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:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/stamp-duty-land-tax-relief-for-first-time-buyers/stamp-duty-land-tax-relief-for-first-time-buyers

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/661728/8274_guidance_note_SDLT_relief_for_first_time_buyers.pdf

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:

https://www.gov.uk/trusts-taxes/trustees-tax-responsibilities

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

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)

STEP_Logo_Strap_RGB

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

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:

http://www.step.org/news/uk-government-confirms-probate-fees-increase-high-value-estates

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:

http://www.harris-harris.co.uk/who_we_are/

Accountants recommend using a Solicitor

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW) produces some good guidance for small business.  Amongst these is a guide ‘Business law and using a solicitor’.

This is what it says.  We think this is good advice.  We hope you will be recommended to Harris & Harris by our clients and professional contacts.  We can offer you specialist advice at a reasonable cost.  If we can’t help we will try to recommend someone who can.

Choosing a solicitor

Start with the basic information sources.

  • Friends and other business contacts, who can recommend solicitors they have used.
  • Professionals, such as bank managers and accountants.
  • Your local business support organisation, Chamber of Commerce or Enterprise Agency.
  • Print and online directories and advertisements.

Personal recommendations are usually the best source. Always ask:

  • What was the solicitor hired to do?
  • Is the solicitor a specialist?
  • Was the solicitor approachable, effective and easy to get on with?
  • How much did it cost?

Be prepared to pay extra for a more experienced and effective solicitor.

Most small businesses find it preferable to use a small firm of solicitors.

  • Your business will be a valued client.
  • Costs are usually lower.
  • It may be easier to build up a good relationship with the individuals.

Even good small business solicitors will not be able to do everything, and will recognise their limitations.

  • Ask how much experience your solicitor has of your particular problem.

Would a specialist be better? Can they recommend someone suitable?

Do you understand your contracts and contractual rights?

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published research which reveals that 54% of UK businesses surveyed didn’t understand the rules on unfair terms, and how they can lawfully treat their customers.

A signed contract is not final – you can’t enforce a term against a consumer if it’s unfair.  Unfair terms are those that give businesses an unfair advantage over consumers, often by reducing their rights or ability to complain if things go wrong.  The rules on using unfair terms are set down in the Consumer Rights Act (CRA) 2015.

The CMA found that 67% of UK businesses sell to consumers, with most of these using some form of terms and conditions.  However, only 15% said they were familiar with the CRA when asked.  Others copied terms from larger businesses or competitors, assuming incorrectly that these will be fair and legally binding.  Only one in five had their contracts reviewed by qualified lawyers.  The CMA believe most businesses want to do the right thing by their customers, but said “it’s worrying that many businesses are not familiar with the law”.

In response the CMA has today launched a new campaign, consisting of simple videos and guides, to inform businesses about what makes a term ‘unfair’ and help them understand how to treat their consumers fairly.  These short guides complement the more detailed guidance on unfair terms that the CMA produced in 2015.  The guides show how fair terms can help save time, avoid disputes with customers and enhance a business’ reputation whilst still protecting them if things go wrong.

The guidance is available at Writing fair contracts: guidance for businesses.

Harris & Harris have advised many businesses on their Terms & Conditions, both for B2C and B2B relationships.  We recommend that these are reviewed regularly, and specifically when there is any change in the law.

Bank Details – WARNING

There is a risk of bank details sent in an email being intercepted and altered.  To avoid this risk:-

  • We will NOT send you our bank details in the text of an email.
  • Please DO NOT send us bank details in the text of an email.
  • We will ask for your bank details in writing at the outset of the transaction, and preferably face-to-face.
  • We will treat with caution changes to your bank details and will take additional measures to authenticate these.
  • If you have any doubts about the bank details provided for payment to use please check with us before you send any money.