Employment rights and connection with health

This week my community engagement work focused on employment. On Tuesday evening we repeated our ‘Employment Rights’ workshop delivered in partnership with BPP Law School’s Street Law project.

The session covered main employment rights, discrimination and protected characteristics, the ‘gig’ economy, and agency workers’ rights. These sessions always make me realise how little I know about the basics. It is a really comfortable enviroment without cameras or mics on for attendees so we use the chat box to write if we have a comment. We are taught about our rights, if you haven’t attended a session yet I really recommend it! You can see the full list of our 1 hour lunch time sessions coming up here: Webinars and workshops — South West London Law Centres – Helping local people access justice (swllc.org)

On Wednesday we carried on the theme of employment and held our first round table discussion focusing on the connections between health and employment. Over 20 people attended mainly from the health services and some attendees from our social justice network. I look forward to seeing how this work develops as I know from my own experience how much work can affect health. There were people from Talking Therapies, Social Presrcibers, Society of Occupational Medicine represented during the round table discussion as well as council workers and advice agencies. Each person brought a unique perspective and I am very appreciative. If you are interested the connection between health and employment contact me at community@swllc.org to be involved. Thank you.

The rest of Wednesday was spent with a fundraising expert in the Croydon office of the law centre and myself, our CEO, deputy CEO, head of legal of services and the community engagement manager for Surrey and Kingston spent 4 hours brain storming project ideas. These projects are being developed to respond to the needs we see coming to the law centre. Law Centres relied on legal aid so they could provide the vital legal advice intervensions that communities need, sadly legal aid has been reduced but the need hasn’t. As a law centre want to be able to offer the legal advice that is needed and not just rely on legal aid as the cuts have meant people are not getting access to justice. The most recent conversations I have had are to do with housing disrepair, so that is the urgent project I was pushing.

On Thursday I continued working on our ‘reference book’ to be offered along side our ‘Using the Law to Support the Community’ workshop.

In the afternoon I joined the Fuel Poverty Merton Sub Committee, this is a sub-committee that has been put together by Merton Covid Response to tackle the high numbers of fuel poverty in Merton. In Merton 15% of households are at risk of fuel poverty which is higher than its neighbouring Wandsworth (13%) and Kingston (12%) boroughs. You can see the full map here. We are preparing for a fuel justice event on Saturday the 30th of April in Commonside Trust in Mitcham. We know things are only going to get worse so I am please that there is a network of fuel rights groups developing which include Merton Council Adult Social Care, Merton Council Chief Executive, Citizens Advice Merton & Lambeth Manager, Thinking Works Warm & Well Project Manager, Wimbledon Guild Community Engagement Manager, South West London Law Centres, Climate Engagement Officer, Merton Council Head of Revenues & Benefits, Merton Council Public Health Officer, Merton Council Climate Change Project Officer, Merton Council Grants Manager, Wimbledon Guild Environment & Regeneration Economy Manager, Merton Council Project Administrator.

On Friday I also spoke to Martin who is the chair of the Croydon Housing Improvement Board. I had recently been interviewed by Martin, some Croydon tenants and a Croydon Council Officer to see if I could earn a place on the board as a community sector representative. After a round of interviews the seat was offered to someone else. I met with Martin to fnd out why and if there are other ways we could be involved in the board. I was happy to hear that they have appointed someone else and the law centre should be called on to give evidence to the board, I pleased we can still contribute to this positive initiative. You can read more about the board here.

In the afternoon I met with XXX at Croydon Council to receive an update on approach to the fuel rebate of £150 for those in council tax bands A – D. We received the below critical information and will be following up on the 4th of May:

Energy rebate –  

those who pay council tax via direct debit are more simple to get the rebate to as the council have bank details. No requirement that they have to have made multiple payments in order to receive that, they could set up direct debit today and get rebate this way.  

CC are making first rebate today with a test on 5000 direct debit accounts. People should know that they should receive a payment in April.  

The aim is that direct debit rebates will be distributed by end of April. This is an aim if not problems following first 5000 test accounts.  

For those who do not pay via direct debit: 

A company called Essentant (not sure if correct spelling) are designing a form for those who do not pay via direct debit. The same company did the CC business rates grants form. Working with 100s of councils to do this. There were 4 companies offered to local authorities and CC have gone with this one. 

Where there is an email address for someone they would be invited to claim, or a text, or a letter will sent asking people to make a claim.  

CC know all our council tax parties, it will be a case of people verifying there details for the rebate.  

Options for receiving the rebate: 

1: do you want it onto bank account, credit check run to make sure it is the claimant into (does not leave a stamp on their file) payment made into their account via BACs. Need to give bank details.  

2: credited to council tax account  

3: won’t take either option 1 or 2, they would use post office pay. Letter sent with a QR code, also option via email with QR code. Take this into post office and will get cash in a post office.  

Deadline is September for people to claim it by. 

Some direct debits will have problems, ie: if direct debit name is different to account holder. So a link is sent instead for someone to verify details. If any anomalies there will be an invitation to claim.  

CC will be able to track where no claim is made. 

If no claim by August it will go onto council tax account. If this puts account into credit they can than claim the money from their council tax account.  

For Safe guarding those who may be overdrawn there is a template letter on the Croydon Council website if the claimant is in there overdraft so the money doesn’t get swallowed.  

Whilst Council tax department are administering this refund the money shouldn’t be used to clear council tax debt.
How much you owe/don’t owe won’t affect this. Will only put onto council tax account where there is no contact.  

In the afternoon I met with Andrew Hillier and Victoria Speed to discuss our Health and Employment round table discussion that we held on Wednesday 20th April. I was really pleased with how it went, but this is just the begining. Now I must contact all the people who attended to see if they are interested in being involved in health and employment initiatives and what front line legal advisors can do to support people in health industry to increase the numbers of patients that are access legal advice and mediation to improve their employment situations. I now must set up 1:1 meetings with attendees to discuss this over the coming weeks.
These are some of the main points that came up in our round table discussion:

  1. The fact that stress at work situations are extremely complex and are mainly triggered by personal circumstances- e.g housing, family, migration status- rather than problems at work.
    • Clients are reluctant to seek employment rights advice for fear of antagonising their employer.
    • Difficulty employees have in sharing their work-place anxiety and, in particular, when they receive a formal diagnosis of long-term mental illness.
    • Lack of workplace staff dedicated to promoting well-being and able to detect symptoms of stress at an early stage.
    • Particular issue to focus on raised by an attendee – where women have reached menopause and feel they no longer have employment value.
    • An attendee stressed importance of identifying social triggers and not over-medicalising the problem.