Archives for 2017

Stamp Duty Land Tax Changes for First Time Buyers

As of 22nd November 2017, first time buyers purchasing for £300,000 or less on a property pay no Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) and those purchasing between £300,000 and £500,000 will pay considerably less.  The change has come in with immediate effect, therefore even if you have exchanged contracts you may still benefit if you complete on or after 22nd November.

We act for numerous first time buyers and the recent changes have been welcomed by most to help them take their first step on to the property ladder.

The following conditions must apply in order to qualify for the relief:

  • You must be purchasing for £500,000 or less
  • You must be a first time buyer – This applies to every purchaser if you are purchasing jointly and you will not be classed as a first time buyer if you have received property by way of gift or inheritance or if you have ever owned residential property either here or anywhere else in the world
  • The property being purchased must be intended to be used as your main home

More information can be found on the following government websites:

If you require assistance with your property matter, please contact one of our specialist lawyers:

Buying, Selling & Renting Homes

HMRC’s new “Trust Registration Service”

HM Revenue & Customs recently introduced a new online Trust Registration Service. New and existing trusts and also some ‘complex’ estates of deceased persons must register using the new service. There is an initial deadline for some trusts and estates of 5th January 2018 (which has been extended by HMRC from the original deadline of 5th October 2017). Trustees and Personal Representatives will need to ensure that they register by the relevant deadline or face penalties for non compliance (the level of which have yet to be confirmed by HMRC).

More information about the new service can be found on the government website via the following link:

If you are a Trustee or Personal Representative and think you may need to take action, please contact one of our specialist lawyers who will be glad to help (click on the link below).

Wills, Probate, Trusts & LPAs

Local solicitor defends Lasting Powers of Attorney

  • Local solicitor, Caroline Fletcher from Frome has defended lasting powers of attorney
  • This follows comments from a former senior judge that power of attorney orders are open to financial abuse
  • But national group Solicitors for the Elderly says with the right advice, powers of attorney can act as important safeguards

Local solicitor Caroline Fletcher from Harris & Harris Solicitors based in Frome and Wells has defended lasting powers of attorney (LPA) after Denzil Lush, the former Senior Judge of the Court of Protection, warned they may leave elderly people open to abuse.

An LPA is a powerful legal document that allows a person to appoint trusted individuals to make important decisions about care and finances on their behalf, in the event of a loss of mental capacity through an accident or illness such as dementia.

In the foreword to a new book on the subject, Mr Lush raised concerns about the “lack of transparency” in how appointed attorneys manage older people’s finances. The former judge went on to criticise the Ministry of Justice as being “disingenuous” in its promotion of the legal document.

However, Caroline Fletcher – a member of national organisation Solicitors for the Elderly – said LPAs are effective safeguards when created responsibly:

Senior Judge Lush’s comments have given rise to fears that LPAs are a direct avenue for financial abuse. However, his comments must be put into context, as his 20-year career at the Court of Protection will have presented him with the very worst cases of financial abuse.

An LPA can be a positive and effective legal tool, which ensures your wishes are respected should you ever lose capacity. Senior Judge Lush’s comments should highlight the clear need for professional advice when considering powerful legal documents of this nature.

Top tips on drafting a lasting power of attorney

Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) is an independent, national organisation of over 1,500 lawyers, such as solicitors, barristers, and chartered legal executives, who provide specialist legal advice for older and vulnerable people, their families and carers.

SFE has been campaigning to ensure essential checks and controls are conducted when making an LPA. Here are SFE’s top tips to ensure your lasting power of attorney is effective, legally robust and safe:

Plan early – While you have capacity, it’s vital that you get your affairs in order and choose the best people to manage your affairs, in case of an accident or illness. You can’t appoint an attorney once you lose capacity.

Choose carefully – Think carefully who you want to appoint as your attorney and have an open conversation with them so they understand your wishes and what their responsibilities will include. Consider appointing more than one person as your attorney so they can share the responsibility.

Consider appointing a professional – A family member might not always be the best person to act as your attorney. Instead, you can appoint a professional such as a solicitor. They can act as a neutral third party and make unbiased decisions that are in your best interests. Bear in mind this usually involves a cost.

Think about different circumstances – Consider how you would like your attorney to manage your property and financial affairs in different situations. For example, are you happy for your property to be sold to pay for your care costs?

Address the difficult questions – Your attorney might have to make difficult decisions about your health and welfare. If you have specific wishes around your care plans, medical treatment, or end of life wishes, make sure you discuss this with them and make your choices clear in your document.

Seek professional advice – Shop-bought and online LPA kits may be suitable for those with very straightforward financial situations or with considerable legal experience, but for most people, seeking professional legal advice is the best way of ensuring that an LPA is effective, legally robust and safe.

Keep your plans current – Make sure you keep your LPA updated if your circumstances change. Your choices around the people you want to be responsible for your finances and wellbeing may change, such as following a marriage or divorce, when children reach adulthood, or if parents pass away.

To find out more about LPAs and and to find a solicitor near you, go to:

0844 567 6173 to find an SFE member near you.

Joshua Eva, solicitor and partner at the Wells office of Harris & Harris is also an associate member of SFE.

Discuss & Do

Another lively well-informed group of people came to the business premises Discuss & Do event at the Town Hall in Frome in July.  Jon Haines of McAllisters talked about the market in Frome, and the role of the surveyor in negotiating terms.  Neil Howlett of Harris & Harris gave advice about what to expect or ask for in a lease, and the other issues any new business tenant needs to think about.

Finding business premises in Frome is a challenge.  The Chamber with the Town Council has been working with the local planning authorities to make a high priority for them – with some success.

Frome Town Council maintain a register of business premises.  MDC have a page with advice and contacts.  This has a link the register of business property maintained by MDC / Into Somerset but not everything get posted to it.  The Business Property Network lists smaller premises in Somerset & West Wilts.

In Frome it is worth giving your details to all the local agents as property doesn’t always reach the open market.  The main agents for commercial property are:-

There is also a Facebook group Workspace needs in Frome on which people post needs and sometimes property that is available, and there is always Google.

As with many others things people in Frome are good at coming up with innovative solutions and doing things themselves.  Because there is high demand rents are going up and landlords with unused space are looking to use it.  Talk to people you know, look out for notices in windows, and if you think you have found space that would suit you that isn’t being used contact the owner.  You can check the size of premises on the Business Rates register and who owns it from the Land Registry.

Before you start negotiating for premise educate yourself about your options. See the guidance here:

Once you’ve found something that might work for you put your business brain in gear. Don’t blindly sign whatever is given to you; get advice about the commercial terms and the legal contracts before you sign them! Contact our Commercial Property specialists Neil Howlett and Christiana Olomolaiye.

The RUH Will Month 2017

Harris & Harris are pleased to announce that we will once again be supporting the annual Bath Royal United Hospital Will Month initiative, which helps to raise funds for the RUH’s charity, the Forever Friends Appeal.

Throughout September 2017, we will be offering to draw up a professional Will at a reduced cost and donate the fee towards the work of the hospital and help provide continued high quality patient care.  Your fee can be donated to a particular area of care within the RUH, or a hospital service that may hold meaning to yourselves, family or friends.

RUH Will Month will be running for its third consecutive year this year.  Will Month not only supports thousands of patients and their families in helping to provide quality and consistent care, but it also raises awareness of the importance of making or updating your Will.  A professionally written Will can ensure certainty for your future and will allow for a speedy and effective distribution of your estate and possessions.

We are once again proud to work alongside the Forever Friends Appeal by donating our time and expertise to such a worthy charity that relies heavily on public fundraising.  Every penny raised throughout the Will Month initiative will go directly to the RUH.

We are also offering to reduce our fee costs, from normal rates, to £100 for a single Will and £150 for a Standard Mirror Wills.  We hope that this will entice clients to make an appointment with one of our Will writing experts, both to write their Wills and to donate funds to an incredible cause.  Without the commitment from our clients, this impressive sum of money raised would not be possible.

We ask all clients who are interested in making an appointment with one of our experts to please contact the relevant office, citing RUH Will Month.  We would be continually grateful if many of you could get involved in this initiative and help us raise as much money as possible for the RUH Forever Friends Appeal.

If you would like to make an appointment please telephone us on 01749 674747 (Wells) or 01373 463366 (Frome).

Will Month 2017

The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners

Our senior Solicitors are full members or affiliates of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), the leading international multi-disciplinary professional group.  STEP members help families plan for their futures, from drafting a simple Will to complex issues surrounding international families, protection of the vulnerable, and family businesses.  Our Solicitors who are involved in the preparation of Wills adhere to the STEP Code for Preparation of Wills, a copy of which can be inspected here: Will-Writing-Code-2014

Annemarie Swainson and Joshua Eva, both partners in the firm, are full members of STEP and known as “TEPs” (short for “Trust and Estate Practitioner”). Caroline Fletcher, associate solicitor, is currently studying the STEP diploma in order to qualify as a TEP.

To find out more about TEPs and why you should speak to one, please click on the following link:-

Advising Families (STEP)


Tim Berry – Service of Thanksgiving

A Service of Thanksgiving for the Life and Work of Tim Berry will be held at Wells Cathedral on Friday 19th May at 2:30PM.

Tim Berry 1945 – 2017

It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of our Senior Partner, Tim Berry, following a short illness.  Tim was articled to the late Charles Wyndham Harris, and became a partner in Harris & Harris upon qualification as a solicitor in 1970.  He became Senior Partner in 1975.

Tim was a nationally recognised specialist in Ecclesiastical and Charity Law and served as Diocesan Registrar to the Diocese of Bath and Wells from 1993 to 2015 and the Diocese of Bristol from 1997 until 2015. To our clients, and our colleagues, Tim was a guide, mentor, and friend.

During a career that spanned 50 years, Tim played a leading role in the continuing growth of Harris & Harris, and in particular the firm’s Commercial Property and specialist Ecclesiastical and Charity Law practices.  Tim’s enthusiastic, incisive, and thoughtful approach was appreciated by his clients and colleagues alike.  Tim was a trusted advisor who approached his work with uncompromising integrity, empathy, and humility.  His approach personified the guiding principles of our firm which are his lasting professional legacy.  Tim’s loss is immeasurable to all those that knew him, personally and professionally.

Our thoughts are with Tim’s wife, Shirley, his sons Jonathan and Daniel, and their family at this difficult time.

Roland Callaby, the present Diocesan Registrar of the Diocese of Bath and Wells and the Diocese of Bristol succeeds Tim as Senior Partner of Harris & Harris.

There will be a Book of Condolence in the Reception area of our offices at 14 Market Place, Wells.  Tim’s family has requested that any messages of condolence are sent via Harris & Harris and that their privacy is respected at this time.

Monday 10th April 2017

Harris and Harris – going from strength to strength in 2017

Two new faces have joined Harris + Harris Solicitors to build its specialist legal teams.

The firm now employs more than 50 people in its two offices in Frome and Wells after welcoming Christiana Olomolaiye and Victoria Panchal, who work from the Stony Street office.

Christiana, who has been practising as a solicitor since 1992, brings a wealth of experience to the firm’s Commercial Property department in the public, private and charity sectors.  Her expertise is mainly in the sales, leases and disposals of commercial and charity properties, agricultural land, and in development and planning agreements, construction contracts, and urban regeneration schemes.

Quote from Christiana:  “Frome’s creativity and enterprise boosts its commercial property market. It is great that Harris and Harris is well positioned to offer its services in such a dynamic environment”.

Victoria, who grew up in Bristol, joins the firm’s Residential Property department after spending several years in London.  Victoria deals with freehold and leasehold sales and purchases as well as re-mortgages and transfers of equity.

The two new appointments build on previous recruitment to the Wills and Probate department led by Caroline Fletcher in Frome, who has developed the Private Client Department since joining the firm in August 2013.

Partner Neil Howlett welcomed the new recruits to the Frome team:  “We, and our clients, are fortunate that we have been able to recruit so many experienced and talented Solicitors to work in Frome.  They will continue Harris & Harris’s ethos of being professionals with a human face.”

Update: Radical Changes to Probate Court Fees Dropped (21 April 2017)

Statement from Caroline Fletcher of Harris & Harris, a member of Solicitors for the Elderly:

We are delighted to hear the proposed probate fees have been dropped. It was very clear from the offset that the new system was nothing more than a backdoor tax and the Government had abused its powers in pushing them through under the guise of a fee.

To call the new system ‘proportionate’ was frankly ridiculous when you consider that some larger estates were set to see a 13,000% increase in fees.

What’s more, by proceeding with the changes, ministers point-blank ignored the views of almost every respondent involved in the consultation process.

Since then, SFE has campaigned hard, alongside other organisations, to have these changes reviewed. Our organisation is made up of over 1,500 lawyers across the country and not one member agreed with the fees.

In the meantime, we have seen a dramatic increase in enquiries from older and vulnerable people worried about the fees. Our fear was that some people may have been led to attempt to avoid the fees by decreasing the value of their estate, thereby leaving themselves with insufficient assets to provide for the rest of their life. With the current social care crisis facing the country, the unintended consequences of this change could have been disastrous. We are extremely relieved to hear this has now been avoided.


Original Article published on 2nd March 2017:

When someone dies, their Personal Representative (“PR”) has to deal with administering their estate. Where there is a Will this will be done by the Executor. Where there is no Will it will usually be a beneficiary, often a close family member, that takes on this task, in which case they are known as an “Administrator”.

In most cases it will be necessary to obtain a Grant of Representation (i.e. a Grant of Probate or a Grant of Letters of Administration) (“the Grant”). This is a Court Order which confirms the authority of the PR to administer the estate. A Grant is normally required in order to gain control of the estate assets.

The application to the Probate Registry to obtain the Grant incurs a court fee. At present the fee to obtain a grant of probate is £155 if a solicitor applies for the Grant or £215 if anyone else applies, but there is an exception for estates with a value under £5,000 which incur no fee. The Government has proposed to change the system so that the threshold at which a court fee becomes payable will increase from the current £5,000 to £50,000. However the fees for estates with a value over £50,000 will increase, with a sliding scale proposed depending upon the value of the estate, as follows:

£300 for estates worth more than £50,000 and up to £300,000

£1,000 for estates worth more than £300,000 and up to £500,000

£4,000 for estates worth more than £500,000 and up to £1 million

£8,000 for estates worth more than £1 million and up to £1.6 million

£12,000 for estates worth more than £1.6 million and up to £2 million

£20,000 for estates worth more than £2 million

According to the Law Society Gazette the changes are part of a drive to reduce the cost of running courts and tribunals, and raise £250 million for the Exchequer.

Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) and others in the legal profession have campaigned against the changes.

Claire Davis, Director, SFE said:
“SFE is extremely disappointed to see that the consensus to reject the proposed probate fees has been ignored.
“For the 62% of estates that use a solicitor, probate registry performs a purely administrative role, and the value of the estate has no bearing on the work undertaken.
“To burden larger estates with a significantly larger fee is an unfair form of taxation. For people in this situation, their property is often their primary asset, and they have little cash to pay for higher probate fees, on top of other necessities such as IHT or the use of a solicitor.
“The increase in probate fees will place a burden on families at a sensitive and distressing time and is likely to put people who are vulnerable and/or elderly at risk. Our fear is that such clients might be persuaded to take steps to avoid probate fees, even if the effect is to leave them with insufficient assets to provide for themselves for the rest of their life.”

The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) also opposed the changes. For more information and the reasons why, see the following article on the STEP website:

Caroline Fletcher, Associate Solicitor at Harris & Harris is a member of SFE and Joshua Eva, Partner an associate member. Joshua Eva is also a full member of STEP and Caroline Fletcher a student member.

The new court fees are expected to come into force from May 2017.

If you are concerned about the changes please contact one our specialist solicitors who can advise you: