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Latest Equality News

ON THIS PAGE - DOMESTIC VIOLENCE OR ABUSE - ADVICE, SUPPORT AND CHANGES TO LEGAL AID/ARTICLE Jan 2011 - Flexible working legislation extended to parents of children under 18/The BT Passport Scheme/ACCESS TO WORK - ARE YOU ENTITLED TO ACCESS TO WORK ASSISTANCE?

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND LEGAL AID

If you are suffering from Domestic Violence or Abuse you can call the Women's Aid National Domestic Violence Helpline it's open 24 hours a day and it's a FREE call - 0808 2000 247.

Or check the Women's Aid website for the Survivors Handbook and advice on how to protect yourself from Digital Stalking. Copy and paste the following link;- http://www.womensaid.org.uk/

Legal aid cuts: What has changed? June 2013

Significant changes to civil legal aid in England and Wales came into effect on 1 April 2013, as part of a plan to reform the system and save £350m a year.

The changes meant some types of case were no longer eligible for public funds - including divorce, child contact, welfare benefits, employment, clinical negligence, and housing law except in very limited circumstances.

Critics warned that the changes would be damaging. So, a few months after the changes have been introduced, what has actually happened?

Since April nearly all family law advice has been removed from the legal aid scheme. This means people can no longer get funding for divorce or child contact or residence disputes.

"I recently had a case involving a four-year-old and a six-year-old where the four-year-old was being kept by his father after contact as and when he pleased," says Rebekah Wilson, a family barrister from Tooks Chambers in London.

"The four-year-old was very unsure about where he lived and who he lived with. Prior to 1 April the mother could have got legal aid but now she probably doesn't get it."

The changes mean victims of domestic violence must have proof before they can get legal aid for family cases.

Vulnerable clients
Cathy Barton, a family lawyer from Somerset, says that is problematic. She recently turned away a woman who said she had been raped by her partner, and who wanted legal advice regarding the breakdown of her relationship, because she didn't have medical proof that she had been abused.
"For us to have to send her away and say come back with some medical evidence was just entirely contrary to all of our beliefs and ways of working," says Ms Barton. "She hasn't come back to us yet."

Getting the relevant evidence can be expensive. A doctor's letter costs about £50, a memorandum of conviction £60 and a police disclosure £75.

"For my client who has no access to any money - or for a woman who has no recourse to public funds - she can't find £50 to pay for a doctor's letter," says Cris McCurley, a partner at Ben Hoare Bell Solicitors in Sunderland, who represents vulnerable migrant women.

But the government says that it has made every effort to ensure that victims of domestic violence are getting the necessary legal help.

"I spent a year on Laspo [Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012] and three times I moved the definition of domestic violence to be absolutely sure that we brought within the scope anybody who is genuinely affected by domestic violence," Justice Minister Lord McNally told Law In Action.

Plugging the gap
Some lawyers argued that changes to civil legal aid would lead to more people representing themselves in court - so-called "litigants in person" - which would slow down the court system.

Although the precise number of litigants in person is unobtainable, anecdotal evidence suggests there has been a rise.

"I have noticed since 1 April that there are more people in person, it slows the proceedings down and litigants in person have tended to be men," says Rebekah Wilson, a family barrister from London.

Funding for legal advice and representation for routine housing claims was removed from 1 April. Pete Moran, a development officer at Cumbria Law Centre, says that means legal help may now come too late.

He recently worked with a client who had employment, benefits and housing issues but Cumbria Law Centre could only offer legal help once he was at risk of losing his home.

"We often used to do a piece of legal aid-funded work for less than £160 to help a family facing homelessness. The collateral cost we understand of a family becoming homeless is between £14,000 and £30,000 for the public purse," says Mr Moran.

The government says the consequences of the changes to civil legal aid have not been as bad as the critics suggest.

"We have not found the kind of damage or destruction that they have alleged or forecast," says Lord McNally.

Some organisations are indeed finding new ways to plug the gap left by the removal of civil legal aid.
"We're in the process of finding that money and it's going relatively well. Mainly this is coming from small grant-making charities, in some cases from housing associations. So, bit by bit, we're moving towards a new funding model," says Mr Moran.

It is still too early for a full assessment of the impact of the changes to civil legal aid. The above testimony is impressionistic and based on the public's response to an invitation by the BBC Radio 4 programme Law in Action to share their experiences of the changes.

The BT Passport Scheme – Information for CWU members.

What is the BT passport?
The BT Passport is a scheme to document the requirements of employees who have special needs that can sometimes impact on their working life.

Who can have a BT Passport?
Currently within BT there are the following Passports available;
• BT Disability Passport – available to employees with health conditions that the employee believes are covered by the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act).
• BT Health & Well being Passport – available to employees with mental health conditions.
• BT Carers Passport – available to employees who have specific caring responsibilities for someone else.

What are the benefits of having a BT Passport?
It is a voluntary scheme that allows employees to ensure that any special needs that can impact on them in the workplace, either now or in the future, are documented. It ensures that any reasonable adjustments that are required are documented, so that if the line manager or job role changes in the future, the information is readily available. It therefore guarantees continuity of any arrangements that are required for the employee in the workplace.
It allows the employee to explain in their own words their circumstances, the difficulties they experience in the workplace and discuss the help they require in the workplace. Hence, management are made aware and can implement the correct BT support/process, in line with the manager’s duty of care.

Who has access to the information in the Passport?
The contents of the BT Passport are strictly confidential and treated accordingly. The line manager holds a copy, which is kept in the employee’s personal file. The employee is provided with a copy, which ensures they have a copy of any reasonable adjustments/support that is agreed. Nobody else has access to the contents. In fact, nobody else within BT is aware who has a BT Passport.

Who controls the information placed into the Passport?
The employee. The employee controls the amount of information they wish to divulge, to enable the line manager to have an understanding of your needs. This will enable the manager to implement assistance/ support through the relevant BT policy. The contents of the Passport cannot be changed without the agreement of the employee.

Do I have to do this on my own with my line manager?
No, each passport clearly states that an employee can nominate someone to support them in this process. This includes a trade union representative. Each passport contains contact information for support. If you would like a trade union representative to support you, please contact the branch.

If my health condition is currently OK will the BT Passport help me?
The BT Passport ensures that the line manager is aware of the condition and how it may impact you in the future. This ensures that you would receive the appropriate reasonable adjustments should your health condition affect you in the future without causing unnecessary delays in providing you with the support you require. The BT Passport is designed to be “proactive” not “reactive”, this reduces unnecessary stress for employees. It is also a “living” document which can be reviewed and amended whenever your health requirements change.

In my current job role I have no problems that cause me difficulties, why would I need a BT Passport?
None of us knows what the future holds? The BT Passport ensures that should your job role change in the future, your circumstances are already documented and would therefore need to be taken into consideration. It would also allow you to highlight any problems that you encounter in the new role to BT management, who then have a duty to make reasonable adjustments/implement the relevant BT policy to support you.

Where can I obtain further information about the BT Passport?
On the “Including you” website on the BT Intranet or you can email the East Midlands CWU branch for more information via union@cwu-eastmidlands.org.uk

Nicki Coughlin
CWU Disability & Special Needs Advisory Committee
CWU East Midlands Branch

For information on the Disability and Special Needs Advisory Committee (DSNAC) and the latest CWU Disability information and guides please see CWU National Website>Advisory Committees>Disability & Special Needs.

Members with comments or questions regarding DSNAC matters please send an email entitled “Disability Report” to the East Midlands Branch email address 'union@cwu-eastmidlands.org.uk'.

ACCESS TO WORK - ARE YOU ENTITLED TO ACCESS TO WORK ASSISTANCE?

WHAT IS ACCESS TO WORK?
The Access to Work (ATW) scheme is ostensibly designed to provide help and support to disabled workers to enable them to overcome barriers that
they may experience getting work, travelling to work and in the workplace. If you qualify for ATW the government will pay for, or make a contribution in the form of a grant towards, the support you need because of a disability.

WHO QUALIFIES FOR ACCESS TO WORK?
If you are a disabled person as defined by the DDA and your health or disability affects the way you do your job and you are:
– unemployed and starting a new job
– self employed
– working for an employer.

WHAT SUPPORT IS AVAILABLE?
If you satisfy the qualifying criteria ATW will contribute all or a proportion of the costs of:
• adaptations to premises and equipment
• special aids to employment
• support workers
• travel to work costs
• communication support at Job interviews.

HOW DO YOU GET ATW ASSISTANCE?
In the first instance discuss the matter with your employer. Your CWU rep can help you with this. Then contact the Disablement Employment Adviser
who are part of the governments Placement Assessment and Counselling teams based in the local job centre. You will then have to complete an
application form stating details of your employment and what type of support you require.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
From all accounts the Access to Work process is a relatively short one. When your application has been approved the Disablement Employment Adviser will contact you and the employer and may visit your workplace to appraise your needs. When a solution has been identified, costed, and agreed the applicant and the employer will receive an action plan from the DEA. It is the employer’s
responsibility – or yours if you are self employed – to arrange the agreed support and/or purchase the required aids or adaptations. The approved costs
can then be reclaimed from ATW.

WANT TO FIND OUT MORE?
Here is an overview of what appears to be a positive government policy to encourage and support disabled workers. The CWU welcomes and supports this initiative. If you want to learn more specific details you can contact the agency responsible for the scheme’s administration at:
Access to Work Operational Support Unit 1st Floor Alexandra House, 377 Cowbridge Road East, Canton, Cardiff, CF5 1WU, Tel: 02920 423291.

You can also contact the CWU Equal Opportunities Department if you have any questions or queries on this or any other matter.
Linda Roy National Equality Officer Email: lroy@cwu.org Tel: O2O 8971 7238