Ombudsman finds Legal Aid Agency guilty of maladministration after rough sleepers fighting deportation order faced delays in funding for representation

A law centre charity was forced to self-fund its challenges to the deportation of three rough sleepers due to “severe failings” that led to a delay in funding from the Legal Aid Agency (LAA), an investigation from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has found.

The Ombudsman said the failings resulted in one government body blocking individuals from challenging the decisions of another.

In 2017, a law centre represented three EU citizens living in the UK who the Home Office had decided should be deported after they were found sleeping rough.

The centre argued that the Home Office policy behind these decisions was unlawful and was being used to systematically identify and deport EU citizens.

It requested reviews of these decisions and applied to the Legal Aid Agency for funding to represent its clients. However, the agency delayed responding to the funding applications, leaving the centre and its clients in limbo, the Ombudsman found.

The centre had to self-fund the legal challenges against the deportation orders, which was a financial risk for the centre, according to the report.

The centre eventually secured the funding and successfully appealed the Home Office decisions, but not before one of its clients was detained, and another had their passport removed.

One client was left waiting over three months to get funding. If the law centre had waited for the funds before starting legal action, it would likely have missed the deadline to challenge the deportation order.

The LAA could only provide funding from the date it had decided to grant the aid. This meant that, although the individuals were entitled to it, the agency would not backdate the funding to cover the full costs of their legal challenges.

The centre couldn’t recoup costs to cover work carried out at the beginning of the legal process.

The agency’s delays and initial decision to decline legal aid to two of the clients had a profound impact on these individuals’ lives and their ability to challenge the Home Office decisions, the report found.

Julie Bishop, Director of the Law Centres Network, welcomed the Ombudsman’s finding of maladministration by the LAA.

She claimed that this was not an isolated incident. “Many Law Centres and other legal aid providers face delayed decisions by LAA,” she said.

Ms Bishop added: “In some cases, we as a membership body are called upon to help get the Law Centre clarity with mere hours before a case is due to be heard in court.

“In our experience, these problems stem from a working culture within the LAA, and has nothing to do with protecting the public purse. In effect, it restricts access to legal aid, making it harder for lawyers to launch legal action with confidence and for people to resolve their legal problems. The result is that it piles pressure on legal aid providers. All this runs against the very purpose of the Legal Aid Agency. We call on them to fix it now.”

Rob Behrens, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, said access to justice through legal representation was a “fundamental right”.

Mr Behrens said: “Whatever their circumstances, individuals must be able to hold public bodies to account, challenge unfair processes, and defend their human rights through the justice system.

“In this case, service failings essentially resulted in one government body blocking individuals from challenging the decisions of another. This sets a dangerous precedent and shows how vulnerable citizens’ rights can be when faced with ineffective and discriminatory government policies.”

He added: “Government departments and agencies must make sure that nobody is unfairly disadvantaged by their processes. This is particularly pertinent now as the pandemic has exacerbated existing societal inequalities, which means more people are at risk of falling foul of government service failings.”

A Legal Aid Agency spokesperson said: “We’ve made significant improvements to speed up the system and payments can now be backdated to ensure claimants get the support they need.

“We have noted the Ombudsman’s report and will carefully consider its findings.”

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Landlords ordered to pay £350k+ for ‘beds in sheds’ after council prosecution

Three landlords have been ordered to pay more than £350,000 in fines, confiscation order and costs after being prosecuted by Hounslow Council for having so-called ‘beds in sheds’.

At a hearing at Isleworth Crown Court on 15 October, Brian Linskey and Catherine Hallahan were ordered to pay £265,000 after they constructed three outbuildings to the rear of their properties in Whitton Dene, Hounslow.

According to the council, planning enforcement officers visited the properties where they found three people living in “appalling” conditions when they visited in 2019.

The local authority claimed  that, after being warned by officers, Linskey and Hallahan ignored attempts to regularise the situation and continued to rent out the properties.

They subsequently pleaded guilty and it was determined by the Court that they had earned in excess of £225,469.04 by renting out the outbuildings.

All this money will now return to the public purse via the Proceeds of Crime Act, Hounslow said.

Another landlord, Muhammad Efzal of East London was meanwhile prosecuted and ordered to pay £72,495.89 at a hearing on the same day at Isleworth Crown Court.

Efzal had been found guilty of renting out ‘beds in shed’ in a property which he purchased at auction, on Wood Lane, Osterley.

The council said the defendant purchased the property knowing the unit could not be legally occupied. “However, despite officers’ warnings he continued to rent out the property. When officers inspected the property in November 2019 it was found to be occupied by six students living in extremely appalling conditions, with some sleeping on the floor.”

Cllr Steve Curran, Leader of Hounslow Council, said: “The majority of landlords provide an excellent service to residents by providing good quality homes to rent. We will not let a few rotten apples spoil it for everyone else.”

Last month Ealing Council obtained confiscations orders worth nearly £500,000 from private sector landlords who failed to comply with planning enforcement notices the local authority had issued.

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Ombudsman calls on council to pay £27k after housing homeless family in unsuitable temporary accommodation for nine years

The London Borough of Brent has been told to pay £27,000 compensation after a report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) found that the council had failed to provide a complainant and his family with suitable temporary accommodation since 2012.

The Ombudsman found Mr X and his family were homeless, and in 2012 Brent accepted this was not intentional and that they had a priority need.

Brent placed the family in a self-contained three-storey house but Mr Y – who at the time was a child – has a disability and could not walk.

He is now an adult but continues to need daily care and support from his parents.

In 2012 Brent’s district medical officer recommended “relocation to ‘mobility two’ accommodation and ground floor or lifted accommodation”. ‘Mobility two’ refers to properties with adaptations for people who cannot manage steps or stairs and may use a wheelchair.

By October 2019, Brent reviewed the accommodation, found it was unsuitable, apologised for the delay and offered £2,000 as a remedy.

The Ombudsman said the family were still in the unsuitable accommodation in December 2020, when they were put into Brent’s highest priority band for accommodation having been earlier in lower bands.

During the investigation a report to the allocations panel came to light which said: “The property is not suitable for the needs of the household; they have been residing in unsuitable accommodation since 2012.”

In its report the Ombudsman noted: “This internal document contradicts what the council said in its response to Mr X’s complaint. In its stage one response in May 2020, the council said: ‘Despite the DMOs initial recommendation in November 2012, I am not satisfied that Mr [X’s] accommodation was unsuitable from 2012.’”

The LGSCO found there had been injustice and that Brent’s £2,000 offer was inadequate.

This should instead be £27,000 to reflect the prolonged injustice and Brent was told it should liaise with Mr X, Mr Y, and their representatives “to agree a method of payment which does not impact on entitlement to any welfare benefits or otherwise disadvantage them”.

A Brent Council spokesperson said: “Finding suitable accommodation for this family is our number one priority. We are sorry it’s taking longer than we’d like.”

Brent had now found a suitable property in the borough that can be adapted for wheelchair use and was waiting to see if it also offers disabled parking.

The spokesperson said: “The difficulty we have had in finding this family a suitable place to live is, sadly, symptomatic of the chronic shortage of larger, adaptable properties across London.”

A prolonged period of funding cuts and rising cost of living had made finding a suitable, affordable home in Brent impossible for many families but the council had geared its own housebuilding programme towards the supply of larger, adaptable properties.

Mark Smulian

Cop 26 World Leader Summit Speeches’ Glasgow 2021

Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados at the Opening of the #COP26 

COP26 campaigners take over Glasgow’s Hamish Allan Centre

CAMPAIGNERS have occupied a former homelessness unit on the Southside of Glasgow to house climate justice campaigners in the city for COP26.

The Hamish Allan Centre and asylum seekers night shelter in Tradeston has been turned into “Baile Hoose” with space for sleeping and accessing donated food.

Organisers said the shelter offers an alternative to encampments that have been appearing in parks as activists, including Indigenous Elders, struggled to find space to stay.

One of the people behind the occupation, Betty, said the action has involved spending several days bringing the empty building up to habitable standards.

She said:  “We have spent several days restoring the building to habitability, so we are now ready to offer support and solidarity to all those needing accommodation during the summit.

“We are aware of activists, including Indigenous Elders, who have been sleeping outside due to a lack of available shelter.”

Betty added: “Given the current housing crisis in the UK, buildings should not be left empty while people in our communities are sleeping on the streets due to unaffordable, exploitative rent and opportunistic Air B&B hosts.

“We understand that this property is in the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon’s own constituency of Glasgow Southside and we would welcome her support and solidarity.

“We hope to provide a hearty Glaswegian welcome as the concerned people of the world present a sustainable alternative to the lip-service, half-measures and inevitable climate chaos proposed by the G20 nations.”

COP26 Coalition has come out in support of the occupation with a spokesperson saying: “Yesterday a group of indigenous people approached us asking for blankets.

“I asked them why they needed them and they said that it was because it is very cold at night, as they were planning on sleeping outside.

“We have been struggling with accommodation for people arriving in Glasgow, as they’re coming in great numbers and hundreds are being left with nowhere to stay, which is even more worrying as the temperature drops.

“Visitors and supporters are directed to the Baile Hoose Facebook page and Twitter for further information including personal and Covid-19 safety policies.”

The occupation is intended to last for the duration of the COP26 talks, after which the site will be cleared, cleaned and re-secured.

Betty added: “It’s vital for everyone to take action to secure the future they want against that which will otherwise be inflicted on us.

“To this end, we will be hosting informal discussions and workshops, so we can learn together, enabling us to develop resilient, community-led strategies to confront the unjust capitalist system that is killing us all.

“With activists from all over the world in Glasgow, this is the perfect opportunity for us to build solidarity amongst our global communities.”

Local councillor Jon Molyneux also added his support to the group.

He said: “I offer my solidarity with those who have taken action – where public institutions have failed – to ensure accommodation for those excluded by COP26 price-gouging and shortages.

“No one should be on the streets.

“If the council can’t support this they must offer a safe alternative.”

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Climate depression is real. And it is spreading fast among our youth

If you are anything like me, you think of the climate emergency a lot. Possibly every waking hour. Perhaps you experience the psychological tension caused by feeling trapped between the truth of climate and ecological destruction on the one hand and inaction from world leaders on the other. I feel this tension myself, and as a parent and climate activist, I see it affecting young people especially hard.

We are in a growing epidemic of serious climate depression among young people. This is a crisis that cannot be solved by “positive messaging” any more than climate breakdown itself. Ultimately, the only thing that will help the mental and physical safety of every age group, including the young, is meaningful action from world leaders.

Global heating is a vise tightening on nearly every aspect of our planet, our society, and our minds, driven by the production of fossil fuels. Each gram of fossil fuel burned intensifies every manifestation of climate and ecological breakdown; there is no negotiating with physics. Without emergency-mode climate action, things will break. Lots of things. Big things. Eventually, everything.

The climate mental health crisis is already hitting those who have lost everything in worsening climate infernos. It’s already hitting farmers in Australia, India and elsewhere who face serious and sometimes insurmountable challenges growing food in a rapidly changing climate (which, incidentally, should be a climate wake-up call for anyone who eats). It’s hitting Indigenous and vulnerable communities, for whom climate breakdown is the culmination of centuries of colonial and social oppression. It’s hitting parents, who feel unable to protect their children; I sometimes cry while talking about climate breakdown when I think about my kids. And of course, it’s hitting young people.

A recent survey by a team of psychologists probed the climate anxiety felt by 10,000 young people aged 16-25 from countries in the global south and north. In the survey, 77% said “the future is frightening”, 68% feel sad, and 63% feel anxious. 39% feel “hesitant to have children”. This distress correlates with a belief that climate action from governments is inadequate. Additionally, mental distress increases with hotter temperatures, with 9,000 to 40,000 additional suicides projected by 2050 in the US and Mexico under a worst-case climate scenario due to excess heat alone.

Therapy can help people struggling with climate anxiety and depression; but since climate emotions are driven by real, intensifying, physical processes on Earth, therapy only treats the symptom. Something that helps me is being part of a vibrant community of activists. I could not handle the weight of this knowledge if I had to do so alone.

However, as everything gets worse – and unfortunately it will get worse – we’re all going to need more than friends, as important as they are. We’re also going to need a sense that, collectively, society is finally heading in the right direction, with emergency speed. Since climate breakdown is caused by fossil fuel production, meaningful action must include ending the fossil fuel industry rapidly, with binding, annual goals for industry contraction, and therefore emissions reduction.

One path would be to seize assets and nationalize the fossil fuel industry to ensure equitable distribution during the ramp-down; forge a fossil-fuel non-proliferation treaty for international coordination; enhance social safety nets to ensure stability during a period of rapid change; and implement a Green New Deal to create transition infrastructure as well as a deep sense of solidarity. Young people and teens must be included in climate decision-making. Voting ages should be lowered.

The Greek word neo means “young, new”. We can thus coin a word, neocide, meaning “the deliberate killing of young people and future generations”. The fossil fuel industry and the US government have known for half a century that fossil fuels would lead to catastrophic global heating that would be especially destructive to young people and future generations. After decades of lying and misleading the public, political and corporate leaders continue to delay action, leading to vast, irreversible, and accelerating losses throughout Earth’s ecosystems and life support systems. Of course this creates mental anguish for young people!

It is psychologically devastating to feel climate and ecological catastrophe closing in every day while watching those in power not only failing to act, but actively making things worse by expanding the fossil fuel industry. Instead of more empty words and distractions, humanity desperately needs real action. World leaders must orchestrate a rapid end to the fossil fuel industry, for the sake of us all – but especially for the sake of young people.

The Samaritans offer support and advice to people feeling suicidal or vulnerable 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Their website is https://www.samaritans.org, email address jo@samaritans.orgor call free on 116 123

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Ahmaud Arbery: Outcry as case proceeds despite judge admitting ‘intentional discrimination’ over one Black juror

A panel of 12 people has been chosen for the trial of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, it consists of 11 white people and one Black person.

It took two and a half weeks to pick the jury, which was decided on Wednesday. The prosecutors have accused defence attorneys of racial discrimination for eliminating qualified Black jurors.

Judge Timothy Walmsley agreed that discrimination could be at play in the defence’s approach but said the case could go forward with the current selection.

“This court has found that there appears to be intentional discrimination,” said Judge Walmsley, but “all the defence needs to do is provide that legitimate, nondiscriminatory, clear, reasonably specific and related reason”, for not using a certain juror, explained the judge. The defence was able to do so.

Outside the courthouse, Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones said it was “devastating” that only one Black juror was selected, according to CNN.

Jogger Ahmaud Arbery was killed in February 2020 in Georgia- Marcus Abery via Reuters

It took two and a half weeks to pick the jury, which was decided on Wednesday. The prosecutors have accused defence attorneys of racial discrimination for eliminating qualified Black jurors.

Judge Timothy Walmsley agreed that discrimination could be at play in the defence’s approach but said the case could go forward with the current selection.

“This court has found that there appears to be intentional discrimination,” said Judge Walmsley, but “all the defence needs to do is provide that legitimate, nondiscriminatory, clear, reasonably specific and related reason”, for not using a certain juror, explained the judge. The defence was able to do so.

Outside the courthouse, Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones said it was “devastating” that only one Black juror was selected, according to CNN.

Former police detective Gregory McMichael, 64, his son Travis McMichael, 34, and their neighbour William Bryan Jr, 50, each face nine charges including malice murder, four counts of felony murder, and two counts of aggravated assault.

The prosecution has dubbed the killing of Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery, 25, which took place in February 2020 in Georgia, a “modern-day lynching”. The defendants claim it was a “citizen’s arrest”.

In Georgia, under the citizen’s arrest law, an individual could detain someone they had seen committing a serious crime, if the suspect was trying to escape. The law was repealed following Arbury’s death.

“I think the state of Georgia is moving in the right direction by passing this particular bill,” Ms Cooper-Jones said at the Capitol after the bill was signed in May 2021, reported NPR. “Unfortunately, I had to lose my son to get significant change. But again, I’m still thankful.”

At the time of the shooting, Georgia was one of four states with no hate crime laws in place. Georgia’s governor signed legislation in June 2020 to change this. The law now includes additional penalties for racially motivated crimes, or those based on religion, sexual orientation, gender or disability.

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Extreme’ cost to taxpayer as Jamaica deportation flights leave ‘virtually empty’

Government deportation flights to Jamaica have been operating with only a handful of people onboard, newly-released figures show.

The Home Office statistics disclose that 140 people with criminal convictions were deported on six flights between 2016 and 2021.

Some of the chartered aircraft have left ‘virtually empty’ at ‘extreme’ cost to British taxpayers, one prominent community leader said.

The disclosures come ahead of another controversial removal operation which is scheduled to take place on November 10.

The flights all left from unspecified UK airports and arrived at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston during the time-frame, the documents released to Metro.co.uk show.

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95 DIED IN ASYLUM SEEKER ACCOMMODATION IN FIVE YEARS AMID FEARS HOME OFFICE DOWNPLAYED TOLL

Ninety-five people have died in asylum accommodation since April 2016, almost double the figure recently admitted by the government and comes amid fears the Home Office has deliberately downplayed the death toll.

The data also reveals a stark increase in the number of deaths of those housed under asylum support provisions, such as in hotels, in the past two years.

Deaths leapt from four in 2019 to 36 in 2020 – a ninefold increase – with a further 33 people in the first eight months of 2021, bringing total deaths since the start of 2020 to 69 people, according to freedom of information (FoI) requests by Liberty Investigates.

Sabir Zazai, chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, called the figures “devastating” and urged an independent inquiry to establish why so many people in the state’s care were dying.

As recently as three months ago the Home Office said 51 people had died in its asylum accommodation following FoI requests made by the Scottish Refugee Council.

33 deaths are missing from the FOI the Home Office sent the Scottish Refugee Council

Liberty Investigates

The new, much higher number of deaths, has shocked experts and raised questions over the significant discrepancy in death tolls.

Both the two FoI requests made by the Scottish Refugee Council and Liberty Investigates requested deaths of people housed under four sections of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

Pressed for an explanation, the Home Office said the discrepancy came from their interpretation of an extra phrase included in the request from the Scottish Refugee Council’s – “whilst staying in asylum support accommodation”.

“Whether it’s directly in accommodation or outside, these vulnerable individuals are still in the care of the secretary of state”

Toufique Hossain, director of public law at Duncan Lewis Solicitors

Stuart McDonald, SNP home affairs spokesperson, described the new figures as “appalling” and demanded reassurances that the discrepancy was not a deliberate Home Office decision to lower the number of deaths.

He said: “A reasonable person reading [the original] request would not interpret it in that way. We need reassurance from the Home Office that this is because somebody interpreted the [first] FoI wrong and not because they were deliberately taking a restrictive view on it,” he said.

The Home Office, he added, should promise to publish annual data on deaths in asylum accommodation “openly and transparently.”

Causing further confusion is that the response to the second of two FoI requests made by the Scottish Refugee Council included references to three deaths that took place “at hospital” – prompting concern the Home Office had even treated its two requests differently despite being based on identical wording. The department later said it had included deaths in external settings in its response to the second request due to “human error”.

Toufique Hossain, director of public law at Duncan Lewis solicitors, described the discrepancies as “staggering.”

He said. “What they’re obviously trying to do [in the first release of figures] is say: ‘It’s not as a result of, or connected to, our accommodation.”

The steep rise in deaths coincides with the Home Office decision in 2020 to push thousands of asylum seekers into hotels. The Home Office claims this was to protect them from the spread of Covid-19, but drew heavy criticism from campaigners.

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Far-right groups in UK target hotels housing Afghan refugees

The evacuation of thousands of Afghan refugees to the UK after Kabul fell to the Taliban has triggered an increase in far-right groups targeting hotels where they are being accommodated, according to those monitoring the activities of extremist groups.

Britain First is one of the most prominent organisations involved and, according to its own website, has made more than a dozen unsolicited visits in recent weeks to hotels housing Afghan refugees in areas including Telford, Stoke-on-Trent and Colchester.

Hope Not Hate, the charity which monitors the activities of the far right, says the resettlement schemes for Afhans have became a focal point for many of these groups. It says the arrival of the refugees has led to the far right “reviving, and refining, similar attacks used during the Syria crisis”.

The charity says the far right is using Islamophobic narratives such as the “Muslim takeover of Europe”, framing refugees as potential terrorists or sexual predators.

Britain First and For Britain, another far-right political party, claim to be concerned about the cost of the resettlement
 of Afghan refugees to UK taxpayers. For Britain has focused on claiming the new migration will increase unemployment among British workers.

Patriotic Alternative, a white nationalist political group, is promoting a “Write to your MP” action for its followers, to protest about the resettlement of Afghans in the UK. They have also done a series of banner drops with the words “We Will Not Be Replaced”, including one in the constituency of the home secretary, Priti Patel.

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