who agreed with the decision but highlighted the difficulties arising from this case.

What are the changes? 

The new legislation will: 

  • Replace the five facts with a new requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown, 
  • Remove the possibility of contesting the divorce,
  • Introduce an option for a joint application, and
  • Make sure that language is in plain English, for example changing “decree absolute” to final order and “decree nisi” to conditional order. The “petitioner” of the divorce will become the applicant. 

This has been the biggest shake-up for divorce law in fifty years.  The no-blame divorce is more administrative than a court procedure. Baroness Hales said that being able to say that the marriage has simply failed, without holding the other party accountable, could ease some stress. The process will be easier.  

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) provides free legal advice on all family related 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 onSULAC@staffs.ac.uk