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.

Harris & Harris Team “Moaty McBoatface” Paddle for Victory on Wells Moat!

A team from Harris & Harris have again taken part in the annual Wells Moat Boat Race on the August bank holiday Monday (29th). This is the fourth year running that we have entered a team in the event.  This year the team was made up of solicitors Joshua Eva (Team Captain) and Andy Hambleton, trainee Legal Executive Emma Wiltshire, trainee solicitor Maisie Kelly, Law Student / Office Clerk Ethan Mercer and local farmer Joe Stradling.

Our theme this year was inspired by the “Boaty McBoatface” story concerning the naming of the Antarctic research ship. An online poll had resulted in the name with most support “Boaty McBoatface” (in the end the ship was named RRS Sir David Attenborough). Hence the team were dressed as Polar Bears, Penguins and Seals. The team were very successful again, winning 5 out of 6 races and coming away with 2 trophies.

The team’s efforts were sponsored and funds raised by the event go in equal shares to support the Wells Lion Club and Wells Dementia Alliance.  Harris and Harris were also sponsors of some of the event categories.

A video of the action below:-

 

 

LLP Conversion

On 1st July 2016 the structure of Harris & Harris converted from a partnership to an LLP. Many law firms and other professional practices now operate as LLPs.  An LLP is a more flexible structure for management and ownership.

The LLP is called Harris & Harris Legal Services LLP but we will continue to trade as Harris & Harris.  The partnership Terms of Business provided that in the event of a conversion all contracts would transfer to the LLP.  Apart from some minor changes to record this change on our notepaper, you should not see any change to the service we will continue to provide. It should be business as usual.

At the same John Clare retired from the Partnership and Joshua Eva joined the LLP.  We will continue to refer to Members of the LLP as Partners.

If you do have any questions about this please contact Neil Howlett.

How to comply with the rules on the Register of People with significant control (PSC)

As of 6th April 2016 Companies and LLPs must keep PSC register, which must be available for inspection at their registered office. The aim to increase transparency of control of corporate entities.

A person will be a PSC if they:

  • own more than 25% of the company’s shares, or
  • hold more than 25% of the company’s voting rights, or
  • hold the right to appoint or remove the majority of directors, or
  • have the right to, or actually exercises significant influence or control, or
  • hold the right to exercise or actually exercises significant control over a trust or company that meets one of the first 4 conditions.

For many SMEs this will be simple – the PSCs will be the owner proprietors already recorded on the Share Register and Annual Return. The PSC register should include their name, service address, country of residence, nationality, date of birth, usual residential address, date of becoming a PSC, and nature of control. This information is likely to be in the company’s registers already, but should properly be recorded in a separate register too.

From 30th June 2016 Annual Returns will be replaced by “Confirmation Statements” which will require this information. Companies can then elect not to keep a separate PSC register but simply to record this information at Companies House through their Confirmation Statements.

For entities with complex structures, corporate owners, shares in classes with different voting rights or with “shadow directors” identifying PSCs and completing the register may require professional help.

For guidance see keeping your people with significant control (PSC) register and the link in that to the guidance on the Small Business Enterprise and Employment Act.

Harris & Harris Discuss & Do

We are starting off the latest series of events to support businesses in Frome.

Frome Chamber of Commerce together with Frome Town Council are to re-start the popular ‘Discuss and Do’ series of monthly evening sessions for businesses and social enterprises keen to enhance their skills and share best practice. If you are a small company or organisation trying to make the best use of social media, understand employment law, pension regulations or get to grips with accounting systems such as Sage then these regular sessions could be very useful.

The new ’Discuss & Do’ sessions will be held on the 4th Tuesday of every month at the Cornerhouse. The first evening on March 22nd will kick off at 6pm with an informal buffet followed by a talk at 6.30 by Neil Howlett and Andy Hambleton of Harris & Harris, who will share more than 30 years practical experience. There will then be time for further discussion and networking.

Neil Howlett  says, ”Business people worry about Employment Law. You can make your life as an employer a lot easier if you are aware of the things you must and the things you can do. I aim to alert you to the issues, help you find reliable sources of information so you can protect yourself as an employer and ensure you don’t breach your employees’ rights. There will be a guidebook you can take away to help you set up your procedures as you grow.”

Town Centre Coordinator Mark Brookes said ‘We already have the popular business breakfast events as well as retail group meetings and through those it has become obvious that constructive and informative sessions on subjects that affect the small business owner would be very popular in Frome’

Book here.

Avoiding unintentional discrimination

It is often overlooked that rights to equal treatment don’t begin when an employee starts work. They start with the recruitment process, and even with the job advert. The right to equal treatment in the provision of services also covers advertising.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has published new guides on advertising, for organisations who advertise jobs or services. They are written in plain English, and give helpful examples.

Have a look at the ECHR guidance, their ECHR Checklist and ECHR FAQ document.
The risk of a claim for discrimination through advertising may be small, but the costs of defending a claim may be significant. There have been examples of vexatious claimants who have brought claims based on discrimination on the job application process who have issued claims against multiple employers. Even where these have been struck out and the litigants barred from issuing more claims that has involved costs for employers which have rarely been recoverable.

As there are many claims about the UK being deluged with laws required to meet EC requirements we would point out that the Equality Act 2010 was a consolidating Act which helpfully out in one place laws introduced by the UK Parliament over the previous 40 years. Although it had the same goals as the EC Equal Treatment Directive 2006/54 that was a case of the EC catching up with UK law in the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and three statutory instruments..

Supporting the Royal United Hospital, Bath by Making a Will

Harris & Harris are pleased to announce that they have raised over £1,000 in support of the Royal United Hospital, Bath’s charity The Forever Friends Appeal.

The month of September 2015 saw people across the Royal United’s catchment area being urged to put their affairs in order and make or update their Wills as part of the hospital’s first ever Make a Will Month scheme which raised a total of £33,000.

The Forever Friend’s Appeal provides a vital service to help improve the hospital’s environment, providing additional medical equipment, facilities as well as all the finishing touches and extras that help care for patients more effectively, together with its ongoing research and development.  Every donation raised by Harris & Harris as part of the Make a Will Month will help to continue providing this care.

We are delighted to have made a contribution towards the Appeal and would like to thank all our clients who made generous donations.

RUH 2