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A real opportunity for equal opportunities

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					A real opportunity for equal
opportunities?
Matt Jones sets out Citizens Advice’s views on the Equality Bill
According to the Legal Services          of Fair Trading or Ofgem. Citizens     collective redress provisions, so that
Research Centre, discrimination          Advice believes that extending         a body such as the Equality and
is the eighth most common                this duty to regulators would          Human Rights Commission can
problem on which people                  help to achieve fairer markets for     take a claim to court on behalf of a
seek advice, but is in the top           all consumers, including those         number of vulnerable individuals.
three problems for which                 who are disadvantaged by their
people say they can’t get help.          circumstances.                         While we are keen to improve on
Citizens Advice aims to develop                                                 some of the proposals, we believe
discrimination services from             The Bill will also ban providers of    that this Bill is a landmark piece
the first point of contact to            goods, facilities and services from    of legislation and we want see it
resolution. In 2008/9, the service       harassment or victimisation of         progress swiftly to Royal Assent.
dealt with over 25,000 problems          customers on grounds of race, age,
about discrimination, including          gender and disability but not on       Matt Jones is a Public Affairs Officer
a 17% increase in employment             sexual orientation or religion and     at Citizens Advice.
discrimination problems.                 belief. It also does not protect under Matt.jones@citizensadvice.org.uk
                                         18s. Citizens Advice sees no good
The purpose of the Equality
Bill currently passing through
                                         reason to exclude these groups
                                         from the Bill’s protections and is
                                                                                 Contents
Parliament is to harmonise,                                                      Housing                           2
   cae and strengthen equality
simplify study box
                                         calling for changes.
                                                                                 Liz Phelps considers the need for
law and to increase equality of          Currently, cases of discrimination      reform to help private tenants whose
opportunity. Part of this process of                                             landlords are repossessed
                                         can only be brought to court or
harmonisation is to bring together       tribunal based on single protected      Debt                                 4
existing race, gender and disability     characteristics. CAB advisers           Sue Edwards examines how new
duties of public authorities into a      see significant numbers of cases        initiatives to tackle mortgage arrears
single equality duty, and extend                                                 and repossessions are working
                                         where discrimination is because of
it to the protected characteristics      more than one characteristic – for      Pensioner poverty                 6
–of age, sexual orientation, gender      example, an older woman, or a           Alan Barton asks whether targets to
reassignment, and religion or belief.    gay black youth. We are therefore       tackle pensioner poverty can be met
Citizens Advice welcomes the Bill,       calling for the Bill to address the     Essential services                 8
and will try to influence its content.   problem of multiple discrimination.     Tony Herbert argues that suppliers of
                                                                                 LPG and central heating oil should be
The Bill will impose a duty on           As well as highlighting the             regulated
strategic public authorities to          importance of improved access to        Human rights                        10
consider socio-economic factors          advice and representation generally,    James Sandbach looks at key human
in their planning, but t does not        we are specifically arguing for         rights issues for CAB clients in 2009
cover regulators – such as the Office

Evidence | Summer 2009
Housing

Recession victims – the plight of
private tenants
Liz Phelps considers the need for reform to prevent private tenants facing immediate
eviction when their landlords are repossessed

With the Council of Mortgage          can evict tenants without reason          had been changed and there was a
Lenders predicting 75,000             and are only required to give two         notice announcing that a possession
repossessions this year, it is        months notice (outside a fixed            order had been made. After a two
perhaps not surprising that           term) and obtain a possession order       hour wait, a representative from
Government and media                  through the courts. That two month        the lenders turned up and let her in
attention has been primarily          notice period is crucial in providing a   under supervision for ten minutes to
focussed on putting in place          breathing space for tenants to start      collect a few necessary possessions,
measures to help struggling           looking for an alternative home.          including her son’s GCSE work. The
home owners to stay in their          Yet where a lender takes possession       client and her children were left very
homes. Far less attention has         action against a defaulting               upset and she had great difficulty
been paid to the plight of            borrower/landlord, then unless the        arranging for access in order to
private tenants caught up in          lender has given consent for the          collect the rest of her possessions.
this process, who stand to lose       letting, the tenant loses even these
not only their home but even          basic rights.                         Where the borrower has a buy to
their statutory rights to a notice                                          let mortgage, then the lender will
to quit and court order, if their                                           usually have given consent for the
landlord is repossessed.
                                                                                          be let. This is
                                      Inadequate warning property to that the termsimportant
                                                                            as it means                   of the
The recent Government
                                                                            tenancy are binding on the lender,
announcement that it will             The only warning the tenant gets of
                                                                            so that the tenant’s statutory rights
introduce legislation to address      the fact that the property is being
                                                                            to two months notice and a court
this problem is therefore very        repossessed is a notice which the
                                                                            order are not affected. But this does
welcome. This follows a concerted lender must send addressed to
                                                                            not apply where borrowers with a
campaign by Citizens Advice,          ‘The Occupier’ before the hearing
                                                                            residential mortgage have let out
Crisis, Shelter and the Chartered     and a Notice of Eviction shortly
                                                                            their property without obtaining the
Institute of Housing over recent      before the court bailiff comes to
                                                                            permission of their lender – perhaps
months to draw attention to the       carry out the eviction. However it is
                                                                            as a strategy to help them afford
issue. The campaign called on         clear from CAB evidence that this
                                                                            the mortgage or because they had
the Government to take urgent         notice to ‘The Occupier’ is often
                                                                            to move for work reasons and were
action to amend legislation so that, not an effective warning: it is not
                                                                            unable to sell. In these situations,
where a tenanted property is being clearly addressed to the tenant and
                                                                            the property rights of the lender
repossessed, the judge has the        there is nothing on the envelope to
                                                                            effectively trump the housing rights
discretion when making an outright distinguish it from junk mail which
                                                                            of the tenant, despite the fact that
possession, to defer possession for may be similarly labelled. As a
                                                                            the tenant is the innocent party
a limited period to give the tenant   result, the first the tenant may know
                                                                            in the matter and is living in the
time to find somewhere else to        about what is happening is when
                                                                            property as their home.
live. Such a reform has widespread the bailiffs arrive to evict them:
support in Parliament, with over
                                                                            It is impossible to quantify the
100 MPs having signed an Early Day A Surrey CAB reported the case
                                                                            extent of this problem because
Motion on the issue.                  of a lone parent with two children
                                                                            such tenants are inevitably hidden
                                      who had been renting a property
                                                                            in the statistics. However over the
Assured shorthold tenants have        for 10 months. She came back
                                                                            last year, the CAB service has dealt
few enough rights as it is. Landlords from a holiday to find that the locks

2                                                                                              Evidence | Summer 2009
with around 1,000 cases of tenants                                               The Green Paper also provides the
threatened with homelessness            Fragile rights                           opportunity to address the wider
as a result of their landlord being                                              issue of the lack of private tenant
repossessed, and this is likely to      This issue also highlights the           empowerment. Around three
be only the tip of the iceberg. An      broader problem of the fragility of      million households now live in
analysis of these cases shows that      private tenants’ rights, which this      private rented housing, and all the
they reflect the broad cross section    specific reform will not resolve. In     indications are that this sector will
of the population who now make          some cases, tenants have gone            continue to grow. If the sector is
their home in the private rented        through all the expense and              to be a genuine tenure of choice,
sector, with around half being          upheaval of moving into their            rather than a last resort for those
families with dependent children.       new home only weeks before               unable to access either owner
Many will have gone on to make          finding themselves caught up             occupation or social housing, then
homelessness applications to            in their landlord’s repossession         there is a need for reforms which
their local authorities, with all the   crisis. Many are left significantly      give tenants clear rights which
difficulties and uncertainties that     out of pocket as a result and are        they can exercise without the fear
this involves.                          understandably questioning why           that their landlord will retaliate by
                                        they are put through rigorous            refusing to renew their tenancy, or
A CAB in the West Midlands              reference procedures before being        even giving them notice to quit.
reported a disabled woman who           granted the tenancy, yet have no
was due to be evicted because of        way of checking out their landlord’s     This is surely an essential element of
her landlord’s mortgage arrears.        financial situation.                     being able to call somewhere your
She had three dependent children                                                 home.
and the council had accepted that       A CAB in Somerset reported the
they had a duty to rehouse her          case of a man who was only seven         Liz Phelps is a social policy officer
under homelessness legislation.                                                  working on housing and health
                                        months into a one year fixed term
                                                                                 issues.
However this would not happen           tenancy when, without prior              Liz.phelps@citizensadvice.org.uk.
until she was actually evicted. She     warning, bailiffs arrived to repossess
was therefore in a state of limbo,      the property because the landlord
unable to have her belongings           had not paid the mortgage since he
moved out of the property or plan       moved in. The flat was let through
for the future. She had cancelled       an agency which will not refund
her utilities but had not been able     the original £350 fee he paid, nor
to give a forwarding address. The       waive the requirement for a further
strain of the situation was affecting   fee for finding him alternative
her medical condition.                  accommodation.

Citizens Advice is therefore            The government’s current
delighted with the Government           consultation on private rented
commitment to act to address            sector reform - The private rented
this unfairness. The challenge          sector: professionalism and quality
now is to make sure that the            - includes welcome proposals
necessary changes happen quickly.       for the statutory regulation of
Amending legislation is typically a     letting agents, who now handle
slow process, but recent measures       some 60% of all private lettings.
in relation to the banking sector       If regulation were to include a
and mortgage rescue have shown          requirement for letting agents to
that it can be done quickly when        check that the landlord had the
there is the political will. With       lender’s permission to rent before
75,000 repossessions expected           taking a property on to their books,
this year, this is a change which is    this would at least provide greater
needed now, not in two years’ time      certainty for tenants renting
when we can hope the worst of the       through an agent.
recession will be over.

Evidence | Summer 2009                                                                                                   3
Debt

So far, so good?
Sue Edwards considers how well new initiatives to tackle mortgage arrears and
repossessions are working so far
The economic downturn has                         who have experienced a change second charge lenders. Advisers
meant that more people than                       in circumstances but who are not commented:
ever are seeking advice from                      eligible for SMI.
advice agencies about mortgage                                                       “The sub prime market lenders
and secured loan arrears. In                                                         have become even more
                                               These are all very welcome, but
2008/9, Citizens Advice Bureaux                                                      reluctant to help clients than
                                               how are they actually working?
dealt with 95,000 problems                                                           before. They apply for possession
about mortgage or secured loan                 Four advice networks, AdviceUK,
                                               Citizens Advice, Money Advice         at the very first sight of a default
arrears, a 49 percent increase                                                       on a mortgage where….
on the previous year. Over the                 Trust and Shelter, are undertaking
                                               a programme of research to find       mortgage companies are, in the
past year, advice agencies have                                                      main, taking a more reasoned
been delighted and bewildered                  out. The first part of the research
                                               – a survey of advisers’ experience    approach to arrears.”
by the blizzard of Government
and mortgage lender                            of helping clients in mortgage or
initiatives designed to tackle                 secured loan arrears and a survey of      “Secured loans, with sub
rising mortgage arrears and                    clients contacting National Debtline      prime lenders, are the most
repossessions. These included:                 – has just been published. The            problematic…. They are the
                                               results show a mixed picture.             prime reason for my attendance
• Additional funding for court                                                           at court, with clients and where
  advice desks so that people                  Pre-action protocol                       high street lenders have either
  facing a court hearing for                                                             consolidated the arrears into a
  mortgage arrears could get free              On seeing the detail of the protocol,     longer term [loan], or agreed a
  advice and representation                    advisers have been concerned that         [reduced] payment, sub prime
• Improvements to the stage                    the protocol might do little to stop      lenders have just not done this.”
  safety net, support for mortgage             lenders from taking possession
  interest (SMI)                               action quickly. However, the results    As research for the Financial Services
                                               of the two surveys suggest there is     Authority has found that sub-
• A pre-action protocol for
                                               some room for optimism – at least       prime lenders’ arrears practices
  mortgage possession claims to
                                               where mainstream first charge           are significantly worse than those
  ensure that lenders took court
                                               lenders are concerned. The key          of mainstream lenders, this is of
  action as a last resort
                                               message from the findings of the        concern.1 Likewise, the survey of
• A mortgage rescue scheme to                  adviser survey is that although         callers to National and Business
  provide an alternative means for             mainstream mortgage lenders             Debtline found that borrowers
  people who cannot afford to pay              seem to have improved their arrears     in arrears with their first charge
  their mortgage to stay in their              collection practices since the          mortgage had a more positive
  home as a tenant                             protocol came into force, sub-prime     experience than borrowers in arrears
• Guidance by the trade                        lenders and second charge lenders       with their secured loan.
  associations, the Council of                 had not. Over half of the advisers
  Mortgage Lenders and the                     surveyed reported an improvement        • 27 per cent of those in arrears
  Finance and Leasing Association,             in mainstream lenders’ practices          with their first charge mortgage
  to their members                             since the protocol came into force,       said their lender offered them
                                               compared to only 20 percent of            no help when told about their
• Homeowner Mortgage Support,                  advisers reporting an improvement
  designed to help homeowners                                                            repayment problems compared
                                               in the practices of sub-prime and         to 51 per cent of those in arrears
    1 Financial Services Authority press release 5 August 2008
4                                                                                                     Evidence | Summer 2009
   with their secured loan.          designed to help stop up to 10,000                     • 20 per cent report that clients’
• 57 per cent of those in arrears    households from losing their                             lenders are unwilling to
    with their mortgage were         homes due to mortgage arrears.2                          participate in the scheme.
    satisfied with the way they were The findings of the survey suggest
    treated by their lender compared that it is too early to assess whether                 It is therefore very welcome that the
    to only 34 per cent of those in  this is the case. Nearly half felt the                 Government is planning changes to
    arrears with their secured loan. SMI changes no real difference                         the scheme to allow people whose
                                     in lenders’ practice following the                     properties are in negative equity to
                                     changes to support for mortgage                        access the MRS.
The protocol also appears to         interest:
be having some impact on the
practices of the judiciary. Nearly      “If both [first and second charge]                  What next?
three-quarters of the advisers          lenders are in the sub-prime
who had represented clients in          bracket and they are waiting                        These surveys are not definitive, but
court since the protocol came into      13 weeks before help with SMI,                      they do provide initial indications
force felt that judges were asking      [borrowers] are often being told                    that further changes may be
more questions about the lenders’       by the lenders that they will go                    needed to these initiatives, in
attempts to reach agreement with        for repossession anyway.”                           particular the pre-action protocol.
the borrower before taking court                                                            We are undertaking further joint
action and 63 per cent agree that                                                           research during the year to enable
judges are willing to adjourn cases On a more positive note, just under                     us to evaluate the full impact of the
where the lender does not appear     a third of advisers reported that                      policy changes. This will include a
to follow the protocol. However,     lenders are less likely to proceed                     survey of clients seen at court. In the
only a quarter of advisers agreed    with possession action through the                     meantime, we call on all lenders to
that judges would now award costs courts following the changes.                             adhere to the letter and spirit of the
against the lender for not following                                                        pre-action protocol.
the protocol. For example,           Mortgage rescue
                                                                                            Sue Edwards is the Head of
  “The [District Judge] will adjourn         scheme (MRS)                                   Consumer Policy at Citizens Advice.
  if there is evidence that the                                                             Sue.edwards@citizensadvice.org.
                                             Only a few months have elapsed                 uk
  protocol has not been complied
  with but does not penalise on              since the MRS in England was
  costs as he says the claimant              introduced. Advisers’ early
  can claim their costs from                 experiences suggest a range of
  the defendant anyway. One                  difficulties in getting clients onto
  judge is more proactive re the             the scheme:
  protocol even though both are
  prompted.”                                 • Nearly 60 percent reported that
                                               their clients could not access the
                                               scheme because their property
These findings suggest that the                was in negative equity;
protocol itself may need revision to
provide better protection for people • 46 per cent reported that clients’
facing court action for mortgage       homes were worth more than
arrears. Improved training for         the limit for the scheme.
district judges might also help.     • 44 per cent report that clients
                                       do not meet the priority need
                                       criteria and
SMI
                                             • 33 per cent report that clients
Changes to SMI which came                      are not eligible for homelessness
into force in January 2009 were                assistance

  2 The changes included a decrease in the SMI waiting period from 39 to 13 weeks, and an increase in the capital limit on eligible
  loans from £100,000 to £200,000.
Evidence | Summer 2009                                                                                                                5
Pensioner poverty

Can pensioner poverty be
eliminated?
Alan Barton questions whether the Government can meet its ambitious targets to
tackle pensioner poverty
The Government has a well             How is this going? In 1997 2.9           benefits to pay their rent and council
publicised target to halve child      million pensioners were in poverty       tax. Although the Pension Service
poverty by 2010 and to eliminate      (households with incomes below 60        has tried hard to identify people who
it by 2020. Despite making some       percent of median AHC income). By        might be eligible for pension credit
progress, it is going to miss the     2005/6 this had fallen to 1.8 million.   and to persuade them to claim,
2010 target. It is seeking to build   The introduction of pension credit       take-up is stubbornly stuck between
the 2020 target into law.             (PC) in 2003 played a large part in      60% and 70%. Take-up of council
Tackling pensioner poverty            this reduction. Unfortunately, the       tax benefit (CTB) by eligible older
is also a government priority,        number of pensioners in poverty          owner occupiers is believed to be
although it has not committed         rose in 2006/7 and then stayed           even lower, at around 40%.
itself to such clear targets.         about level in 2007/8, with two
Instead, Public Service               million pensioners in poverty. This      The key to improving take up is for
Agreement 17, “Tackle                 is lower than the population as a        statutory agencies, particularly
poverty and promote greater           whole – with 22.2% in poverty,           councils and the Pensions Service,
independence and wellbeing in         and much lower than the 30.5% of         to share information about people
later life,” states that progress     children who are in poverty.             who are likely to qualify for one of
will be measured by five
                                                                               these benefits and to encourage
indicators, including:
                                      The House of Commons Work                them to claim. They also need to
                                      and Pensions Select Committee’s          develop links with local agencies
    “The percentage of
                                      current inquiry into pensioner           that are trusted by older people, to
    pensioners in low income
                                      poverty is examining whether more        raise awareness - many older people
    • The Government will continue    could be done to address the issue       wrongly think that they will not
    to tackle pensioner poverty,      and whether particular groups            qualify. These groups can also help
                                      are more vulnerable to poverty in        people to make their applications.
    particularly through paying
                                      old age. They are also looking at
    pensions and benefits to those
                                      benefits take-up by older people      We consider that the system for
    eligible, so that pensioners      and at the likely longer term impact  getting help with council tax needs
    continue to share in the rising   of planned changes in state and       to be changed. Many older people
    prosperity of the nation. To      occupational pensions.                feel they pay too much council tax,
    monitor this we will keep track                                         but do not try to get their bill waived
    of the percentage of pensioners                                         or reduced because they would
    below key thresholds of income:   The CAB perspective have to claim CTB people who not
                                                                            see themselves as
                                                                                               and they do
    60 per cent of contemporary
                                                                            need to claim a “benefit”. The help
    median income, 50 per cent of     In our evidence to the Committee,
                                                                            should be renamed as a “rebate” – a
    contemporary median income        we have drawn attention to
                                                                            more acceptable term - and local
    and 60 per cent of 1998/99        pensioners’ dislike of means testing.
                                                                            authorities should be required to
    median income uprated in line     We are concerned that the current
                                                                            identify who would qualify.
    with prices. The measures will    arrangements rely heavily on means
                                      testing for pensioners to top up
    report income after housing
                                      their income by claiming PC, and
    costs (AHC) are deducted.”        to claim housing and council tax


6                                                                                             Evidence | Summer 2009
                                      uprating state pensions by the          to enable people to get informed
Age discrimination earnings index rather than the                             individual advice on the opt out
                                      price index from 2012, though this      decision.
Older carers and disabled people      may be knocked off track by the
have extra costs, but are poorly      recession. This would mean that         Levels of pensioner poverty have
served by the benefits that are       the state pension keeps up with         fallen greatly in the last decade, but
available. People with mobility       earnings. Overall, these changes        this improvement now appears to
needs before they are 65 can get      mean that more people should be         have stalled. In the longer term,
the mobility component of disability getting a full state pension in future   changes in state and workplace
living allowance, which can lead      – but they will have to be older        pensions should reduce the number
to a Motability car and exemption     before they can claim it.               of older people claiming means
from car tax. No such help is                                                 tested benefits to keep them out
available if your mobility problems In 2012 all employers will be             of poverty. For the next 20 years at
arise after your 65th birthday. This  required to enrol their employees in    least, many older people are likely
is age discrimination, and the rules a pension scheme. Employers will         to qualify for means tested benefits
should be changed to allow people have to contribute at least 3% of           and it is imperative that statutory
help based on their needs, not their salary to the scheme and employees       and voluntary organisations share
age.                                  4%. Employees will be able to opt       information and work together to
                                      out, but the expectation is that        maximise take-up.
Many older people care for a          few will do so. The hope is that
disabled partner. But, if they get    6-9 million more people will have       Alan Barton is a social policy officer
state retirement pension, they will workplace pensions, leading to            working on pension and social care
                                                                              issues.
not qualify for carers allowance (a   smaller numbers reliant on means        Alan.barton@citizensadvice.org.
very modest £53.10 a week) even if tested benefits in retirement.             uk
they provide over 35 hours care per
week. This rule should be changed
so that an older carer can get carers
                                      Importance of
allowance in addition to their state advice
pension, and the rate of carers
allowance should be substantially     Whilst welcoming the proposed
increased.                            changes, Citizens Advice believes
                                      that people will need advice on
New pension rules whether they shouldA few people
                                      workplace pension.
                                                             opt out of the

                                      - particularly those on low earnings
Major changes aimed at improving
                                      and near retirement age or living
pensioners’ incomes and reducing
                                      alone in rented accommodation
the need for means testing are
                                      – would benefit from opting out
planned over the next few years.
                                      because they might lose as much
From 2010, only 33 years of
                                      in means tested benefits as they
national insurance contributions
                                      would gain in extra workplace
will be needed to qualify for a full
                                      pension. People will need individual
basic state pension. This will help
                                      advice, but will not be able to
women who have been out of
                                      afford to go to an independent
the labour market due to caring
                                      financial adviser. There needs to be
responsibilities. From 2010 to
                                      good quality free advice for such
2020, the state pension age for
                                      people, possibly along the lines of
women will rise to 65. Further rises
                                      the Financial Services Authority’s
in state pension age for men and
                                      Money Guidance pilot schemes
women will follow– 66 by 2026,
                                      currently running in the North of
67 by 2036 and 68 by 2046. The
                                      England. By 2012, such services
Government also hopes to start
                                      will need to be available nationally


Evidence | Summer 2009                                                                                            7
Essential services

Out in the cold
Customers not connected to the gas network currently get a raw deal, with those
on low incomes hardest hit. Tony Herbert argues that Government should extend
regulation to ensure they receive protections afforded to other customers
There are approximately 4.3                   incomes, as the following cases
million customers living in                   show:                                        Minimum delivery
rural areas who are not on the
gas network. These people             A CAB in South West Wales                            Affordability difficulties are
are entirely dependent on             reported a case in which a woman                     exacerbated because domestic
electricity, domestic heating oil     suffering from arthritis experienced                 heating oil and LPG suppliers often
or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)      real difficulties in paying for her                  have minimum delivery amounts
for heating their homes and           fuel from her benefit income.                        which necessitate large lump-sum
providing hot water.                  Her heating and hot water were                       payments from customers up front.
                                      provided by oil which was now                        Yet this can be impossible for people
This means they lose out in a         costing £740 per tank when it had                    on low incomes who are unable to
number of ways. Most obviously,       cost only £150 a few years ago.                      afford such substantial expenditure
they have to pay significantly higher The client was very concerned that                   from low weekly incomes. As
costs for their fuel. Estimates from she would no longer be able to                        a result, they might have to go
2008 suggest that households off      afford heating oil this winter, yet                  without heating or hot water:
the gas network had typical energy she needed to keep warm to avoid
bills of about £1,700 per annum,      aggravating her arthritis. She was                   A CAB in Wiltshire reported that
compared to £1,000 for those with thinking of turning off the upstairs                     their client had had no central
gas mains connections.1               radiators and sleeping downstairs,                   heating or hot water for three years
                                      and was also considering selling her                 because he could not afford the
These higher fuel costs are made      home.                                                minimum quantity of oil required
harder to bear since people off                                                            by the oil delivery company. He had
the gas grid do not benefit from      A lone parent in receipt of benefits                 been forced to use electric fires in
more competitively priced dual fuel sought advice from a CAB in                            winter.
deals (where a customer receives      Cornwall about how she could
both electricity and gas from the     afford to buy oil to heat her rented
same supplier). To rub further salt   home. She had almost run out of
in their wounds, customers taking     oil. When she rang up to order
                                                                                           No help with
only electricity under a single fuel  more, she found that the price had                   budgetting
arrangement (around a third of        risen enormously and no supplier
electricity customers, including      was prepared to deliver less than                    Whilst fuel companies providing
the 4.3 million people off the gas    450 litres at a cost of about £300,                  mains gas have to offer their
grid) are charged higher prices for   which she could not afford from                      customers a range of payment
their electricity which the regulator her income support. The bureau                       methods and budgeting schemes to
Ofgem recently found had no cost      applied for a grant for the client                   spread the cost of their fuel, there is
basis.                                and she was awarded up to £200                       no such requirement for oil or LPG
                                      but she was unable to afford the                     suppliers, who are unregulated.
Affordability                         additional £100. As a result, the                    Nor do they offer social tariffs which
                                      client and her children were living in               can help their most vulnerable
The problem of affordability for      a property with no heating and no                    customers who may struggle to pay
people living off the gas network is hot water.                                            for their fuel.
particularly acute for those on low

    1 Energy prices, fuel poverty and Ofgem, Business and Enterprise Select Committee, July 2008
8                                                                                                          Evidence | Summer 2009
A CAB in Northumberland reported          A CAB in Hampshire reported that          make sure that the protections and
that their client, a 23 year old          their client had to pay £300 for an       assistance currently provided to
mother with three dependant               oil delivery but had no money to          customers on the gas network are
children, had been without any            do so. As she was disabled and            also offered to those who rely on
central heating for three weeks as        the weather had been particularly         heating oil or LPG.
she could not afford a delivery of oil.   cold, the delivery was essential. The
Although oil deliveries can be paid       client was therefore forced to apply      Tony Herbert is a social policy
for by direct debit, the client had       for a crisis loan from the social fund,   officer dealing with essential
                                                                                    services issues.
to cancel this method of payment          though it was not clear whether           Tony.herbert@citizensadvice.org.
as she had insufficient funds in her      a loan would be granted to pay a          uk
bank account. The only alternative        utility bill.
was to pay cash on delivery for a
minimum delivery of a half tank,
costing approximately £250. The
client reported that her house was
                                          What should be
freezing in the cold weather at the       done?
time and her youngest child had
developed chilblains. Apparently,      Recently the price of heating
a group of neighbours had tried        oil has fallen, providing some
to negotiate with various oil          much-needed respite to those
companies to buy a tank between        struggling to pay for their heating
them and have a proportion put in      oil or LPG. But falling prices and
each of their tanks, but none would    warmer weather should not
accept this.                           distract from the need to address
                                       the fundamental problems with
Another Northumberland CAB             the way the domestic heating oil
reported that their client could not and LPG market currently works for
afford the £600 cost of having his oil those on lower incomes.
tank filled since the payment terms
were strictly cash on delivery. He     Clearly, it is right that Ofgem’s work
had approached his landlord to see on extending the gas network
if he would pay for the oil upfront    should continue, though larger
and allow him to pay the amount        incentives should be introduced
back in instalments but the landlord to speed this work up. This is
was not willing to do so. The client particularly important since around
had had no heating for the last four half the communities which are off
months. He felt permanently cold       the gas network in Britain are only
even though he wrapped up in           2 km from a gas main, and new gas
clothes and blankets.                  connections to these communities
                                       could reach around 220,000
As a consequence of the lack of        fuel-poor households, potentially
affordable payment arrangements, reducing their fuel bills by half.
rural customers on low incomes
can be forced to make a desperate More fundamental reform is also
choice: to do without heating and required. There is a compelling case
hot water or to make applications      for the Department for Energy and
for grants to charities or for         Climate Change (DECC) to extend
crisis loans. Yet depending on         Ofgem regulation to domestic
charity for such essential items of    heating oil and LPG suppliers. As
expenditure is both demeaning and part of this extended remit Ofgem
unsustainable.                         should, as a matter of priority,



Evidence | Summer 2009                                                                                                 9
Human rights

Know your rights
James Sandbach looks at key human rights issues for CAB clients in 2009
With all political parties now               and remand, which can often be                 still failed to receive any benefit
considering the future of human              disproportionately disruptive, for             money. The adviser had to make
rights law, it is a good time to look        example:                                       further phone calls to the prison
at where the CAB service stands on                                                          and the DWP. All this was extremely
issues of fundamental rights. 1 With         A CAB in Dorset reported that a                stressful for the client, who had
so much focus on the economy,                man with mental health problems                no money and was trying to resist
overarching personal rights can              was held on remand for two                     the temptation to steal it. He was
get sidelined or misunderstood in            months following a fight. He had               unable to see his GP because of the
policy making and public debate,             been told that his incapacity and              conditions of his release and had to
but these issues are fundamental             disability living allowance had been           attend another medical centre.
to citizenship, security, shared             frozen, but would be reinstated
cultures and values. Historically,           on his release. This did not happen            In a context of “rights and
bureaux have identified themselves           when the client was released with              responsibilities”, it may be
as “rights based organisations”              an electronic tag at the beginning             opportune to argue that
and there is no doubt that the legal         of November 2008. Three weeks                  communities, and not just the
framework of rights underpinning             later, when his benefits were still            prison system, have responsibilities
our society and political constitution       not forthcoming, he sought advice              towards managing crime and
can be vital casework and                    from the CAB outreach. The adviser             offending behaviour, and therefore
campaigning tools in how we help             rang the DWP who were aware                    that many more offenders may be
our clients to get fair treatment            of his release and had asked the               better managed in the community.
from public services, and to                 Prison Service to confirm it so that           The Government’s consultation on
empower them to help themselves              they could recommence benefit                  Engaging Communities in Criminal
in their communities.                        payments. The adviser tried many               Justice, is a welcome signal that
                                             times to contact the appropriate               there may now be a policy shift
What follows is a look at some key           person in the Prison Service,                  towards restorative justice and
human rights challenges raised by            without success. The adviser then              community penalty schemes.
bureau evidence.                             rang Jobcentre Plus who said that,
                                             as the client had been in prison for
                                             more than 6 weeks, he would have
                                                                                            Social and economic
Liberty and criminal                         to reapply for incapacity benefit              rights
justice                                      and would need to get a medical
                                             certificate from his GP. After the             With so many public services and
The prison population has grown              client left, the adviser eventually got        public goods now delivered through
over the past decade, and with               through to the prison governor’s               the private sector, we believe it is
it re-offending rates, although              office who said they had not                   time to go beyond legislating simply
overall crime has decreased.                 received the appropriate form from             for public authorities’ duties within
Prison overcrowding has reached              the DWP. The DWP then told the                 the context of European Convention
such levels that the Government              adviser that the form had been                 Rights. Rights and responsibilities
is now spending a chunk of the               sent to the prison. The Governor’s             must include corporate social
criminal justice budget on “Titan            secretary then found it on her desk            responsibility.
Prisons” to ease the capacity crisis.        and agreed to fax it to the DWP
And there has been a noticeable              immediately. The client returned to            So should the CAB service become
increase in the penal system of              the bureau a month later, having               advocates for the enforceability
short term custodial sentences                                                              of social and economic rights?
 1 For the Government’s Green Paper on “Rights and Responsibilities” see http://governance.justice.gov.uk . A similar debate about
 legislating domestically for “rights and responsibilities” is also taking place within the Conservative Party which has set up its own
 Human Rights Commission.
10                                                                                                            Evidence | Summer 2009
In the Universal Declaration on           from strict eligibility rules to limited   that “Pubwatch” websites are
Human Rights, civil and political         specialist supplier and casework           effectively being used to exclude
rights (to vote, freedom from             availability:                              identified persons from leisure
torture and slavery, free speech                                                     facilities.
and religious freedom) and social         A Somerset CAB reported that a
and economic rights (work, health,        woman with three children on a             James Sandbach is a social policy
education, food, shelter, and social      low income needed legal help to            officer working on legal, equality
                                                                                     and human rights issues
security) were set out together, as       contest an application for access          James.sandbach@citizensadvice.
interlocking and interdependent.          to two of the children from her            org.uk
Moreover, the International               violent ex-partner. She earned
Covenant on Economic, Social,             £403 per month from her part-
and Cultural Rights commits               time job, topped up with working
governments to taking steps to            tax credit of £110.42 per week,
ensure that everyone has adequate         child tax credit of £126.95 per
standards of living, including food,      week and child benefit of £43.90
clothing and shelter, favourable          per week. The partner looks after
conditions of work, high standards        the youngest child and does not
of health, free basic education, as       work. The client’s violent ex-partner
well as social security rights.           has applied for access to the two
                                          children that he fathered. The client
Much of our evidence on issues            had just been notified that she did
such as retaliatory eviction, fuel        not qualify for legal aid because her
poverty, and exploitation of              income was too high. The solicitor
vulnerable workers illustrate the         who was dealing with the case
social and economic dimensions of         would not do any more work on it,
human rights and the importance           and was pursuing outstanding legal
that of rights being enforceable          fees of £125 per hour plus VAT.
across the public and private
sectors. So for example, in the           As it is 60 years since legal aid was
context of the Equality Bill we have      introduced, it is important we argue
lobbied for a clause covering socio-      the case for more Government
economic disadvantage to be built         support for legal aid to tackle
into public sector duties, and for        social welfare law problems like
the duties to apply not just to public    domestic violence, unfair evictions
bodies but to economic regulators         and re-redundancies and the
and public service procurement            treatment of asylum seekers.
more generally.                           Whilst public spending may come
                                          under pressure, it is no time for
                                          Government to think about retiring
Access to legal                           legal aid.
services
The question of the “enforceability”
                                          Human rights in the
of rights is inextricably linked to the   internet age
availability of appropriate advocacy
and advice services. Despite Article      Finally, the electronic age is raising
6 of the European Convention              all sorts of new human rights issues.
which guarantees equality of arms         A CAB in the North East managed
in the justice system, many people        to persuade a social networking
find it too difficult to use the civil    website to take down a page that
law to enforce their rights. CAB          was encouraging other people to
evidence continues to reveal major        harass one of their clients. Another
access barriers to obtaining legal aid    CAB has expressed concerns

Evidence | Summer 2009                                                                                                   11
 Evidence reports published                                          • Response to DECC consultation on
                                                                       amendments to the Carbon Emissions
 inthe last six months                                                 Reduction Target (CERT)
                                                                     • Citizens Advice response to the consultation
 • A life in debt (free, February 2009)
                                                                       by Child Poverty Unit: Ending child poverty:
   A profile of CAB debt clients in 2008
                                                                       making it happen (April)
 • A private matter? (free, March 2009 – a joint
                                                                     • Second Reading briefing (House of Lords)
   report with Crisis, Shelter and the Chartered
                                                                       Welfare Reform Bill, House of Lords (April)
   Institute of Housing)
   Private tenants: the forgotten victims of the                     • Response to Ofgem’s report on direct debit
   repossessions crisis                                                payments (May)
 • Let down (free, May 2009)                                         • Response to Department for Energy and
   CAB evidence on letting agents and their                            Climate Change’s consultation on the
   charges                                                             Community Energy Saving Programme (CESP)
                                                                       (May)
                                                                     • Response to OFT consultation on Second
 Recent briefings and                                                  Charge Lending guidance for brokers and
 responses to consultation                                             lenders (May)
 papers March – May 2009                                             • Second Reading (House of Commons) briefing
                                                                       on the Equality Bill (May)
 • Response to Ofgem’s proposals on the
   regulation of marketing to domestic customers
   (March)
 • Citizens Advice’s views for BERR on the content
   of the Consumer White Paper (March)
 • E-Money Directive response to Treasury (April)
 • Response to the EU consultation document:
   Financial Inclusion: ensuring access to a basic
   bank account (April)


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12                                                                                                   Evidence | Summer 2009

				
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