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Friday, 5 April 2013

That's it I'm leaving the country - someone turn the lights out!

So the first week in the new world of the law has come to an end. All of the new documents are done. All referral arrangements have been reviewed. I have had a glimpse of the waste land of Access to Justice and it is likely to be as bad as we all expected –

So I’ve had enough. I’m leaving on a jet plane Monday morning and will be in Australia by lunchtime Tuesday. Bye all! Thanks for the memories.

OK it is only a holiday. And I’m taking my elderly mother along for the ride to visit her only other son. Mind you it would be tempting to disappear into the rain forest  There’s an idea for a TV series – I’m a Lawyer, get me in here!

So there will be no regular Virtual Lawyer posts for the next three weeks. I will still post the occasional blog on any interesting Australian legal issues that I come across. Maybe I should rename this blog The Virtual Lawyer Goes Large Down Under.

Speaking of which did you know that in Australia it is illegal to leave your car keys in an unattended vehicle? Only licensed electricians can change a light bulb and a modem cannot pick up on the first ring. 

We are going to Perth and then heading off to Queensland for 9 days to see the Rain forest and the Reef. We will give Canberra a miss. According to Bill Bryson it is the most boring city on earth.  So boring that the 1996 Prime Minister John Howard declined to live there after winning the election. Instead, he announced he would commute from Sydney to Canberra as duties required. There were suggestions that it should be named - “Sydmeladperbrisho”. There is in fact some logic behind that bizarre title. Answers on a postcard – winners get a cork hat or a didgeridoo.

There are clearly exciting days ahead.

So here’s looking at you all.

See you in May.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Bedroom Tax - a legal view

Well so much has happened this week, it is hard to know where to start. 

I have spent a lot of time on the changes to personal injury claims. There are many other injustices on the horizon following 1st April – otherwise known as Black Monday.

One thing which does have huge legal implications is the Bedroom Tax. Supporters of the government deny that this in fact a ‘tax’ at all. It is in fact the reduction in Housing Benefit for poorer families who are deemed to have too many bedrooms. So if two children each have their own room – even if mixed sex in the case of under 10s – the tenant will be penalised. If a disabled adult needs their own room they will see a cut. If a couple have lived in a house for half their lives they will have money taken away if they have one or more unused bedrooms after the children fly the nest.

If it is money which is taken from tenants and benefits the treasury then is tax in my book! But this is not the place to discuss the pros and cons of the tax. What is clear is that there can and will be legal cases as a result. If a tenant’s rent is say £100 a week and they lose say £20 a week under the tax. The rent remains £100 regardless of whether the tenant can afford to pay. If the whole amount is not paid then arrears will accrue. If the arrears are not cleared the tenant faces eviction. Some have tried to argue that in fact nobody will lose their home as a result of the tax.

Social Landlords have said that they will have no choice but to evict tenants in arrears. They may do so with a heavy heart but cannot afford to do otherwise. One social landlord has gone as far as sending a form to tenants inviting them to sign to acknowledge their liability for the full rent in the case of any deduction.

The government say the aim is to encourage people to move of oversized accommodation. According to Conservative Party Chair Grant Schapps -

“It is wrong to leave people out in the cold with effectively no roof over their heads because the taxpayer is paying for rooms which aren’t in use. It’s just a common-sense reform, which in the end will help house more people.”

The problem is that almost all landlords say that there is no accommodation available for them to move to. It is a classic Catch 22.

To make matters worse Legal Aid has been drastically cut this week. As a result those tenants who most need legal help will not be able to get it.

I predict that we are going to see hundreds of cases arriving at the courts with unrepresented tenants. The judiciary has already complained that they will not be able to cope with the flood of similar cases.

Sadly it will probably take the first Bedroom Tax eviction to make the media take notice.