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Home | March 2014 Please tell us what you think of this article. Tell a friend Print Friendly

Falklands : Falklands: Citizenís Advice Bureau Annual Report
Submitted by Falkland Islands News Network (Juanita Brock) 31.03.2014 (Article Archived on 05.05.2014)

The CAB was formed in July 2012 Ė an offshoot of the Falkland Islands Human Rights Group. We agreed a Constitution (enclosed) and will shortly be holding our first Annual General Meeting.

Citizenís Advice Bureau Annual Report

The CAB was formed in July 2012 Ė an offshoot of the Falkland Islands Human Rights Group. We agreed a Constitution (enclosed) and will shortly be holding our first Annual General Meeting.

The aims and objectives of the CAB are to give advice to people who seek it and offer advice, based on our findings back to policy makers.

There are many in our small community who may have problems that they wish to discuss with someone in complete confidence. Those problems range from legal disputes, employment issues, social welfare issues, debt problems and many other problemsÖsome are small and easily resolved and some are more complicated and can take a lot longer to resolve.

A summary of the issues addressed since the start of the CAB is detailed below:-

Legal issues 9
Employment issues 6
Welfare issues 6
Pension issues 1
Court issues 2
Housing issues 3
Police issues 1

Of a total of 28 cases raised with the CAB, many were simply referred to a specialist to deal with. For example, in the case of many of the legal issues, the CAB was able to arrange for a free preliminary consultation with a lawyer from either of both local legal practitioners participating voluntarily in the scheme. Following preliminary free legal advice, the client would then decide whether or not to proceed further on a professional basis.

Of the 28 cases raised with the CAB, 26 are closed from the CABís point of view and only two cases are still ongoing, but full resolution of these two outstanding cases is expected shortly.

Two cases are marked as not resolved. If mediation is the only means of solving a dispute between two parties and one party refuses mediation, then it cannot be resolved other than by legal action. Many people cannot afford the cost of legal action despite the legal aid provisions. One case was marked as unresolved but closed as the client did not wish to take it any further.

In total, the CAB was able to resolve 24 of the 28 cases raised. This does not necessarily mean that those cases were resolved entirely to the satisfaction of the CABís client, but the clientís problem was resolved Ė sometimes fully and sometimes a compromise was reached.

The CAB was formed by Mark Lewis, Keith Watson, Dick Sawle and Sharon Middleton. Keith Watson has left the Islands and Mark Lewis resigned from the CAB in order to avoid any conflict of interest at an early stage. The current committee is formed by Dick Sawle, Mark Neves, Karen Lee and Sharon Middleton. We have a list of volunteers we call upon to assist and to whom we may refer clients for more specialist advice.

It is worth pointing out in this, our first report, just two of the issues we have dealt with. We hope that this will assist in any future policy decisions or changes to current policies.

The Rent Rebate Trap

This scheme is well intentioned and welcome. It aims to give the less well off the chance to pay less in rent according to their earnings. It can, however, have unintended consequences. For example, a CAB client who has an hourly paid job (so earnings vary), and who rents a house from FIG at £500/month, occasionally receives a rent rebate of up to maybe £200 in a month. Other months, that rebate can vary and be nil if the threshold of earnings is crossed. The result for the individual is a twofold problem. Firstly, they find it hard to save as the rent varies on a monthly basis depending on earnings. Secondly, if they take on extra work that brings in an additional £200 in one month, then it is immediately swallowed up in the additional rent that has to be paid to FIG. It is not therefore seen as worth it to take on additional work.

A rental payment of £500 per month would equate to a mortgage of around £70,000 over 25 years at 7% (using the fixed rate mortgage scheme). This example individual (and others) could therefore afford a mortgage, but cannot find the deposit required.

In order to break out of the trap they find themselves in, they could be assisted by being entitled to request a 100% mortgage. They would have their own property and FIG housing would be freed up. There are of course risks for FIG. The most obvious one is that mortgage repayments are not made, the house is repossessed and the individual goes back into FIG housing (which is stretched).

Another potential solution is that FIG builds houses on Sappers Hill and then provides such people with a rent to buy scheme. The advantage of such a scheme is that it would be more flexible than a mortgage, provide the tenant with security of tenure and also enable them to eventually own their own property. There are such schemes run by housing associations in the UK. Here, it might be worth considering linking any such scheme to the minimum living wage (which is not yet determined).

There are Housing Associations in the UK who have met and dealt with this type of problem and have a variety of schemes. One such scheme is detailed in the link below. More work would need to be done on this and the CAB would be happy to assist if requested.

https://www.gov.uk/affordable-home-ownership-schemes/shared-ownership-schemes





Social Welfare Payments

The problems we have encountered with some of the social welfare clients we have had over the past year relate to the clients inability to live on what they received. Circumstances of course vary, but when a person, often for good reason, becomes unable to continue to work, they can then fall into the safety net of social welfare payments. This usually happens only when the situation has become desperate and by then financial commitments (such as hire purchase payments and arrears of rent with FIG) have often failed to be met.

There appears to be no clear policy as to how much a person is required to pay back in rent arrears (for example) to FIG. We have had cases where it appears that this is simply negotiated with the individual, and social welfare payments are made, rent arrears are deducted from the payment and the result is the person is left with insufficient money on a weekly basis to feed themselves or stay warm in winter.

There is no suggestion that there is any bad intent on the part of the people that administer such schemes, but the individuals concerned are often not able to negotiate on their own behalf. It would assist all parties if there were a clear policy that could be followed which treated any individual holistically and looked at all aspects of each case simply to ensure that the trap of poverty is avoided.

Conclusion

These are just two examples of the problems we have met in the past year and we do hope that they are of interest and use to those who make the policies in the Falklands.

If you feel that you might be able to assist us in any way, then please do get in touch. We always need people who are willing to help. You may be new to the Falklands or you may have lived here all of your life. It doesnít matter ! If you have a willingness to assist in any way then please do get in touch.

cab@horizon.co.fk
tel 55355

We are very grateful to the support given to us from the following sponsors. As we are a completely voluntary organisation, without the assistance given by our sponsors, (and our volunteers) we would be unable to function.

 

This article is the Property and Copyright of Falkland Islands News Network.

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