So here we are, 1st April, and a whole raft of changes come into force, brought in by our illustrious ConDem coalition.
Bedroom Tax ( or loss of “spare-room subsidy”) – makes the least well-off in our society, living in Social Housing, pay more if they have ‘spare’ bedrooms, they can’t afford the increase, get evicted, fall into the clutches of private landlords and end up paying more anyway. Those with one spare bedroom will lose 14% of their housing benefit, while those with two or more spare bedrooms will lose 25%. But where is this glut of smaller accommodation that everyone is supposed to downsize into? I was completely unaware that this country was awash with empty, available, reasonably-priced 1 and 2 bedroom flats, left empty because people would rather pay the extra Council Tax for having 4-5 bedroom properties and leaving half of it empty and unused. I didn’t know that.
Council tax benefit scrapped – From 1 April, each local authority will be responsible for offering its own form of help with paying council tax. They will receive funding from the government, but at 90% of the previous amount. Claimants 65 years or over in England will receive no reduction in the amount of benefit they currently receive. The department for communities and local government estimates more than three million families in England will be affected, losing an average of £2.64 a week (£137 a year).
NHS reorganisation takes effect in England – Primary Care Trusts abolished and replaced by GP-led clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), which will be responsible for competing for the buying in of hospital treatment and other services. The reorganisation does not affect Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
111 service replaces NHS Direct – A nationwide 111 telephone service replaces NHS Direct for all urgent but not life-threatening symptoms. The new service has reported problems in trial areas, including computer failures and patients left on the phone for hours. The British Medical Association (BMA) has said that in its current state the helpline threatens public safety and has called on the government to delay the launch.
NHS prescription charge in England increases by 20p
Water bills go up in England and Wales – Household customers in England and Wales will see annual increases in water and sewerage bills take effect. The regulator announced in February that the average household bill is forecast to increase by 3.5%, or about £13, which means an average bill of £388 in 2013/14.
New single police force for Scotland comes into being
The Police Service of Scotland – or Police Scotland – begins work on 1 April. The new 17,000-strong body will be the second largest force in the UK. The Scottish government decided to merge the nation’s eight regional forces to save money.
Corporation tax falls by %1
The main rate of corporation tax falls from 24% to 23%, with further cuts to 21% in April 2014 and to 20% in April 2015 scheduled. Business rates are also due to increase from today, paid to local authorities by the occupiers of all non-domestic/business properties in England and Wales.
Changes to legal aid
Welfare benefit appeals
You’ll no longer be able to get legal aid to help you make an appeal against a decision on welfare benefits unless you’re making an appeal to the Upper Tribunal or higher courts. So, once again our caring sharing government has excelled, not only do they slash benefits, ATOS assessments abound, everyone being forced off the rock and roll, but we’ve taken away the only way an unemployed/ill person can use to challenge that decision. Without a sudden increase in charitable funding, how are these folk going to pay their legal fees to challenge what they undoubtedly see as an unfair assessment etc etc? Surely this is akin to the school bully nicking your dinner money and then tying you up so you can’t tell anyone? Or is it just me that thinks that?
You’ll no longer be able to get legal aid to help you with your debts unless a creditor is making you bankrupt or taking court action to evict you from your home
You’ll no longer be able to get legal aid to help you with housing problems unless:
- there’s serious disrepair in your home
- you’re homeless
- you’re being evicted from your home
- the council is taking action against you because of anti-social behaviour.
You won’t be able to get legal aid to help you with an employment dispute or go to an employment tribunal unless it’s a discrimination case.
Private family law
You won’t be able to get legal aid to help you with private family law problems unless you’re a victim or are at risk of domestic violence or there has been or is a risk of child abuse These include:
- dissolution of civil partnership
- financial disputes
- property disputes
- disputes over children.
If you’re an asylum seeker, you won’t be able to get legal aid to help you with asylum support unless you have applied for both housing and financial support.
You won’t be able to get legal aid to help you with an immigration application unless you:
- have been detained
- make an application under the domestic violence rules
- make an application because you’re a victim of human trafficking.
You won’t get legal aid to help with education problems unless the child or young adult has Special Educational Needs.
Consumer and general contract law
You won’t get legal aid for any action you want to take for consumer problems or problems you have with general contracts.
Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority cases
You won’t get legal aid to help with the costs of trying to get compensation because you’ve suffered a criminal injury.
Clinical negligence cases
You won’t get legal aid for most clinical negligence problems.
What will you still be able to get legal aid for
You’ll still be able to get legal aid for the following problems:
- care proceedings
- family mediation
- asylum applications
- mental health proceedings
- community care cases
My thanks are due to Citizens Advice for the above précis on Legal Aid changes.
So there you have it, the biggest kick in the nads for a long, long while, and no Legal Aid to challenge Government/ATOS decisions. Democracy at its very best. April Fool? Sadly I don’t think so.
This is how the BBC chose to report these monumental changes in the Legal Aid system;
Areas which will no longer qualify for funding include family cases where couples are divorcing and sorting out living arrangements for their children, unless there is proven domestic violence.
Advice on some employment and education law; personal injury and some clinical negligence cases; immigration where the person is not detained; and some debt and some housing problems will also no longer qualify.”
No mention here of losing Legal Aid in relation to challenging government or ATOS decisions. Strange that. Almost like they didn’t want to report that, or maybe they just aren’t allowed to.
BBC FAQ Page on Legal Aid Changes