Doing Law Online

It can be convenient and easy to do things online.  However, it isn’t always the most prudent way to do things, and can make it easier to defraud or exploit the vulnerable.

In August 2014 the government shelved plans to create a fully online process for creating Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) including electronic signatures, in light of concerns that such a system would increase the scope for fraud and financial abuse, and would not be suitable for the elderly. In many cases the best way to protect the person making the LPA is to get specialist advice to ensure that an LPA is both appropriate and effective.

Recently the Court of Protection revoked an LPA made without such advice, which was drawn up by the 77 year old donor’s daughter online and appointed the daughter as sole attorney.  The donor, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, did not receive any independent advice, although her daughter claimed to have fully explained the document to her before she signed it, which seems unlikely as she admitted she hadn’t read it.  A friend of the family witnessed the mother’s signature.

Six months after the LPA was registered, the Office of the Public Guardian made its application to the Court of Protection on the basis of evidence indicating that there had been a number of excessive and uncharacteristic withdrawals from the mother’s bank account, reducing its value by half over the six months.  The daughter admitted that she had not read the declaration about her duties in the prescribed form of LPA (who reads terms & conditions online?). She claimed that she gave her mother £600 a month “spending money”, but the judge found that the mother was living in squalor.  Her home urgently needed deep cleaning, disinfecting and furnishing with white goods.  When questioned about the withdrawals from her mother’s account, the daughter’s response was “there is no point in her being the wealthiest woman in the graveyard”.  The case doesn’t report whether any of the money which had been taken was recovered.

The judge decided that the daughter had behaved in a way which contravened her authority and was not in her mother’s best interests.  The LPA was revoked and the local authority was appointed as deputy to manage the mother’s property and financial affairs.  This wouldn’t have been the donor’s wish when the LPA was made.  If the attorney had read the terms of the appointment she might have understood her responsibilities and carried them out appropriately.

At Harris + Harris we aim to help you make the right decisions, at the right time. We have experienced solicitors in both our Wells and Frome offices who can make sure your LPA has the effect you intend, and your wishes are carried out.

Contact Annemarie Swainson or Joshua Eva in Wells or Caroline Fletcher in Frome.

Holiday Pay – is it such a big deal?

There has been lots in the press about the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decision on holiday pay.  The EAT decided that non-guaranteed overtime which the employee is contractually bound to perform if asked must be taken into account.

This is not a great surprise.  It is in accordance with the intention of the original EC Directive that the workers should not suffer any detriment by taking holiday.  Indeed the conclusion of the EAT can be reduced to the very simple proposition – “‘Normal pay’ is that which is normally received.”

This also applies to taxable travel time payments in excess of the actual expenses incurred.  Guaranteed overtime was already to be included.  Overtime which the worker requests but is not contractually obliged to do will not.

This only matters for holiday pay calculated for the 4 weeks holiday which is covered by the Working Time regulations.  The additional 1.6 weeks holiday which makes up the statutory holiday in Britain, or any additional contractual holiday are not covered.

On a procedural point the EAT decided that as claims to the Employment tribunal will be for “unlawful deduction from wages” a claim can only be brought if the employee has taken holiday within the last 3 months, and then only for previous holidays if there has not been a break of more than three months between them.  This limits the extent of claims via the ET.

It is highly unlikely that the EAT’s decision will be the last word on this issue.  Leave to Appeal to the Court of Appeal has been given, and after that there is still the Supreme Court.  The government intervened and sent a QC to argue against the propositions accepted by the EAT.  BIS has already set up a Task Force, containing only employers organisations, to “assess the possible impact”, though a tweet from BIS put the purpose rather differently – “limiting the impact”.

This one will run and run. Expect lots of anti EU rhetoric, and possibly unsolicited calls from claims companies.  If you are an employee who may have lost a substantial amount you should get advice and start a claim within 3 months of your last deduction, but expect that to be stayed until there is a final decision on this case, which could be another year.  If you are employer you may want to calculate the potential value of claims and make provision for them.  Employers may also want to review their contracts to see if they can be changed.

For advice on Employment Law contact:

Neil Howlett

Andy Hambleton

Fraud Risk Posed by Bogus Law Firms

A recent BBC television programme “Fake Britain” (aired on 12th August) highlighted the ease with which criminals can impersonate solicitors in order to steal from individuals engaged in property transactions.

The programme recounted the case of Nick Christofi who lost £735,000 to fraudsters who assumed the identity of a genuine firm of solicitors.  Mr Christofi had instructed a genuine solicitor to act on his behalf in the purchase transaction.  That genuine solicitor checked that the solicitor they were dealing with on the other side of the transaction was authentic by checking their details using the “find a solicitor” facility on the Law Society website.

It later transpired that the criminals had stolen the identity of a retired solicitor and managed to dupe the Solicitors Regulation Authority (‘SRA’) into listing that solicitor as practising from a fake office address under the name of an existing genuine firm of solicitors (the SRA is the official body responsible for regulating solicitors).

Mr Christofi’s claim for compensation from the SRA was rejected on the grounds that the SRA regulates solicitors, not criminals and therefore people with complaints should go to the police.

The SRA has warned that there has been a marked increase in criminals targeting firms of solicitors in order to steal their identity and thereby steal funds.  They have warned against relying solely upon the list of solicitors on the Law Society website.

In the Christofi case the fraud was only discovered after the transaction had completed, when it transpired that the property that had been purchased was in the process of being repossessed and the fraudsters had got away with the purchase funds.

As with other types of identity theft, it would seem the internet presents greater opportunities for criminals to impersonate others through the use of fake websites, email addresses and online profiles.  It is therefore important for solicitors and consumers to be aware of the possibilities and to be vigilant, especially when very large sums of money are involved.

The programme suggests that consumers should use a reputable solicitor for conveyancing transactions, ideally one that is recommended to them.  At Harris & Harris the vast majority of our conveyancing clients are returning clients or have been recommended to us.  Harris & Harris are members of the Law Society Conveyancing Quality Scheme.  This means that all our conveyancing staff undergo additional training and security checks to monitor the risks of fraud.

A report of the case can be read here:-

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/property/article-1305436/How-bogus-solicitors-robbed-735-000-Family-lose-fortune-dream-home-scam.html

Wells Moat Boat Race Halted by Too Much Water

Although this year’s Wells Moat Boat Race (on bank holiday Monday, 25th August) had to be brought to a slightly premature end due to persistent rain, we are pleased to report that the Harris & Harris team won both races in which they took part at this year’s event and that they also won second place in the Fancy Dress competition, for their Crocodile Dundee themed raft and costumes.

The charity event takes place each year on the August bank holiday Monday on the Bishop’s Palace Moat. Entrants must build their own raft and paddles. The funds raised are split equally between the Wells Lions Club good causes, and participant’s chosen charities. Harris & Harris’ chosen charity is St Margaret’s Somerset Hospice.

Our team this year: Solicitors Joshua Eva and Andy Hambleton, trainee solicitor Chris Mullett, legal secretary Emma Wiltshire, office clerk Tom Hampson, and local farmer Joe Stradling.

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Below is a video of one of the races:-

 

“15 Minute Wonders” 27 November 2014

On 27 November Neil Howlett of Harris is one of the experts providing “15 Minute Wonders” from 3-5.30pm at Frome Rugby Club. This is a brilliant concept started by South West FD which brings together five speakers (including three from Frome) on a range of topics relevant to business owners, directors and entrepreneurs. The trick is that they each have only 15 very focused minutes to give you all the relevant information you need without any the waffle! Come along and learn something valuable for free.

      • Neil Howlett will talk on Intellectual property – what you need to do  This will probably include Albert Einstein, the Rolling Stones or a sweater (possibly two) – if you don’t know why they are important you need to come.
      • Online Security Basics: conducting banking and accounting online safely from Adam Harling at Netitude;
      • Jenna Yhearm from Gumption Social Media on A guide to using LinkedIn for you and your business; and
      • Future Business with Jerry Davison;
      • Using alternative finance to increase working capital from Tim Jones at Start Point Finance;

This is a free event. There is more information, event timetable and booking link on the South West FD website.

Funds raised for St Margaret’s Hospice

We are delighted to confirm that a total of £690 was raised by generous donations from our clients who participated in the St Margaret’s Somerset Hospice “Make a Will Week” in 2013.

Harris & Harris will be taking part again in the scheme in the week commencing 15th September 2014. Under the scheme, we waive our usual fee for preparing a Will in return for the client making a donation to the hospice.

The hospice has confirmed that total donations under the scheme in 2013 have exceeded £23,000.

You can find out more about the hospice by visiting their website:

http://www.somerset-hospice.org.uk/

If you are interested in booking a place under the scheme, please contact our Wills, Probate and Trusts department:

http://www.harris-harris.co.uk/what_we_do/wills_probate_trusts/

 

Will Aid 2013 – Several Thousand Raised for Charities

We are pleased to announce that the firm has already raised  £3,370 for Will Aid’s 25th Anniversary charity scheme and anticipate the total will exceed £4,000 . We have taken part in the scheme for a number of years and in 2013 public interest was at an all time high for us, and as a consequence we have raised almost double our total for the previous year.

Will Aid offers an opportunity to have a professionally drawn Will in exchange for a donation to help people in need and all over the world. This money is shared by nine well-known UK charities: ActionAid, Age UK, British Red Cross, Christian Aid, NSPCC, Save the Children, Sightsavers, SCIAF (Scotland) and Trocaire (Northern Ireland). In 2012 over £2 million was raised nation-wide and it is hoped that the final 2013 figures will exceed this.

Will Aid brought a successful conclusion to a fundraising year. In addition to Will Aid, Harris & Harris raised almost £1,000 by supporting the St Margaret’s Somerset Hospice “Make a Will Week” in September, the Somerset Wildlife Trust “Will for Wildlife Week” in October and the “Wetlands and Wildfowl Trust Will Month” in November. The firm would like to express thanks to all those clients who took part in the various schemes and whose generous donations will make a difference to so many lives.

We hope to continue our support for all the above charities in 2014. If you are interested in any of these charitable schemes please contact the Wells office on 01749 674747, or the Frome office on 01373 463366

New Year’s Resolutions

When Frome Chamber of Commerce ran the first year of Discuss & Do events for entrepreneurs Johnny Martin was one of the speakers, as well as doing his usual seminars at The British Library.

His newsletter this month says :
“January can be a pretty tough month for trading after the hump of Christmas – unless you happen to be a fitness coach or selling diet supplements…so as well as reviewing your marketing plans, use the time to make sure you have all your business arrangements properly documented.  In my experience more cash is lost because of unclear and undocumented business arrangements than any other reason.”

As lawyers you’d expect us to agree, but sadly it’s true. New contracts don’t have to be expensive. We can review what you have; if it is satisfactory we will tell you, if we think it needs upgrading we can do that and will give you a price for that.

If you’ve got a slow period post Christmas here’s something useful you can do that will pay dividends.

If we can help please contact us.

If you want to see more of what Johnny has to say (he’s not a lawyer) see his blog.

Free employment advice service from ACAS

You don’t always need to pay for help with legal problems. Harris & Harris is always here – it may be cost effective to pay us for advice if the issue is serious or complex. However, there is free help available about employment problems from Acas, and they offer guidance on many everyday employment law issues.

Acas have a free online advice service for employers and employees who want answers to work related questions. It’s a good place to start. Sometimes Acas will give you the reassurance you want. If they can’t that’s the time to contact us. Acas will usually recommend that you get legal advice if they think you will need it.

Acas Helpline online offers 24 hour free advice and guidance on rights at work and employment law. Employers, employees and HR managers can receive an instant response to their work related questions and the service can help users feel more informed before a conversation with an Acas helpline adviser.

Helpline online answers over 600 of the most frequently asked workplace questions on topics ranging from maternity and family friendly rights to absence and bullying and harassment.

Available since June 2013, employers and employees have already used the service over 50,000 times. The top three questions so far are:

  • How can an employer change the terms of a contract when an employee does not agree to the change being made?
  • How can an employee raise a grievance?
  • What are the different types of dismissal?

The Acas Helpline team develop and improve the content to reflect the feedback received.

Acas Chief Executive, Anne Sharp, describes it as being an addition to their range of workplace advice services. To access helpline online visit www.acas.org.uk/helplineonline. You can also speak to an Acas helpline adviser on a whole range of workplace issues on 08457 47 47 47 from 8am – 8pm Monday to Friday and 9am-1pm on Saturday.

If you need more than Acas can provide please contact Neil Howlett or Andy Hambleton.

Charity Moat Boat Race 2013

The ‘swans’ of team ‘Harristocrats’ took part in the 2013 Moat Boat Race at the Bishops Palace, Wells. On a glorious summer day, thirty rafts took to the chilly waters of the Bishops Palace Moat in home-made rafts to compete for glory in front of a record crowd.image13

Despite a massive effort from the team to paddle a raft constructed from steel and plastic containers the Harristocrats were unable to make the finals and compete for a podium finish. A great day was enjoyed by all involved and plans are now afoot for a new lighter and quicker raft for next year’s race!

The team would like to say a massive thank you to all involved and especially to all the kind sponsors. The money raised is being donated to The City of Wells Lions Club and St Margaret’s Hospice.

The raft was crewed by Joshua Eva, Andy Hambleton, Christopher Mullett and Joe Stradling.

Footage from two of the races can be viewed at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9euZIv8B_Ew

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gtk-sKkJDYc