Thursday 26 February 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015 Posted by Hari No comments Labels:
Posted by Hari on Thursday, February 26, 2015 with No comments | Labels:

Legal aid cuts are forcing domestic abuse victims to be cross-examined by their attackers
The justice system’s treatment of victims of domestic violence has become a politically charged issue. The Ministry of Justice says all victims are entitled to legal aid to help them “break free from abusive relationships”. But according to research by Citizens Advice, victims of domestic abuse increasingly face being cross-examined by their attackers because legal aid cuts make it difficult to qualify for courtroom representation. The report says: “In some cases these restrictions expose victims to risk, leaving no alternative but to represent themselves in court facing their perpetrator.” A fifth of Citizens Advice advisers reported that they could no longer help as many domestic abuse clients as before. A similar proportion found that most domestic abuse clients were unable to afford the required contributions when offered legal aid. One major flaw in the system is that many women cannot access money needed to pay for their contribution, because they have fled their home and their assets are part-owned by their abuser. It quotes one victim as saying: “I’ve had to face my violent ex-partner in court twice now, and will have to continue to do so as I simply cannot afford costs.” Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Domestic abuse victims must not be a test case for downsizing justice... The government’s assurance that it will protect access to legal aid for domestic abuse victims is not standing up”. GUARDIAN

Almost 700,000 people in UK have zero-hours contract as main job
The rise - 100,000 on a year ago - is likely to trigger renewed debate over the widespread use of contracts that offer no guarantee of hours and only those benefits guaranteed by law, such as holiday pay. It represents 2.3% of all people in employment. Overall, because workers often have more than one job official figures showed the number of individual employment contracts offering no minimum hours jumped from 1.4m in 2013, to 1.8m last year. The ONS said the 28% increase was not so much the result of a surge in the number of zero-hours jobs last year, but due more to staff realising that they were on these contracts, due to the increased publicity about employment terms. Some of Britain’s largest employers offer zero-hours contracts to employees. High street giants such as JD Wetherspoon, Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Sports Direct and McDonald’s all use the deals. Buckingham Palace has offered the contracts to staff working in the summer when the Queen’s main residence is open to the public. The ONS said over half of businesses in the hotel and catering sectors used the contracts and a quarter of businesses in education made some use of no-guaranteed-hours contracts in August 2014. Universities and colleges have become large-scale users of zero-hours contracts, while an estimated 160,000 care staff are also on similar deals. A report in the Daily Mail earlier this month found that scores of MPs from all major parties were found to be offering zero-hours contracts to researchers and other temporary staff. Based on a series of freedom of information requests, the newspaper also found several Labour-run councils offering zero-hours contracts. Around a third of people on them want more hours, the ONS added, saying people on zero-hours deals are more likely to be women, students in full-time education or working part-time. They are also more likely to be aged under 25, or 65 and over. GUARDIAN

Number of new homes built last year was less than half the figure needed to keep pace with demand
Official figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government showed that 118,760 homes were completed during the year, an increase of 8% on the previous year but far below the 250,000 most experts say are needed to begin to tackle the country’s housing crisis. Quarterly figures showed the number of new houses started was down by 39% on the peak hit in March 2007, while completions were down by 26% on the same period. Experts warned that the failure to build more homes would be “felt for generations to come” and push house prices further out of reach of aspiring homeowners. Even before the credit crunch building was failing to keep up with growing demand, but since then the gap has become bigger. Henry Gregg of the National Housing Federation said: “With building numbers below half what is needed, we’re creating a housing shortage that will be felt for generations to come. Every year the country fails to build enough homes is another year that aspiring homeowners are priced out, young people are trapped in childhood bedrooms and families struggle with high rents.” Campbell Robb, chief executive of the housing charity Shelter, said it was shocking how few homes were being built. “What’s even more worrying is that the number of new affordable homes started has fallen dramatically in the last three months,” he said. “Piecemeal schemes like Help-to-buy are only papering over the cracks. With the general election around the corner and housing one of voters’ top concerns, it’s time for politicians to stop just talking about the issue and finally commit to building the affordable homes we so desperately need.” GUARDIAN

People in need at risk of losing tax credits after being wrongly accused of cheating
Thousands of people on low incomes are being sent letters by an American outsourcing company accusing them of cheating on their tax credits and warning them that they may have their benefits stopped. Concentrix, part of a multi-billion pound US business services company, has been accused of going on a vast “fishing expedition” as part of a controversial contract with HM Revenue and Customs to outsource its fraud and error detection. Staff working at Concentrix have told The Independent that they are under pressure to open between 40 and 50 new tax-credit investigations every day and often don’t have time to check whether the allegations they are making stack up. Meanwhile, worried claimants have been taking to internet message forums to ask for advice for dealing with the false allegations being made against them. Many said they believed the letters to be hoaxes as they asked for personal financial information such as bank and mortgage statements to be sent to the company within 30 days. Those who ignore the letters risk having their tax credits halted. Staff at Concentrix’s office in Belfast, where the contract is based, have told The Independent that they haven’t been given enough training to differentiate between genuine claims for tax credits and fraudulent ones. They also say they are being encouraged to hit a target of making 20 decisions a day, or about three an hour, on whether to stop, amend or leave a tax claim unchanged. One worker on Concentrix’s tax-credit contract, who asked not to be named, said that in his own estimate about six in 10 investigations into people suspected of not declaring that they’re living with a partner are opened in error. INDEPENDENT

RAC says £100m in private parking penalties 'charged illegally'
The RAC report was compiled by barrister John de Waal QC, who said parking companies were levying charges on drivers which were disproportionate to the losses suffered by landowners as a result of motorists' actions. The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 banned clamping, towing, blocking-in or immobilising a vehicle without lawful authority on private land, in a bid to end abuses by rogue clamping firms. However, the RAC foundation said that private car parks were now using overstay penalty charges as an alternative, with a system of ticketing which was "barely regulated". Drivers who stay longer than the time they have paid for may receive tickets demanding payments of up to £100, and significantly more in some cases, it said. It cited the case of a woman from High Wycombe who, in 2014, had been penalty charged £100 for overstaying in a car park which cost 20p per hour. It said when parking signs were not clear or prominently displayed, the charge could also be challenged on the grounds of unfairness. RAC director Professor Stephen Glaister estimated overcharging in private parking penalties may have reached £100m in 2013, and said millions of drivers could be due a refund. He also said a case coming to the Court of Appeal next week, regarding a motorist who is contesting an £85 penalty charge, could establish a precedent in law if the motorist wins, meaning others could have a case to get money repaid. BBC NEWS

Cost of childcare so high that it does not pay UK families to work
It now costs around £115.45 on average to send a child aged under two to nursery for 25 hours a week in Britain, a total of £6,003 per year. This is a 5.1% increase on last year. The cost of sending a toddler to nursery part-time has risen by around a third over the past five years, with parents now forced to pay an average of £6,000 a year – £1,533 more than in 2010. Despite heavy government spending on childcare, gaps in provision are also increasing, the survey found. In addition, for the first time, Britain’s poorest families are having to find substantial sums to make up the shortfall between part-time childcare costs and the maximum amount of help they can claim under working tax credits. “The reality is that for too many families it simply does not pay to work,” concluded the Family and Childcare Trust in their annual Childcare Costs Survey 2015. For the first time outside of London, some parents on the lowest incomes are finding that the maximum amount of help they can claim for childcare is leaving them out of pocket by at least £52.50 a week. The report suggests that there are two reasons for the increases in prices for under-twos: in England, nurseries and childminders are putting up their prices after keeping them down during the recession, and parents are subsidising the government’s free places for disadvantaged two-year-olds. The survey also found that the problem of insufficient childcare provision is getting worse not better, with just 43% of councils in England fulfilling their legal obligation to provide childcare for working parents, compared with 54% last year. The report suggests three reasons for the fall in supply over the past year: 382,000 women returned to work between September to November last year, while places for older children may have been eroded at the expense of the increased number of places for two-year-olds in general, and those two-year-old children who qualify for free early education in particular. A Department for Education spokesman said the report “neglects the record amount of fully funded childcare we are giving. Based on the FCT’s own figures, our free entitlement will save the average eligible family £2,500 per year for each child.” GUARDIAN

Church of England pays some workers below living wage
The Church of England pays some staff less than the living wage - despite calling on employers to pay at least that amount - it has been revealed. The living wage, calculated from the basic cost of UK life, is currently £7.85 an hour outside London. But the Sun newspaper reports a Church job advertised at £6.50 an hour - something an MP called "astonishing". The Church said each parish, diocese and cathedral was a separate legal entity which made its own decisions. According to the Sun, Canterbury Cathedral advertised for a kiosk assistant to be paid £6.70 an hour. The £6.50 advertisement was for "waiting-on staff" at Lichfield Cathedral. In a statement, the Church of England said it was made of independent parts but added: "The vast majority of those employed by or sub-contracted to the central institutions are already paid at least the living wage and all will be by April 2017. "The Diocese of Canterbury and the Pensions Board of the Church of England are committed to moving to paying the living wage and hope to be at that point within the next 2 years. As charities both institutions require time to increase giving levels prior to ensuring delivery of the living wage." BBC NEWS


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