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Citizen’s Advice launches petition to remove benefit appeals from Newry courthouse

October 22, 2018

The Citizens Advice Bureau in Newry has launched a petition to have benefits appeals removed from Newry Courthouse.  The petition calls for benefits appeals to be held in a neutral venue so that members of the public do not feel like “they have committed a criminal  offence.”

The campaign comes after a recent high profile case brought the issue to the fore, with benefit claimants attending appeal hearings at the local courthouse forced to walk through a gauntlet of TV cameras and press on their way to their hearings. 

The independent charity, based in Ballybot House, says it plans to bring the change.org petition to the Appeals Service on behalf of CAB clients who find the courthouse process “intimidating and off-putting.” The petition states that clients walking past TV cameras into a “court full of people when none of them have committed a crime,” is a regular occurrence which CAB want to bring to an end.

“We would like to see all local appeals moved back to local venues. The cost of room rental would not add on much to the cost of an already expensive appeal hearing. It’s not too much too ask for both ourselves and often vulnerable clients. We hope our local Political Representatives can help change this,” adds the petition. 

Kelly Murray, Senior Advisor for Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), Newry, says attending appeal hearings at the courthouse “criminalises people who are merely attending an appeal for a lost benefit.”  

“The fact that it’s in the courthouse makes people think that they have committed a criminal offence but all they have done is maybe be disallowed a benefit that they were entitled to anyway,” said the CAB Advisor, who also cited problems with limited disabled parking spaces as another stressful issue for disabled and vulnerable clients attending the courthouse for benefit appeals.

Danielle Morris, Tribunal Representative for the CAB Newry says the stigma of being seen attending the courthouse can be traumatic for benefits claimants and urged the Appeals Service to consider an impartial venue. 

A Department for Communities spokesperson said, 

“Courthouses provide an independent and dignified environment for the Appeals Service to arrange more tribunal sessions which has helped reduce delay to appellants in securing a hearing date. Courthouses are regularly used for civil and family justice matters. Appeal tribunals are part of a statutory process adjudicated by judicial office holders and therefore listing appeals in courthouses is entirely consistent with the standing and independence of these arrangements.”

To sign the CAB petition visit www.change.org

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