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Latest News

Spring Newsletter 2018

Almost summer and the weather finally feels like it. We would like to update you on what we have been doing over the last few months.

The Law Centre has been successful in our tenders for Legal Aid contracts in immigration and asylum and housing. We now also have a Legal Aid housing contract to provide casework and representation in Lewisham. Our first step towards establishing a Lewisham Law Centre.

Southwark council has extended our contract to provide specialist advice in partnership with other agencies until September 2019, with no cut to funding. Thanks to elected members and council officers for recognising that local residents need support to deal with all the changes that are happening including the introduction of Universal Credit. Which brings us neatly onto ………

Issues and trends

Migration to Universal Credit (UC): There have been some positive changes to UC in the past few months such as the reduction in waiting time from 6 to 5 weeks, and homeless people in temporary accommodation staying on Housing benefit, overall however UC is causing many problems for people.

Only around 1/3 of Southwark tenants have transferred onto UC. The ones still to transfer will include vulnerable people with long term health issues who have been unable to work for many years. We think that therefore that the issues we are currently seeing are the tip of the iceberg.

There are still delays in payment of the rent element, and people wrongly trying to claim Housing Benefit. Rent arrears for tenants and Council Tax arrears in Southwark have increased massively since the introduction of UC. It is important that Southwark Law Centre as the lead specialist advice provider continues to work with the Exchequer Service to try and support people who are in difficulty.

Lambeth County Court has now closed and tenants facing eviction have to now travel all the way to the Clerkenwell Court, bear the Barbican. This can easily be a 3 hour round trip. Southwark law Centre participates in the Court duty scheme to represent people who haven’t got a solicitor. The majority of the problems with rent arrears are now caused by UC issues.


UC Mitigation Project

With funding from United St Saviour’s we have set up a project which draws together the main advice agencies to provide additional support services for residents in north Southwark for one year. Southwark Law Centre is leading the project and providing specialist services around complex welfare rights and housing cases. Citizens Advice Southwark is providing generalist advice, including budgeting and digital support. Advising Communities is leading on an impact assessment which will explore the impact of the reforms on local groups, and the best ways of supporting them. It is envisaged that the impact report will be launched towards the end of 2018.

Other welfare benefit issues

We continue to see many people with Employment Support Allowance Appeals, and benefit sanctions. It is estimated that around 14,000 Southwark residents are claiming disability benefits. Many tenants with physical and mental health problems who have been in receipt of Disability LA are failing the harsher PIP rules and need support with mandatory reconsiderations and appeals. There is a high rate of success at the appeal stage but the process is complex and people often become exhausted, and give up.

A recent ruling found that the Government had discriminated against people with mental health problems in the application of the PIP entitlement rules. We are not clear at present how many people in Southwark this ruling affects or how the DWP will treat their claims but we envisage an increase in demand for support in this area.

We are very pleased to receive funding from the Southwark Tenants Fund to support our specialist welfare rights work.

Immigration and the hostile environment

Quite rightly there has been a lot of recent media coverage about the appalling way that commonwealth citizens who have been in the UK since before 1973 have been treated. There is a lot of confusion about the situation for people and we will be working with one of our partners Migrant Legal Action to provide a public information leaflet.

As well as the ‘Windrush’ generation there are many other migrants who have been forced into destitution by the government’s hostile environment. They can’t rent a property, take up employment or access health care. These are the people that the Law Centre aims to help on a daily basis.

Planning Voice:
The last few months have been a busy period as we ran several workshops for local residents to assist them to draft submissions on the soundness of the New Southwark Plan.

Esther our caseworker has drafted three written representations on different aspects of the NSP regarding legal compliance and soundness of the consultation process, equalities analysis and the treatment of Gypsy and Traveller accommodation needs in the Plan. We will put these on the website but if anyone would like a copy please contact sally.causer@southwarklawcentre.org.uk

Our Planning Voice project was initially funded by United St Saviours Charity United for 1 year beginning in August 2017. We are delighted that the Trustees of United St Saviours have agreed to extend the funding for a further year.

Sadly Esther can’t stay with us as she is taking up a pupillage to become a barrister so we are currently recruiting for her replacement. Application packs are on our website www.southwarklawcentre.org.uk

Staffing News

Charlene Stakemire a member of our immigration team has had a lovely baby girl Astrid. Clare Cruise our employment solicitor has recently gone on maternity leave. (That makes 3)

Anthony Kasonde is covering Charlene’s post and Richard O’Keefe is our new employment caseworker.

We have recently recruited 2 new housing caseworkers, Rachel Lovell and Gail Bradford who will eventually be based at our new Lewisham office.

Events: Southwark Refugee Week

We are once again working with local volunteers and the main refugee support agencies to coordinate a programme of events in Southwark during refugee week 16th- 24th June 2018.

Our launch event is at All Saints Church Peckham on Saturday 16th June 12-4pm

The event is hosted by Giles Frasier and speakers include Maurice Wrenn CEO of the Refugee Council, and Pierre Makhlouf from Bail in Detention. There will be food, music and films.

For full details of all the events please check



Funding and support

A team from Southwark Law Centre will be taking part in the London Legal Support Trust Sponsored walk again this year on Monday 21st May. We will be joined by walkers from Southwark Day Centres for Asylum Seekers (SDCAS). The walk starts around 5pm and is £10k around central London. The sun always shines.

Every year the Law Centre helps over 800 people who can’t afford to pay for legal advice – many of our clients are homeless and destitute. There are so many issues that people need help with that Legal Aid just doesn’t cover such as our work to support residents and small traders to have a voice in the major developments happening in the Borough. It doesn’t cover medical reports for people challenging welfare benefit decisions or some of the reports needed to prove people’s immigration status in the UK.

Your support is vital: Here is the link to our fund raising page https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SouthwarkLC18

Please can you 

·        Publicise the walk

·        Retweet information about the walk

·        Sponsor us

·        Join our team and walk for justice

My Donate

We now have a link to My Donate on our website and have set up GiftAid for people who would like to support our work. Please see http://southwarklawcentre.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=66&Itemid=73 for the MyDonate button.

Have you signed up to be a member? Our revised constitution also allows for organisations to become members. Please encourage your family, friends, people you work with to become members and supporters. It is free although donations especially regular gift aided donations are very welcome. If you use Twitter please follow us @southwarklawcen

We now have over 1,750 followers

Thank you for all your support

Sally Causer

Director Southwark law Centre





Everyone who claims Universal Credit is placed in one of 4 conditionality groups based on their circumstances. These are as follows:

1)No work related requirements

You are placed in this group if you are:

* above your earnings threshold (usually 35 X National Minimum Wage. £7.50 if over 25 rising to £7.83 in April)

*have LCWRA

*are responsible for a child under 1

*have reached PC age but your partner has not

*are pregnant and within 11 weeks of expected week of childbirth

* are an adopter in first year

* are a young person with no parental support in full time non advanced education.

* are a carer with substantial caring responsibilities

2) Work Focussed Interview requirement only

You will be placed in this group if :

* you are responsible for a child over 1 and under 2 ( if you are part of a couple your partner will be placed in their own group)

* you became a friend or family carer within the last 12 months

 3) Work Preparation requirement- this involves getting ready for work by attending training  courses, preparing a cv, attending the Work Programme etc.

You will be placed in this group if:

* you have limited capability for work (LCW)

* you are responsible for a child over 2 and under 3.

4) All work-related requirements

Everyone else is required to look for and be available for work. Normally this is full time work   of 35 hours per week unless you have caring responsibilities or health problems.


The latest published DWP statistics show that 6.9% of Universal Credit claimants were being sanctioned in March 2017. JSA and ESA sanctions were at a much lower level 0.4% and 0.3% respectively. 69% of Universal Credit sanctions related to Work Focussed Interviews and   18% to availability for work. (See appendix 1).

I gather 4.7% of Universal Credit claimants were being sanctioned in November 2017, although by then the number of claimants had risen substantially. Some former work coaches have indicated that there is an unofficial 4-5% target within the DWP.

Transitional regulations provide for sanctions to carry over when claimants move to UC from ESA and JSA, but the situation in less clear where there is a move form a live service to full service area.

In February 2017 a Public Accounts Committee report expressed concern about the wide variation in the number of sanctions decisions across the country, and the fact that the DWP did not know how many vulnerable clients were being successfully protected from inappropriate sanctions. A recent study indicated that disabled people were 53% more likely to be sanctioned than non-disabled people.

The latest DWP statistics show that 72% of mandatory reconsideration requests re sanction decisions do not result in a changed decision, but that 81% of appeals are successful!

There are 4 bands of sanctions which apply to different groups

1)High Level Sanctions (UC and JSA only)     Sanction period 91,182 or 1095 days

Failing to apply for or to accept paid work

Ceasing paid work or losing pay for specified reasons

2)Medium Level Sanctions (UC and JSA only) Sanction period 28 or 91 days

       Failing to be available for work or to take all reasonable steps to get paid work

      3)Low Level Sanctions (UC,JSA and ESA) Sanction period until compliance with a requirement plus 7,14 or 28 days

Failing to meet a work focussed interview requirement

Failing to meet a requirement connected to a work related requirement

Failing to meet a work preparation

Failing to take a particular action to get paid work (UC and JSA only

4)Lowest Level Sanctions (UC and ESA only, where claimant is subject to only a WFI requirement) Sanction period until compliance with a requirement

Failing to meet a work focussed interview requirement

Multiple sanctions take effect consecutively. You cannot be sanctioned for more than 3 years but otherwise there is no limit. If you offend again within 2 - 52 weeks the second sanction will normally be for a longer period.

Amount of Sanctions

For Universal Credit the daily reduction is normally the amount of the standard allowance that applies to you (or 50% if you are part of a couple). However it is only 40% of this if during the relevant assessment period you are 16/17, only have to meet a WFI requirement, have a child under 1, are pregnant and within 11 weeks of the expected birth, or had a baby not more than 15 weeks ago.

For JSA and ESA it is 100% of the personal allowance.

You may be able to claim a Hardship Payment representing 60% of the daily deduction rate when you are sanctioned although these are loans and have to be repaid.

See CPAG Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook for more details on sanctions (chapter 48) and hardship payments (chapter 51)


ESA is subject to two forms of conditionality Work Focussed Interviews (WFI’s) and the Work Preparation requirement.

You are exempt from WFI’s if you are in the ESA support group, are a single parent with a child under 1, or are starting or resuming work and a WFI would be unlikely to assist you.

You are exempt from the Work Preparation requirement if you are in the support group, are a single parent with a child under 3 or are in receipt of carers allowance or the ESA carers premium


Once you claimed ESA (IB) you were treated as having limited capability for work until the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) had been completed, providing you submitted medical certificates and had not failed the WCA (and not successfully challenged the decision) within the last 6 months. While the WCA is pending therefore you generally do not have to look for work, although you do have to attend work focussed interviews (WFI’s).

However, the rules are different for Universal Credit.  If you have not been found not to have limited capability for workYou can be sick for two periods of up to 14 days in any rolling 12 month period and work availability requirements have to be removed . After this, whilst you are waiting for the WCA work availability requirements generally do not have to be removed, although there are discretionary powers to do so. On the other hand, if you have been found fit for work before and the medical evidence submitted is substantially the same as provided during the earlier assessment work availability requirements only have to be switched off if you have been referred for another WCA assessment.

There are a number of other situations where it is compulsory to switch off work availability and work related activities requirements, and a number of situations where this is discretionary (see appendix 2)


The HWC is a compulsory interview which was introduced for new ESA claimants in April 2017 and was extended to UC in the autumn.

It is compulsory because it has been introduced as a Work Focussed Interview (WFI) You can be sanctioned for not attending a WFI without good cause, or not fully participating, but not for failing subsequently to do anything you agreed to do at the meeting.

What you are required to do to participate in a WFI is defined in law for ESA (see reg 57 ESA Regulations 2008 attached) Claimants are not specifically required to divulge their health problems by the legislation.

Claimants will be contacted at around the 4 week stage of their ESA claim by their work coach and asked to turn up 10 minutes before the interview to complete an “About Me” questionnaire, which asks questions such as how does your health affect your life and your ability to work. After this has been discussed with the work coach claimants are asked to complete a “My 4 steps” exercise detailing something they want to do. Some claimants will be asked to complete a “My values” exercise before they do this. This is an indication that the work coach is considering sanctioning you.   Finally claimants will be asked to create a “Labour Market system Action Plan” a list of 2/3 things they can do to move closer to goals that relate to work or health.

Dave Ohlson Southwark Law Centre         dave.ohlson@southwarklawcentre.org.uk


January 2018

Leave to remain with ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’

A guide on preparing a 'change of conditions' application for people who are destitute

For individuals, please click here.

You should use this guidance if:

• You have limited leave to remain for 2.5 years

• With no recourse to public funds

• You are facing homelessness or very serious poverty

• You want to apply to the Home Office to get access to mainstream welfare benefits and social housing


 For Immigration Advisors, please click here

You should use this guidance if:

You are a registered immigration advisor accredited at OISC Level 1 or above

Your client has limited leave to remain on the basis of their family or private life (except under the 5 year parent or partner route)

• With no recourse to public funds

• They are facing homelessness or very serious poverty

They want to apply to the Home Office to get access to mainstream welfare benefits and social housing 


June 2017: Universal Credit FAQs

 Click here for frequently asked questions on Universal Credit.


May 2018: London Legal Walk

LLST 22nd may 2017


Brexit and EU citizens' rights

Please click here to read Tim Lawrence’s paper for our workshop on Brexit and EU citizens' rights with Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (part of the London Coalition Against Poverty).


Peckham Peculiar - September 2016

Please click here to read the brilliant feature article in the Peckham Peculiar newspaper on the work of Southwark Law Centre. 


Southwark Law Centre - Newsletter Autumn 2017

Please click here for a copy of our latest members newsletter.

Autumn 2017

Summer 2017

April 2017 

July 2016

January 2016  

April 2016


 AGM 2017

Almost 60 people attended our 2017 AGM on Tuesday 24 October, held at Bells Gardens Community Centre in October 2017.

Representatives of some of our partner agencies spoke about: The  importance of access to justice, How the Law Centres support disadvantaged local residents and Planning.

Speakers included: Councillor Dame Anne Owers, Chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, Steve Hedger, Chair of  of Camberwell East Area Forum and Southwark Tenant Council. John Hobson QC, Planning Voice new project funded by United St Saviours Charity, Esther Drabkin-Reiter, Neighbourhood Planning Caseworker Southwark Law Centre. 


We would like to thank the speakers, Peckham Singers, staff and trustees and all those who attended and assisted in organising the AGM.





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Presentation to Forum for Equalities and Human Ri