Know your rights October 2015

citizens information

Know Your Rights A:

Free legal advice

October 2015

Question

I need legal advice on separating from my husband but I can’t afford to go to a solicitor. Where can I get help?

Answer

Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) is an organisation that promotes equal access to justice for all. You can access basic, confidential and free legal advice across all areas of law in a network of centres around Ireland. These are usually located in the local Citizens Information Centre. Some are drop-in clinics, where you will be seen on a first-come, first-served basis. Other clinics are by appointment only, and you will have to call in advance to book a place.

When you visit a FLAC clinic you should bring along any relevant documentation or correspondence. You will meet a volunteer lawyer – either a solicitor or a barrister. You can ask a question on any area of law. However if you have already consulted a solicitor about the same matter, the volunteer adviser cannot offer guidance on that issue.

Your volunteer adviser will help you to establish whether there is a legal solution to your problem, explain what options are open to you and direct you to further assistance where appropriate.

Volunteer advisers cannot provide legal representation, which means they cannot take a case for you or go to court on your behalf. They also cannot refer you to a lawyer in private practice, so you should contact the Law Society for a list of solicitors in your area or for a particular area of law.

If you have a low income, you may be eligible for legal assistance from the State on a civil matter. The Legal Aid Board is responsible for the provision of civil legal aid and advice. Your FLAC adviser can help to establish this and you may then go to your local law centre to apply for civil legal aid. You will then have to undergo a means test and a merits test.

For criminal matters, there is a separate State criminal legal aid scheme, operated through the courts and administered by the Legal Aid Board.
Further information is available from the Citizens Information Centre below.

Know Your Rights B:

Funding for college

October 2015

Question

I’m unemployed and thinking about going to college. What funding is available for this?

Answer

Most undergraduate students attending publicly funded third-level courses for the first time will qualify for the Free Fees Initiative. You must meet criteria as regards residence, nationality and immigration status, as well as course requirements. If you qualify for free fees you do not have to pay tuition fees. There is a separate Student Contribution, which you pay to the college.

The student grant is the main financial support for students. The grant can cover all or part of your fees (if they are not already covered), the Student Contribution and provide some maintenance. To qualify for a grant, you and your course must meet certain criteria and you must pass a means test.

The Back to Education Allowance is available to people who have been getting certain social welfare payments for a set period of time before starting their course. You cannot get a Back to Education Allowance and the maintenance portion of a student grant at the same time. If you are eligible for both, you should find out which would be of more benefit to you.

The Free Fees Initiative, the student grant and the Back to Education Allowance all have rules regarding progression from previous studies. However, there are exceptions. If you intend to start a course at a level you have studied before, you should check out whether the rules on progression apply to your situation.

If you do not qualify for the Free Fees Initiative or the student grant you should find out whether Springboard can help you to return to education. Springboard provides free higher education courses for people who are unemployed.

If you have to pay tuition fees and a Student Contribution, you may qualify for tax relief. You can find out more about sources of funding, including the Student Assistance Fund for students experiencing financial hardship, on studentfinance.ie.

Further information is available from the Citizens Information Centre below.

Know Your Rights C:

Noisy neighbours

October 2015

Question

Our new neighbours often have noisy parties and keep our children awake at nights. We don’t want to call the Gardaí but what else can we do?

Answer

Noise nuisance can be a really difficult problem, especially if your family’s sleep is disturbed. The Gardaí may ask someone to lower the noise coming from a dwelling but they do not have the power to enter a dwelling with the intention of simply asking someone to lower the noise.

There is a useful leaflet published by the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC), which covers issues (including noise) that arise between neighbours. FLAC recommends that you should first talk to your neighbours about the noise and explain how it is affecting your family. Keep a note of these discussions. You can also keep a noise diary, noting type of noise, time, date and duration and its effects on your family.

If this doesn’t work, you can write to your neighbours, giving details of the noise and its effects. You may wish to suggest mediation and/or legal action if the matter cannot be resolved. Keep copies of all correspondence.

If the neighbours are tenants and you don’t get a satisfactory response from them, you can complain to the landlord – whether this is a private landlord, a local authority or a housing association.

Private tenants have an obligation not to engage in anti-social behaviour, which includes persistent noise that interferes with the peaceful occupation of other dwellings. You may complain to the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) if the landlord fails to enforce this obligation.

Tenants of local authority housing are also obliged to avoid any nuisance (including noise) to the occupiers of any other dwelling. If the noise persists, the tenants are in breach of their tenancy agreement and the local authority can take steps to enforce the terms of the agreement.

If the noise continues to be a problem, you can complain to the District Court about it. You must then serve notice on your noisy neighbours, using the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 – noise form of notice. If the court finds in your favour, it can order your neighbours to take measures to prevent or limit the noise.

Further information is available from the Citizens Information Centre below.

 

Know Your Rights D:

Definition of refugee

October 2015

Question

I’m not very clear on the difference between an asylum seeker and a refugee. Can you explain?

Answer

The term refugee is commonly used to describe several categories of people. These categories of people may have different legal statuses and, as a result, they may have varying rights and obligations. The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (often called the Geneva Convention) is the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of states.

A refugee in Irish law is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his or her nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country…” (Section 2 of the Refugee Act 1996 which mirrors Article 1 of the Geneva Convention).

• An asylum seeker is a person who seeks to be recognised as a refugee.

• A convention refugee is a person who has been granted refugee status under the terms of the Geneva Convention.

• A programme refugee is a person who has been invited to Ireland under a Government decision in response to a humanitarian request, usually from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

You can read updates on resettlement and relocation programmes on the Department of Justice and Equality’s website, justice.ie.

Someone who is applying to be recognised as a refugee may also make an application for subsidiary protection. A person eligible for subsidiary protection is someone who does not qualify as a refugee but who would face a real risk of suffering serious harm if they returned to their country of origin. A person who does not fully meet the requirements of the definition of refugee may be granted leave to remain in the State for humanitarian or other compelling reasons. Leave to remain may also be granted to people who have been refused a declaration as a refugee and are not eligible for subsidiary protection.

Further information is available from the Citizens Information Centre below.

 

Know Your Rights has been compiled by Co Wicklow Citizens Information Service which provides a free and confidential service to the public. See www.citizensinformation.ie for details of your local centre or phone our main office in Bray on 0761 07 6780
Information is also available online at citizensinformation.ie and from the Citizens Information Phone Service, 0761 07 4000.

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