Scottish Child Disability Payment

Scottish Child Disability Payment

From the 22nd November 2021, Scottish Child Disability Payments (CDP) is replacing Child Disability Payments (Child DLA), for any child under the age of 18 who is resident in Scotland.

The new benefit is the latest that will be rolled out by the Scottish Social Security Agency (SSSA) and can be applied for any child who is under the age 16 years old and has either a physical or mental disability or is terminally ill.

Although the benefit can only be applied for a Child who is under the age of 16 years old, it can be paid to a child up to the age of 18.

For those Children already in receipt of the UK’s Child Disability Payment, they do not need to do anything as gradually over the next year, all existing recipients of Child DLA will be migrated over onto Child Disability Payments by the Scottish Social Security Agency. The process of migrating the first tranche of children over will begin from the 22nd November and will include those children who are 15 years and 6 months old and those who are terminally ill. This will ensure those children will not have to apply for Personal Independence Payments when they turn 16 years old, unless they wish to (although Personal Independence Payments will be replaced next year by Adult Disability Payments by the Scottish Social Security Agency).

What is the Child Disability Payments?

CDP will be a new benefit, modelled largely on the UK’s Child Disability Living Allowance, but it will be administered by the Scottish Social Security Agency rather than the Department of Works and Pensions.

It is a benefit that will be available for the parents or guardians of children with disabilities to apply for. These disabilities can be physical or mental and don’t necessarily have had to have been diagnosed yet. The application process for the benefit will not just look at the illness the child suffers from, but also the symptoms and how those symptoms impact of the child’s life. They will look at not just the physical effects of the disability, but also the emotional and psychological effects.

There will be two components to the new benefit. One of which will be for the care needs and the other will be for the mobility needs (although mobility will only be available for children over the age of 3).

Care Components

There will be three levels that the Care Component can be awarded at. These will be

  • Low (£23.70 per week)
  • Middle (£60 per week); and
  • High (£89.60 per week).

Low-Rate Care

Low-rate Care is for any child who need attention from someone for a significant part of the day, in connection with their bodily functions, due to either a physical of mental illness; or

If they are 16 years or older, due to a physical or mental illness, needs help with preparing a cooked meal for themselves (although you can only apply for Child CDP when you are under 16 years old, it can be paid until your 18 years old, unlike the UK’s Child Disability Living Allowance, that is only payable until the Child is 16 years old).

Middle-Rate Care

Middle-rate care is payable when a child needs:

Frequent attention from someone during the day, or prolonged or repeated attention at night in connection with their bodily functions due to a physical or mental disability; or

Continual supervision during the day, or another person to be awake for a prolonged period or at frequent intervals to avoid substantial danger to themselves or others; or

They are receiving renal dialysis treatment during the day or night at least twice a week.

High-Rate Care

High-rate care is payable when a child needs:

  • Frequent attention from someone during the day and prolonged or repeated attention at night in connection with their bodily functions due to a physical or mental disability; or
  • Continual supervision during the day and another person to be awake for a prolonged period or at frequent intervals to avoid substantial danger to themselves or others; or
  • They are receiving renal dialysis treatment during the day or night at least twice a week; or
  • They are terminally ill.

Mobility Payments

There are two levels of mobility Payments that can be applied for any child over the age of 3. These are:

  • Low-Rate Mobility (£23.70 per week); and
  • High-Rate Mobility (£62.55 per week).

Low-Rate Mobility

This rate of the mobility component is paid if the child is 5 years or older and can walk without equipment, but most of the time need guidance or supervision from someone to move around outdoors.

High-Rate Mobility

This rate of mobility is for children over 3 years old, if the child:

  • Cannot walk or is virtually unable to move around outdoors due to their disability; or
  • Has a severe visual disability or is blind and deaf; or
  • Has a severe mental health disability; or
  • Has severe behavioural disabilities, due to a severe mental health disability, and needs supervision during the day and at night to avoid substantial danger to themselves or others; or
  • Would suffer a serious deterioration in their health due to the exertion of walking; or
  • Is terminally ill.

If a child qualifies for the High-rate mobility component you can apply to the Mobility Scheme for an accessible vehicle.

How do you Apply?

You can apply by visiting the Scottish Social Security Agency website, but evidence shows Children and their families will have a greater chance of being successful if they seek independent advice and assistance in making the application. This can be obtained for free advice agencies across Scotland.

Post Office Accounts are Closing: Basic Bank Accounts

Post Office Accounts are Closing: Basic Bank Accounts

The decision by the Post Office to close its bank accounts has now been delayed until November 2022.

The reason for the delay is to allow people who currently get benefits paid into Post Office accounts, time to transfer to another. If people don’t own another account, and with over 1 million people in the UK not having bank accounts this could mean quite a few people, they will be moved onto the Payment Exception Service.  

Payment Exception Service

The Payment Exception Service will allow people to get their benefits paid from any Paypoint Outlet by using a digital voucher, which they can receive by

  • Email
  • Text Message
  • A Unique Barcode displayed on a mobile phone.  

They will also be provided with a reusable magnetic strip card that they can use.

What if you don’t own an account?

If you don’t own a bank account, most people in the UK are entitled to own one.  Our guide below explains your rights to have a basic bank account and how to open one.

Your Rights to a Basic Bank Account

Under the Payment Account Regulations 2015, there are nine British banks that are required by law to provide you with a basic bank account, providing you meet certain criteria.

These banks are:

  • Barclays,
  • Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank,
  • Co-operative Bank,
  • HSBC,
  • Lloyds Banking Group (including Halifax and Bank of Scotland brands),
  • Nationwide,
  • Royal Bank of Scotland (including NatWest and Ulster Bank brands),
  • Santander; and
  • TSB

When does a Bank have to provide you with a Basic Bank Account?

For one of these banks to be required by law to provide you with a bank account, you must:

  • Be legally resident within the UK;
  • Not hold another bank account with another institution;
  • Not be eligible for any other account with the institution that is not a basic bank account;
  • Where you have another account with another bank, you should not be treated as having an account with another credit institution, if you have been told to close that account.

What must a Basic Bank Account allow you to do?

A basic bank account should have several features. These are:

  • They should allow you to deposit and withdraw money at their branch;
  • They should be free;
  • They should allow you online banking facilities;
  • They should allow you to withdraw money from an ATM machine;
  • They should allow you to set up direct debits, standing orders and to make electronic transfers;
  • ·It should not allow you to run up an overdraft.

When can a Bank refuse to allow you to open a Basic Account?

Banks can refuse to open a basic bank account if it would be unlawful for them to do so, or it would be contrary to:

  • The Fraud Act 2006;
  • The Money Laundering Act 2007;
  • Contrary to Section 40(d) of the Immigration Act 2014; or
  • ·Under Part 4A (f) of the Financial Services and Market Act 2000, the Bank is limited from taking on new business.

A Bank may also refuse to open an account if it believes the conduct of the customer may constitute and offence to one of its staff.

Someone being bankrupt or having a poor credit rating is not grounds for refusing to provide someone with a Basic Bank Account.

When can a Bank close a Basic Bank Account?

A Bank can only terminate a Basic Bank Account if one of the following conditions are met:

  • The consumer has knowingly used the account for illegal purposes;
  • There has been no transaction on the account for 24 months or more;
  • The consumer provided incorrect information when opening the account and had the correct information been provided, the application would have been refused;
  • The consumer is no longer legally resident in the EU;
  • The consumer has access to another bank account with the features of a basic account and this was opened after the account with them was opened;
  • The Bank considers the conduct of the Consumer constitutes an offence to one of their staff;

How quickly can a Bank close a Basic Bank Account?

A bank can close an account immediately if the consumer has used it for illegal purposes, or provided incorrect information when opening the account; or their conduct constitutes an offence against Bank staff.

If none of these conditions are met the Bank must give two months written notice of their intention to close the account and specify their reasons for doing so.

What can you do if you disagree with your Basic Bank Account being closed?

If you disagree with a Bank’s decision to close your account, you can make a complaint to the Bank.

Equally, if a Bank refuses to allow you to open a Basic Bank Account, you can make a complaint.

When closing your account, your Bank should advise you that you can make a complaint.

They should also advise you that if you are not happy with their proposed resolution of your complaint, you can make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

 

Is a “Fraud” Alert Preventing you getting Credit?

Is a “Fraud” Alert Preventing you getting Credit?

If you are finding it difficult to obtain credit or to open a new bank account, there may be various reasons for this.

It may be that you have a poor credit history, or little or no credit history. However, it may also be that you are suspected of, or have been the victim of identify theft or have been suspected of, or involved in committing fraud.

In the UK, there are three firms who are involved in preventing fraud and receive information from their members, who are normally finance firms or banks. They then share this information with them to help protect them and their customers from further fraud.

These firms are:

If any of these firms hold information about you on their databases, this may be affecting your ability to obtain credit. You may not even know about it, until you apply for a credit card, loan or bank account and are either refused credit or the firm your applying to requests further information from you.

In some situations, information about you that is held by these organisations, may even be shared on your credit reference file.

Although this article primarily focuses on CIFAS, which is the largest of the three organisations, it also covers how you can find out more about what information the other two firms hold on you.

Subject Access Requests

Where you suspect one of these firms may be holding and sharing information on you, because you have been refused credit or a new bank account or a firm has requested further information from you, you can find out more by making a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act 2018.

To do this, visit the different Company’s webpages below. Subject Access Requests are normally free to make and they have 40 days to comply with your Request

Who are CIFAS and what are their Markers?

CIFAS is the UK’s leading, not for profit, anti-fraud organisation. Their membership like National Hunter and National Sira also consists of UK banks and finance organisation, who share information with them.

What Types of CIFAS Markers are there?

There are a range of CIFAS Markers that can shared with CIFAS members about you. These are:

0             Protective Registration — Recorded at the request of the person named.
1             False Identity Fraud — Use of a false name with an address.
2             Victim of Impersonation — Use, by another person, of this name and/or address.
3             Application Fraud (Facility Granted) — Use of name reasonably believed to be genuine, but with one or more material falsehoods in personal details or other relevant information; the facility was granted.
4             Application Fraud (Facility Refused) — Use of a name reasonably believed to be genuine, but with one or more material falsehoods in personal details or other relevant information; the facility was refused.
5             Conversion — Conversion (disposal or sale) of goods (to which the hirer/buyer does not have title) under a hire purchase, conditional sale, contract hire, leasing or rental agreement.
6             First Party Fraud — Opening an account or other facility for a fraudulent purpose, or the fraudulent misuse of an account or facility.
7             Aiding & Abetting — Aiding, abetting or assisting, or conspiring with, another or others to fraudulently procure credit, or other facilities, or hire products or services.
8             Insurance Claims Fraud — The making of a claim(s) under one or more insurance policy (ies) with one or more material falsehoods or by presenting a false or forged document.

CIFAS Markers that appear on Credit Refence

Only “Victim” Markers should be registered on your Credit Reference File. These are the ones where you are believed to be the person who is at risk of fraud, rather than the others, where you are suspected as having been involved in perpetrating it. Victim Markers means the ones which you have registered yourself (Protective Registration) or where you are at risk of impersonation.

This is so when a firm or a bank carries out a credit check on a customer and discover a CIFAS alert has been added to their credit reference file, they should exercise caution, as this may be a consumer who could be at risk of identity or data theft.

A CIFAS Victim Marker, however, should be just that, an alert that the customer could be a Victim and not an assumption that they are involved in fraudulent activity. The firm should then take further steps or request further information, such as additional proof of identity, before they make a final decision. If they are satisfied you are who you say you are, then a Victim Marker should not result in you being refused credit or being denied the right to open a bank account. This is especially true when it comes to a basic bank account, as many people legally may have the right to open one.

However, if you ever apply for Credit or to open a new bank account and are refused and there is not a CIFAS Marker on your credit reference file, you should ask the firm why they are refusing you, as if it’s because they suspect you of fraud, it may be a CIFAS Marker has been shared with them or another database, such a those operated by National Hunter or National Sira hold information on you. You may not even know that this has occurred.

How do you find out if a CIFAS Marker has been Shared about you?  

However, if nothing is appearing on their credit reference file and a finance firm has refused an application based on concerns about fraud, you can also make a Subject Access Request (SAR) to CIFAS, National Hunter or National Sira for free and request they share all the information they have on you. 

Once you receive that information, if you want to dispute the accuracy of it, you can then make a complaint against the Organisation that has shared the information with CIFAS, National Hunter or National Sira.

If you are still not happy with the final decision of that firm or bank, then you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service or if you prefer, use the fraud prevention firm’s own internal dispute resolution process (this does not prevent consumers still taking their complaint to the Financial Ombudsman if they remain unhappy at the end of the process or to the Information Commissioners Office).

 

Can you Register your own CIFAS Protective Alert?

CIFAS alerts, however, are not just registered because of information that is provided by creditors or banks, they can also be registered because of information you have provided CIFAS, because you believe you are at risk of fraud.

This is called Protective Registration and can be applied for here. The process is not free (it costs £25) and the alert remains on CIFAS’s database for two years. After then the alert should lapse or you can renew it through CIFAS.

Protective Registrations should not affect your credit rating or ability to obtain credit but may result in banks and finance firms exercising further caution to ensure the person applying for credit in your name, is in fact, you.

Protective Registration should also not impact on any current accounts you are operating and banks and finance firms, should not stop you getting further accounts where you have a protective registration, but they may request further information from you first.

If you are applying for a basic bank account and are refused because of a CIFAS Marker, you may have stronger grounds for complaining, as under UK regulations, the Payment Account Regulations 2015, entitled many people to have a basic bank account. See here

Can other CIFAS Alerts affect your Credit Rating?

Other protective registrations of CIFAS markers may affect your credit rating, as this information is shared with credit reference firms.

How long does CIFAS store Markers on you?

How long CIFAS stores its Markers on you varies and depends on the type of Marker it is.

Protective Registrations, the type you apply for yourself, remain on the CIFAS databases for 2 years.

Victim Markers that warn you are at risk of impersonation are kept for 13 months.

Other Markers can be kept for up to six years.

Family and Friend Debt: What you should consider before you lend or borrow

Family and Friend Debt: What you should consider before you lend or borrow

The Bank of Mum and Dad on the Rise

An annual survey carried out by the Financial Conduct Authority, known as the Financial Lives Survey, has this year looked at the impact of the Coronavirus on consumer spending and borrowing, and has found that by October 2020, approximately 5.9 million people across the UK borrowed from family and friends.

Although borrowing from family and friends can be an easy way for many, especially the young, to make ends meet, it is also a practice that can be fraught with dangers.

The most obvious of these is if the money is not repaid, this often leads to broken relationships.

So, what is the Legal Position?

In Scotland the legal position is family and friend loans are legally recoverable, like any other loan. In fact, the law presumes when you give someone money, even an adult child, that money is a loan and not a gift. This is because under Scots Law there is a presumption against gift.

That means that in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, if you can prove you provided someone with money, then the assumption is it was a loan and not a gift.

It is, therefore, safer where someone is giving you money as a gift, that you ask they confirm that in writing.

Insincere Giver

The problem is not that someone who gives you money may be insincere and later request the money back, the problem is people may have a different understanding of the basis on which the money was being provided, so it is important to be clear at the outset.

Also, you need to also remember that it may not always be the “giver” of the money who later comes back looking for it to be repaid. Where the amount is significant, there are circumstances when someone else may treat the gift as a loan.

This may happen if the person who gave the money passes away. One of the roles of an Executor of a deceased person’s estate is to recover any debts owed to the deceased person. So, if they see a large sum of money being given to someone, unless there is proof that money was a gift, legally they may have to assume it was a loan and demand repayment. Likewise, this can also happen if the person that you loaned the money to is later made bankrupt, as their Trustee will have a similar role to an Executor in a deceased person’s estate and must recover all debts.

This can also happen where a parent may help a child by giving them a large sum as a deposit towards their first home. This may reduce any possible inheritance for other siblings, who when the parent passes away, may assume it was always to be repaid, or at least should be offset against any bequests left for the child that was given the money.

Friendship Destroyers

However, the other big problem with family and friend debts, is they are often loaned because someone is in financial distress. The borrower often will turn to family and friends specifically because they are experiencing financial difficulties and cannot borrow from elsewhere.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, it’s normal someone may struggle to repay the debt and because of this, the potential for close relationships to be damaged is created.

Also, the borrower may have other financial liabilities they have to pay, but the family or friend may expect their debt to be prioritised over other lenders.

What is Good Practice when Lending to Family and Friends?

When lending to family and friends, it is quite easy to feel put upon and placed in an impossible position.

The first thing you need to do is ask yourself can you afford to give the money in the first place?

There is a strong possibility that if someone is borrowing from you, it is because no-one else will lend to them, so there is a strong possibility you may not be repaid.

If this is the case, think how it may affect your relationship with this person.

It may be worthwhile, first, to offer the person advice, before you give them any money. Would they be better seeking advice from their local Advice Agency? Could they help them deal with their other debts? Could they see if they are entitled to other sources of funds, such as Community Care Grant or Crisis Grant from the Scottish Welfare Fund? These don’t need to be repaid.

Alternatively, the Local Authority may operate schemes that can help people get top ups on their electricity and gas or can make a referral to a local foodbank for them. They may also be able to identify other benefits they are entitled to.

Equally, has your family or friend considered borrowing from someone else, such as your local credit union? Possibly they could also help.

However, if these other sources of help are not available, and you do feel you can afford to give this person money, ask yourself, do you need it back? If this is a close friend or family member and you do want to help them, possibly the kindest thing to do is make it a gift. If you decide this is your intentions, make it clear to the person in writing the money is being given to them as a gift.

However, if you do decide you will need the money repaid, equally make it clear to the person, this is your intention, and the basis on which you want the money repaid. Tell them the amounts each week or month and of any interest you want to charge them (although be careful, as you could later be accused of being a loan shark or illegal money lender).

What to do if you are not Repaid?

Finally, what do you do if the person who borrowed from you starts missing payments, ignoring your calls, and generally trying to avoid you? Or what if they claim the money was always intended as a gift and accuse you of being an insincere giver?

Well, first there is the presumption against gift in Scots Law, so if they have not got something in writing to say the money was intended as a gift, then legally it will be considered a loan. However, you will also need evidence to prove you gave them the money and how much. So, again it is better you have something in writing or can evidence, possibly through a bank transfer, that you loaned them the money.

Second, you need to ask yourself why the person is not repaying you? There is a strong possibility the reason they borrowed from you was because they were having financial difficulties, so things may have got worse. Would it be more helpful for both you and them if you were to possibly help them to get debt advice? Or maybe you should just write the loan off and make it a gift and save your relationship?

But ultimately, if you find they won’t communicate with you, is there another family member or friend that could mediate between you and try get them to fulfil their obligations to you? You may have to be realistic, possibly the terms of the loan, how much they were to repay you, will have to be rescheduled and the payments made lower.

Ultimately, however, you may be able to take them to Court and enforce the debt that is owed, but again you must be realistic. Taking someone to Court can be complicated and stressful and will cost you more money to get the court order and recover the debt. If the person who owes you the money doesn’t have money to repay you, you may be throwing good money after bad. Again, you’re also going to have to be prepared to evidence the debt that is owed to you, so you will need to be able to show you loaned the person the money in the first place.

In the final, analysis, you may have to accept you will need to write the money off, and accept it is not recoverable. Whether that means you must write off the relationship, is for you to decide, but it may be that with the money you spent you have bought a life free of a person that was never your friend in the first place.

That may be a price worth paying.  

Scottish Government needs to act to Protect Homeowners

Scottish Government needs to act to Protect Homeowners

If the Scottish Government are considering extending the Protections that were introduced by the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 beyond the 30th of September 2021, they should do what they failed to do last time and increase protections for Scottish Homeowners.

Throughout the Coronavirus Crisis, the plight of tenants has attracted more attention than that of Homeowners, to the extent you would be forgiven for believing there is no risk to homeowners or a greater risk for tenants.

However, this is not the case, and arguably, the risk to homeowners is greater now than it is for tenants.

Homeowners lack a Safety Net

Like tenants, homeowners are at the same risk of experiencing income shocks and have been as likely to have been furloughed, or made unemployed.

Also contrary to popular perceptions, the vast majority have no more financial security or stability than many tenants do. In addition to that, the safety net that is the UK Welfare State, barely exists for them.

Homeowners, do not have the same level of protections as Tenants: they cannot claim Housing Benefit or their Housing Costs when they claim Universal Credit. Discretionary Housing Payments, a discretionary benefit paid by local authorities, to help with housing costs, is not available to them; and the Scottish Government’s Tenants Support Hardship Fund, is only, as the name suggests, for Tenants.

The only UK benefit that exists for them is the Support for Mortgage Interest Payments Scheme, which you would struggle to call a benefit anymore.

Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI)

Since the last crisis (the Credit Crunch) the benefits of SMI have now been eroded under 11 years of Conservative Government, with the waiting time before someone can claim now being 39, rather than 13, weeks; in addition to that, whereas the payments received were previously a benefit, they are now effectively a loan secured over your home.

In addition to that, SMI does not even pay all of someone’s mortgage, but only interest up to the first 2.09% on mortgages up to £200,000.

Now for those who are in a position to have been able to benefit from historically low interest rates, 2.09% may seem more than sufficient, but this fails to acknowledge that across the UK there are millions trapped in higher rate mortgages, where the finance company’s standard variable rate is sometimes as high as 4-5%.

For those with those higher-level mortgages, or higher interest rates, the Scheme will not even pay the interest on their loans.

Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020

Now during this Crisis, unlike the last one, homeowners do appear to have been overlooked.

Last time around, there were working groups set up, Pre-Action Requirements were introduced through the Homeowners and Debtor Protection (Scotland) Act 2010, the Scottish Government’s Homeowners Support Fund was refreshed, with a Shared Equity Scheme introduced to compliment the existing Mortgage to Rent Scheme.

However, this time around, homeowners, appear to have been overlooked by the Scottish Government when drafting the  emergency legislation that was laid before the Scottish Parliament. Like with tenants, no eviction or repossession ban was introduced until December 2020; but in April 2020, tenants got the additional protection of landlords (both social and private) being required to give them 6 months’ notice before they raised court action against them.

Homeowners got no such protection and still don’t have any similar protection, despite it being within the legislative authority of the Scottish Parliament to require Mortgage providers to serve a 6 months, rather than 2 months calling up notice on homeowners before raising legal action.

The piece of legislation that governs this area of law is the Conveyancing and Feudal Reform (Scotland) Act 1970 and it is wholly with the legislative powers of the Scottish Parliament to amend it.

We cannot just rely on Lender Forbearance.

The reasons why Homeowners were overlooked when this emergency legislation was introduced, is not exactly clear. Possibly the thought of Homeowners losing their home did not occur to the Scottish Government.

However, it is also true at the time when Lockdown began, the UK Financial Conduct Authority was quick to act and issued guidance to all UK banks that anyone affected by Covid 19 should be offered a 3-month payment break. Some were then offered additional payment breaks. 

However, as we now enter the 14 month of this crisis, lender’s forbearance is wearing thin and we must remember that although many  were offered payment breaks, lenders on the whole did not freeze interest and charges on their loans. Also when people do begin making payments again, many lenders want higher monthly payments to catch up on missed payments.

For those who are continuing to struggle and who may still be affected financially by Covid, the risks that a lender may issue a calling up notice and raise a repossession action within 2 months is now a real danger and will only grow.

This risk can only increase as we come out of this public health crisis and the support schemes that were put in place, such as the Furlough and Self-employed Income Support Schemes are withdrawn. We will not know what the medium to long term effects are of this until March 2023, at the earliest.

Unemployment may increase and people may be forced to accept reduced hours of work or lower rates of pay as businesses look to recover. Against that background those that are struggling to get by will have pretty much no benefit system available to support them with their housing costs. 

It, therefore, seems inevitable that the Scottish Government will have to consider extending many of the protections in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 for tenants and consumers to the beginning of 2023 or even longer. If they do, then they need to also think about placing homeowners on an equal footing with tenants and requiring any calling up notice to give 6, rather than 2 months notice of any intended legal action. 

 

Evictions beginning again across Scotland

Evictions beginning again across Scotland

As the majority of Scotland, from the 17th May, moves into Tier 2 under the Coronavirus Regulations, there is much to be rejoicing about. Being able to enjoy a pint in your local pub for one, without having to shield under the cover of a weather shredded canopy. Unfortunately, Scotland in May is not the best weather to be enjoying a pint in a garden. Nor is it the best time to be losing your home, if there ever is a best time. 

For some, however, that is what the ending of Lockdown will mean for them. Not the ending of worry and stress, but just the beginning of it.

We are not yet out this Coronavirus Crisis and although most of the emergency rules that were put in place to protect people and businesses will remain in force until the 30th September, the ones protecting tenants and homeowners from eviction and repossession are not amongst them.

Instead, from the 17th May, any area of Scotland that slips into Tier 2 will also see the ban on evictions also being withdrawn, including Glasgow, which is borderline Tier 3, but is still going into Tier 2, despite the First Minister saying she is concerned. [A last minute decision on Friday, 14th May now means Glasgow will remain in Tier 3 for the next week at least].

What Protections do Tenants have?

There will remain some protections for tenants, however. Landlords will still be required to serve 6-month Notices to Leave (private landlords) and Notice of Intentions to Raise Proceedings (Social Registered Landlords) before they begin any legal action. 

These must be served when your Landlord wants to evict you and take you to the First Tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber) (private landlords) or the Sheriff Court (social landlords). These protections will remain in place until the 30th September 2021. Previously landlords only had to give you 28 days’ notice, but these were temporarily extended due to Covid 19 (there are exceptions when your landlord wants to evict you for anti-social behaviour or if you have committed a criminal offence).

However, where your landlord has already served one of these notices on you and the six months has expired, if they now take you to the Tribunal or Court and obtain a Court Order, they will after the 17th May be able to begin eviction proceedings.

Where they have already obtained an Order allowing them to evict you, and your area moves into Tier 2 they may now be able to evict you.

What Protections do Homeowners have?

When a secured lender or mortgage provider wants to repossess your home, they must first serve on you a Calling Up Notice that gives you 2 months’ notice before they can take you to court and request the court provides them with an Order allowing them to repossess your home.

Once they take you to Court, however, and obtain an order, the procedure for removing you from your home is the same as it is for a Tenant.

What is the Procedure for Evicting you or Repossessing your Home?

If a Landlord or Mortgage provider wants to evict you, they must first serve on you a Charge for Removing, served by a Sheriff Officer, ordering you to leave the property. This must give you 14 days’ notice.

If you have still not left the property after those 14 days, the Landlord or Mortgage Provider must then arrange a Sheriff Officer to send to you a Notice of Removal, which must give you at least 48 hours’ notice of the day and time that the Sheriff Officer will attend your home and remove you.

What can you do to Prevent a Repossession or Eviction?

The most important thing you can do is seek advice as soon as you begin experiencing financial difficulties. However, even if you leave it to later, it is never too late to seek advice.

So that means even after a Notice from your Landlord indicating they want to take you to Court or a Notice from your Mortgage Provider telling you that they are calling up your Mortgage.

Ideally, you want advice and representation before your case is heard by the First Tier Tribunal or the Sheriff Court. It is in your best interest to be represented at that hearing. 

However, even if you have done nothing and a court order has been granted against you and a Charge for Removal, and even a Notice of Removal has been served, you may still be able to stop the eviction or repossession right up to the point before the Sheriff Officers remove you from your home.

Minute of Recall

Minutes of Recall are legal remedies that you can use up to the point before you are removed from your home. They can be granted if you were not represented at the Tribunal or Court Hearing, but can be complex, so you should seek advice from a solicitor or your local advice agency as soon as possible.

How Long do Court Order for Eviction and Repossessions Last?

When a Court or Tribunal grants an Order for your eviction or the repossession of your home, it normally has two parts. The first part allows the Landlord or Mortgage Provider to remove you; the other part is the part where they seek money, such as for rent arrears or your mortgage.

Normally, Landlords and Mortgage providers will seek to evict or repossess your home shortly after receiving the court order, using the above procedure.

However, in the case of Tenants, with Social Landlords, the Landlord, when the case involves rent arrears, must use the eviction part within 6 months of getting the Court Order (sometimes the Court can set a shorter period). However, under emergency Coronavirus Laws, they may get longer as the rules governing the eviction ban suspended the running of this 6-month period. This means where the Landlord got an eviction notice one month before the eviction ban, when it ends, he will still have another five months to use it, even though the eviction ban was first introduced in December 2020.

This means many Social Landlords in rent arrears cases, may be able to use Court Orders that, under normal conditions, would have been too old. 

 

Are Further changes Required for Minimum Asset Bankruptcies in Scotland?

Are Further changes Required for Minimum Asset Bankruptcies in Scotland?

The UK Government has announced several new changes that it intends to introduce for Debt Relief Orders (DROs), that apply only in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

These solutions are like Scotland’s Minimum Asset Bankruptcy Procedure (MAPs) and offer consumers with little income, and little to no assets, a solution for dealing with their debts and writing them off after a relatively short period of time. 

However, there are several key differences between the solutions and these differences will soon become more pronounced when changes proposed by the UK Government to Debt Relief Orders come into effect.

The Question is, then, is there more the Scottish Government should be doing to improve the Minimum Asset Procedure in Scotland?

Already, because of Covid 19, they have introduced emergency laws last year, that have now become permanent, and have improved the Scottish option in many areas, but still in one key respect, the level of income ignored, the Scottish solution still lags.

Maximum Debt LevelIncome IgnoredAsset LevelsCar ExemptionDuration Application Fee
MAP£25,000 (2)£0.00£2,000 (3)£3,0006 Months£50 (4)
DRO(1)£30,000£75£2,000£2,00012 Months£90

Notes

  1. Proposed changes
  2. In Scotland, Student Loans are ignored when calculating the maximum debt level
  3. No single asset can be worth more than £1,000
  4. Application fees are waived when someone is in receipt of a benefit. The vast majority of MAP applicants will pay no application fee in Scotland

Maximum Debt Levels

Both options are similar in the maximum level of debt you can introduce, however, the new proposed changes to DROs in the UK will mean up to £30,000 in debt can be included, whereas the maximum debt that can be included in Scotland is only £25,000.

However, in Scotland, where you have Student Loans, which liability for is not discharged in either solution, these are ignored when calculating the maximum debt levels. This for some will mean a MAP is a viable option in Scotland, when they have higher non-student loan debts, than it will in the rest of the UK, even when their non-student loan debts are lower.

However, this will not help those in Scotland without student loan debt, who may find if they lived in England could do a DRO, but in Scotland cannot. This, however, won’t prevent them using a Full Administration Bankruptcy in Scotland, which may only last12 months, like a DRO in the rest of the UK.

Income Ignored

This is one of the biggest differences between the two options, with DROs ignoring the first £75 of someone’s disposable income (what is left after their essential expenditure is taken off their income). In Scotland, no such provision is made, meaning if you have just £5 left each month from income that a contribution can be taken from, you cannot use the Minimum Asset Procedure.

It should be noted, however, that no contribution in either solution can be taken from benefits, so the only income that a contribution can be taken from is non-benefit income.

This undoubtedly is a shortcoming in the Scottish Solution, as what it means is in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, where you have under £75 per month, you can keep it. In Scotland, not only can you not keep it, but you cannot use the Minimum Asset Procedure. You would then have to use the Full Administration Procedure (the equivalent to Bankruptcy in the rest of the UK) and unlike in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, you would need to pay the money for four years and not just three.

Assets Levels

Although in relation to both solutions these look the same, with the maximum assets you can own being anything up to £2,000, in Scotland, there is one key difference in that no one asset can be worth more than £1,000.

However, in Scotland’s defence the extent of assets that are disregarded for the purpose of MAPs are more extensive (see here).

Car Exemptions

Scotland since 2010, has set the value of a car that is exempt for the purposes of a MAP and Bankruptcy at £3,000 (although it has not increased since then), whereas in the UK the value of car exempt for a DRO will only be set at £2,000.

The only other caveat in Scotland worthy of note, is the applicant must show they have a reasonable requirement for the car.

Duration

This is the other big difference between the solutions, in that in a MAP in Scotland, the solution only last 6 months, and after that the consumer becomes debt free. In the rest of the UK, the solution lasts 12 months.

Although it should be noted, in Scotland, even if you have £5 disposable income per month, you will not be able to use the Process and instead will have to use Full Administration Bankruptcy and pay for 4 years.

Fees

The other big difference now, since Covid 19 emergency legislation was introduced, is the amount it costs someone to apply for the procedure. In the rest of the UK, the fee is £90 (as it was for Minimum Asset Bankruptcy prior to Covid 19). In Scotland, however, that fee has now reduced to £50 and where the applicant is in receipt of several different benefits, the fee is waived. This means almost no-one in Scotland will pay an application fee, whereas in the rest of the UK, even after the new changes are introduced, the fee will remain £90.

Conclusion

There are several differences between both solutions, as can be seen, but on the face of it where the Scottish solution lags, when considered more widely, it is not as far behind Debt Relief Orders as it may appear. In actual fact, in many respects, MAPs appear superior.

However, it does appear the big difference in relation to both is the difference in how disposable income is treated, with many consumers having to use Full Administration Bankruptcy in Scotland for relatively small sums of disposable income.

Considering this may result in them having to pay for four years, this appears to be disproportionate; and from a policy perspective may be counterproductive. It may result in low-income households giving up relatively small additional sources of income, like part time jobs, just to avoid being excluded from the Minimum Asset Procedure.

The arguments in favour of Scotland, therefore using a similar approach to the rest of the UK and disregarding the first £75 of disposable income, appears overwhelming

The Money and Pension Service have questions to answer about Stepchange

The Money and Pension Service have questions to answer about Stepchange

Less than a year after the Money and Pension Service announced they were giving Stepchange, the Debt Advice Charity, a share of £7.5 million, to help increase their capacity to provide debt advice, they have announced they may slash up to 10% of their debt advisers across the UK, with demand for their services expected to rise. 

In June 2020, the Money and Pension Service (MAPS) split £7.5 million of funding between Christian Against Poverty, Stepchange and the private debt management Firm, PayPlan (which is a trading name for Totemic Ltd).

As explained in my previous blog (Stepchange Redundancies: Is it about Covid and a Flawed Funding Model?) Stepchange CEO, Phil Andrew, in a blog (Exceptional Times, Exceptional Measures, and the Future), explained the charity is consulting on redundancies.

In his blog, Phil Andrew, justified the decision by claiming the Stepchange funding model (known as Fair Share) was flawed and as personal levels of debt and the amount people pay to it drops, the Charity’s income drops.

However, as I was able to show in my blog, Stepchange’s income has been increasing year on year for the last five year, and at the end of 2019, just before Covid began, the Charity had almost £21 million in general reserves. In fact, their Fair Share Funding has allowed them to grow into one of the UK’s more wealthiest debt charities, with income of over £54 million in 2019.

Is Fair Share Flawed?

And if additional proof of the sustainability of the Fair Share funding model is required, we only need to look at the other recipient of MAPS public funding, Payplan, who in their 2019 accounts, reported a profit of just over £2 million and held over £8 million in their private shareholder fund. 

Quite clearly the Fair Share Model of both Stepchange and Payplan has served both well.

Why the Money and Pension Service chose to approve public funding of a private debt management firm, with over £8 million in private shareholders fund, whilst public and third sector agencies had their funding cut, needs to be answered.

However, since that blog, Stepchange advisers have been contacting me to express their surprise that they may be about to lose their jobs, as the charity, only last year, went on a massive recruitment drive to cope with the anticipated rise in demand for their services. 

This recruitment drive, it appears, was largely funded by the additional £7.5 million of funding that was made available to Stepchange, Payplan and Christians Against Poverty last year (Additional £38 million for debt advice funding in England goes into action).

The purpose of this funding according to the Money and Pension Service was to recruit another 500 advisers across England, with CEO of the Money and Pension Service, Caroline Siarkiewicz stating only last August:

“In the wake of coronavirus, our first priority has been to maintain capacity in existing debt services and it’s great news we’ve been able to agree a funding package to support three major operators to maintain much of their pre-pandemic service levels. We know Fair Share is only one funding source and we stand ready to react to other challenges debt advice providers might face as a direct result of the pandemic. Over the coming months we will also be working to increase the availability of debt advice services by supporting the sector to train up hundreds more debt advisers”.

What about MAPS Statutory Duty?

However, less than 12 months after that huge recruitment drive it now appears Stepchange is slashing that capacity, which begs the question, what has happened to their share of the extra £7.5 million that they were provided with and what has the Money and Pension Service got to say about Phil Andrews announcement?

Under section 3 of the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018, the Money and Pension Service has a statutory duty to provide members of the public in England with free and impartial information and advice on debt. If less than a year after you provide significant levels funding to one of the UK’s leading debt charities, they announce they are slashing that  additional capacity, you have questions to answer.

Clearly the problem here is not Fair Share as a funding model, but the rapid increase in the number of staff recruited by Stepchange, with the added costs to their wage bill (which was £41 million in 2019). One would think that since MAPS last year expected demand for debt advice to increase 50% over three years, peaking in 18 months, why would your plans to increase capacity only be for 12 months? Surely the wheels should not be coming off the plan after only one year?

Of course, the timing of Stepchange’s announcement may be fortunate because we are approaching the 9th June, when last year Stepchange’s CEO, Phil Andrews, welcomed the announcement by MAPS of an additional £38 million for debt advice to help with Covid 19.

It may be that MAPS is about to make another big announcement and Stepchange may again be the fortunate recipient of additional funding. But if this is the case, do we need to go through the pantomime of putting hundreds of debt advisers through the fear of losing their jobs? Surely its not unreasonable to ask that when Stepchange and MAPS agree a strategy to massively increase capacity for debt advice, that they draw up plans that may span a period longer than 12 months?

And if demand has not peaked as quickly as anticipated, with the second, sort of unexpected lockdown, surely you would then just furlough as many staff as you can to preserve your fighting fund for later in the year, when demand is rising again? 

The Money and Pension Service need to step into the space that the Stepchange announcement has opened up. They need to explain what their strategy was, how much did Stepchange receive, how long was it for and how many additional advisers was it expected to employ.

They also need to explain the logic behind giving reserve rich, debt charities and private firms (who reported £2 million in profits in 2019) more money, whilst front line Citizen Advice Bureaux and Independent Advice agencies struggle to keep their doors open.

Stepchange Redundancies: Is it about Covid and a Flawed Funding Model?

Stepchange Redundancies: Is it about Covid and a Flawed Funding Model?

Stepchange, the UK’s leading Debt Advice Charity has announced, that like many organisations across the UK, when the current Covid crisis ends, and the Furlough Scheme draws to a close, some of their front line telephone staff may not have jobs to return to. 

This may have been predictable for many industries in the UK, particularly the hospitality, retail and tourism industries. However, the announcement by the CEO of Stepchange, that they are possibly going to lose 10% of their employees as the Covid debt crisis begins, will come as a surprise for many, not least Stepchange employees themselves.

What is the Stepchange Narrative

The reason’s why Stepchange is claiming these cuts will be necessary is because they have discovered, after nearly 28 years of operating, that their funding model is flawed.

This is the funding model, known as Fair Share, which has allowed them to grow into one of the UK’s wealthiest and largest debt advice charities. The way it operates is that for every £1 of debt their clients pays back to a bank, they receive a percentage in return (believed to be around 10%).

Stepchange’s CEO Phil Andrew explained why this model is flawed in a recent blog published by the Charity. He pointed out that as debt levels for their client’s drop and the amount people are paying to their debts falls, the level of fees the Charity received also reduces.

He also pointed out that not every creditor contributes to the Fair Share Scheme and this is true for Local Authorities and Utility Providers.

However, across the UK and certainly in Scotland, Local Authorities are some of the largest funders of local advice agencies, such as Citizen Advice Bureaux, who do not benefit from the Fair Share Scheme. It cannot, therefore, be said they do not contribute to the cost of providing debt advice and many of these charities provide face to face services for clients that Stepchange don’t.  Also none of these advice agencies have been able to benefit like Stepchange has from the Fair Share Scheme, as Banks only allowed Stepchange and another firm, known as Payplan, to participate in it. 

Also in the Charity’s accounts for 2019, although utility providers don’t participate in the Fair Share Scheme, they did contribute £596k to Stepchange through donations.

In actual fact the 2019 Accounts show that Stepchange customers paid almost £436 million through Debt Management Plans to their Creditors and the Charity received over £48 million from their Charitable activities (largely Fair Share). They also earned another £5 million from other trading activities and received another £403k in commissions from insolvency practitioners and mortgage advisers for referring clients onto them.

It is also appears as part of their charitable activity income, Stepchange received £3.7 million from the Money and Pension Service and UK Home Nation Governments, with nearly £1 million (27%) of that coming from the Scottish Government, despite Scotland only having approximately 10% of the UK population.

Overall, in 2019 Stepchange did experience a small overspend, and their wage bill did add up to over £41 million (72% of their total expenditure; or 75% of their total income). However, by the end of 2019 they still had almost £21 million in general reserves, so the overspend was easily absorbed by the charity.

In actual fact, when you look at the historic accounts of the Charity it is hard to see where the flaw is in their current funding model, with their income increasing year on year for the last five years (between 2015 and 2019 income increased by 18%).

So Why Doesn’t this Crisis add up?

The most obvious reason this crisis doesn’t add up, is because it is hard to see that Stepchange is in a Crisis or that the 10% of cuts to staff are even necessary, as claimed by the CEO Phil Andrews.

It is certainly true that like many debt charities and private debt advice firms Stepchange will have seen a reduction in demand during the Covid Crisis due to the extra forbearance that has been shown by the banks and the UK Furlough Scheme. These measures will to a large extent have been protecting people from the effects of problem debts. Some clients in existing Debt Management Products will also have missed payments to the charity, and if the creditors don’t get paid, nor does the charity.

To what extent this has occurred is not clear, but statistics released by the Scottish Government in relation to their Debt Arrangement Scheme shows that although missed payments increased, from a monthly average of 6% during 2020, they peaked at 15% only in December (when a seasonal increase in missed payments would be expected) and for most of the year never rose higher than 12% (approximately double normal missed payment rates). 

However, none of this suggests a catastrophe and there is no reason to believe Stepchange’s missed payment rates during 2020 would have been much different. Stepchange may have lost some fees, but they also, as their CEO has stated used the Furlough Scheme during 2020, so have been receiving additional support from the UK Government.

They also continued to operate and took on new cases, albeit at lower rate than they expected. They do, however, have a huge pre-existing Debt Management Book that will still have been operating during 2020 and generating fees for them (albeit with increased missed payments). It is also believed they will have been the beneficiaries of the decision by the Financial Conduct Authority to increase the Debt Advice Levy on Banks at the beginning of the Crisis and more than likely will have received additional funding from the Money and Pension Service and the UK Home Nation Governments.

In fact, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that 2020 may well have been quite a comfortable year financially for Stepchange. Certainly, there were opportunities to subsidise their operating costs, attract additional grant funding and still benefit from their existing work in progress.

Also when the Furlough Scheme and other income schemes are brought to an end, as expected later this year, and banks roll back  the forbearance  they have been offering their customers, demand is likely to increase and it has been forecast this will continue significantly so for the next 2-3 years.

This, then begs the question, why do Stepchange need to cut their staff by 10%? Especially, as that will only reduce their capacity at a time when demand will be on the rise. It makes no strategic sense and Stepchange, as we have seen, are large and wealthy enough to weather out the type of storm we saw in 2020.

What is the Pulse?

It may well be the answer is in the Pulse, a new Debt Advice Platform that Stepchange have been developing and in their 2019 Annual Report described as a debt advice platform and customer relationship management system, that will increase their capacity. Arguably, it may also reduce their need for front line telephone advisers.

It certainly was not an inexpensive investment for the charity. Remember the overspend the Charity had in 2019? Well, it appears the development of Pulse may have contributed to that overspend, being reported in 2019 as costing almost £2 million in Transformational costs.

This begs the question whether the proposed 10% cut in Stepchange staffing numbers is really the result of a flaw in Stepchange’s funding model and the Covid 19 Crisis; or is this just a case of Covid 19 being used to make cuts in staffing numbers that were always planned with the rolling out of Pulse?

There certainly does not appear to be an obvious flaw in the Stepchange funding model. They are definitely in a position most debt charities would envy.

So where is the Crisis? What Crisis?

So, is there a Crisis in debt advice funding in the UK and a lack of capacity? Yes, there is, but it is not one that Stepchange has been struggling with, unlike local Citizen Advice Bureaux and local authority funded services.

Many of these agencies have seen real cuts amounting to up to 50% over the last ten years, with many of those cuts being accelerated over the last five years, whilst Stepchange seen their income increase.

It is my suspicion that Stepchange are doing what many businesses are doing: using Covid 19 as an opportunity to re-organise and transform themselves in a way that will leave tens if not hundreds of thousands unemployed and struggling to pay debts and bills.

I also suspect Stepchange, however, is facing a real crisis and it is not with the Fair Share Scheme, which has rewarded them so well to date.

The real crisis Stepchange face is when the UK Government launch their own Statutory Debt Repayment Plan, like the Scottish Government’s Debt Arrangement Scheme. For the first time many organizations will be able to participate in that Scheme and compete with Stepchange on an even playing field, in a way that was never possible under the Fair Share Scheme (which only Stepchange and PayPlan were able to access).

This will mean they will face competition from other charities and private debt management firms like they have never before.

If any evidence of this is required, we only need to look at the Scottish Debt Arrangement Scheme, which in 2019 introduced a statutory form of the Fair Share Scheme and returns 20% of everything paid by clients to providers like Stepchange (almost double the traditional Fair Share Scheme). Re-launched in November 2019, recent Debt Arrangement Scheme statistics produced by the Scottish Government show that private sector provider Carrington Dean, in 2020, despite the lockdown and also having furloughed some of their own staff, delivered three times the amount of Debt Payment Programmes that Stepchange did, and that was without Money and Pension Service or Scottish Government funding.

So if they can make the service profitable, how can Stepchange not?

If this is now replicated across the UK, with the UK Scheme, Stepchange may face their biggest crisis yet in the form of competition like they never have had.

The worry is this will create a real funding crisis for them and they will be forced to return to the Money and Pension Service and the UK Home Nation Governments, looking for increased funding that will leave less for those front line agencies that have been in crisis for the last ten years.