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Yearly Archive2018

Christmas Office Closures

That, as they say, is a wrap🎁 for 2018.

From 1 pm on Friday 21st December the office will be closed.

We will be reopening bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Wednesday3rd January 2019.

We wish you a Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

It’s The Work On Your Desk

“It’s the work on your desk…It’s the work on your desk. Do well with what you already have and more will come in.”

Charlie Munger

The above is a quote from Charlie Munger, Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and a one-time lawyer. You may not have heard of Charlie Munger, who prefers to shine the limelight on his partner in Berkshire, Warren Buffet. Whilst Buffett draws the plaudits as one of the greatest investors to ever live, Munger is equally extraordinary, a unique thinker. A polymath who has had considerable success both with and without Buffett, to whom Warren attributes a lot of his success, and the reason for close avoidance of many nearly-mistakes.

[For what it’s worth, Munger was unable to talk Buffett out of a large share purchase in Anglo Irish Bank shortly before it’s nationalisation, but nobody’s perfect]

I’ve  been reading a book on Munger, Poor Charlie’s Almanac, and Munger’s wit and ability to turn a phrase has been striking to someone working in the legal profession. The above quote can be correlated to another “Mungerism” which I will cover in a later post, but this quote is worthy on its own.

“It’s the work on your desk.”

To pull the curtain back on the legal profession today, the average lawyer has less and less time to think about the work on their desk. Between external considerations like money laundering, cyber-crime and a cacophony of other noise, a newly graduated solicitor may find that a job in the legal profession is less about digging into statute and precedents and more about managing their clients’ expectations, their bosses’ fee targets, social media on behalf of the firm, presentations and research papers. The list of jobs on top of the work on the desk can seem endless.

For those in upper management, competition is fierce for work and a firms’ ability to stand out, therefore raising their profile to attract more and more clients is a constant pressure. Which brings me back to Munger’s quote;

It’s the work on your desk. Do well with what you already have and more will come in.”

Sometimes that means other issues can arise, such as not renegotiating a utility supplier or not getting your completed files to storage fast enough but for the success of the firm, the focus must be the work on your desk.

Most importantly, by focusing on the work on your desk, not prospective work, not tangential matters, we can deliver the best quality of work to you. If we do the work with diligence and full use of our expertise more will come in. Our own John Taylor has his own phrase for this; “Focus on what you’re getting paid for, not what you hope to be paid for.”

I hope you will forgive me for leaving it there for today. I would highly recommend people read further on Charlie Munger but in the meantime, I must get back to…you get the idea.

[You may wonder how writing blog posts and Facebook updates can assist in completing the work on our desk. The wonders of modern technology, most of which I’m still working out, make it possible to generate blog and social media posts and publish them at different times so work on our desks isn’t being superseded. Secondly, I feel the blog will make me a better communicator, which will ultimately benefit clients. Our social media posts, I hope, are less about self-aggrandisement and more about informing people of useful information, not just clients whom we are in direct contact with. Let me hear your thoughts! – William]

 

Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be legal advice or research but if you do wish to receive advice on any of the content discussed please contact us on 028 3752 5400 and we will be happy to help you. Please note that whilst we will aim to provide accurate information the world changes at a fast pace so always follow up with your solicitor to ensure you are fully up to date with same. For complete Terms and Conditions please see the relevant section of our website.

DIY PPI

From 1990 until 2010, 64 million payment protection insurance (PPI) policies were sold by banks and financial institutions on loans, mortgages, and credit cards. Often these policies were sold without the knowledge of the customer.
PPI is an insurance taken out by a customer in case you lost your job or became ill and were unable to repay the borrowings. The insurance was often sold with minimal or no financial advice and therefore not compliant with FSA (now the FCA) regulations. Once the existence of these policies came to light, customers sold PPI have had recourse to reclaim all payments made to the policies, together with interest, and it has been an ongoing scandal in the financial sector.
Following a Supreme Court judgment in November 2014 (known as the ‘Plevin ruling’)  the definition of mis-selling was expanded. You can now claim if your provider earned a high level of commission from your PPI and this wasn’t made clear – millions more may be able to claim as a result.
Thanks to ongoing bank lobbying, who have been keen to put a limit on the money set aside for their past misdeeds, the FCA has issued a claims deadline of 29th August 2019.
You don’t need a solicitor or claims management company to reclaim your PPI and many (particularly claims management companies) may charge extortionate rates to do. Do it yourself. It’s a simple form and to complete it a claims company or solicitor will need to ask you for the answers anyway.
So what are you waiting for? For a comprehensive guide, I’d recommend the consumer champion Martin Lewis here. Don’t be put off by saying “I’m not someone who makes claims”. This is money wrongly charged to you, and you are due it back.
Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be legal advice or research but if you do wish to receive advice on any of the content discussed please contact us on028 3752 5400 and we will be happy to help you. Please note that whilst we will aim to provide accurate information the world changes at a fast pace so always follow up with your solicitor to ensure you are fully up to date with same. For complete Terms and Conditions please see the relevant section of our website.

What is a service charge and what does it have to do with my house?

I’ve just bought a house and I’ve got to pay a yearly service charge. What gives?

A yearly service charge will usually relate to the maintenance of common areas. If you have bought a house in a development, it may have common grass/green areas. An apartment will have common areas such as a car park, lifts, hallways etc. These common areas are used by everyone and must be kept clean and maintained for the benefit of all residents in the development.

But I don’t even use that patch of grass in front of Number 17.

It doesn’t matter. If the covenants are in your deeds, the management company will make sure that everyone pays a proportional amount to cover the maintenance, insurance, and cleaning of the common areas. You may also be expected to pay a portion of the electricity, water etc.

A what company now?

Management company. Unless there is a contractual relationship with a third-party, such as Greenbelt Group Limited, there will most likely be a management company.

[At least, you should hope there is a management company. Sometimes things go awry leading to issues with the ownership of the common areas.]

You will own a share of the management company, along with everyone else in the development/apartment. Wasn’t this explained to you when you signed the contract?

A management company is set up by the developer and once the final house/apartment has been sold ownership of the common areas are transferred to the company. If the company has been set up correctly each purchaser of a house/apartment will own one share in the management company. You are responsible for the yearly service charges which are calculated on a pro-rata basis to cover expenditures anticipated by the company. As a share holder you will have voting rights on how the money is spent but some things (general maintenance, cleaning etc) must to done to keep the common areas to a minimum standard. Not happy with the current state of affairs? Management company paying too much for bin collection services? Think the accountant is bilking the management company? Turn up at the AGM and create a stink about it.

Wait I’m going to be forced to participate now?

Not necessarily but if you want to change the way things are done then you must attend the AGM. Where things progress from there will be mandated by the company’s articles of association and memorandum.

Great. I’m going to propose we concrete over the grass in the development and get rid of the expense.

Not so fast. Your title deeds, to which the management company is a party, probably covenant that the green common areas are necessary for planning compliance and must be maintained. There are likely covenants requiring the management company to maintain these areas and recover the costs from all the shareholders. You sure this wasn’t brought up when you signed the contract?

More of these horrible covenant things. Bleugh.

Ah. So you were paying attention to your solicitor, at least part of the time. Yes, more covenants, but the idea behind them is to make sure specific regulations are complied with. Covenants also ensure a measure of fairness between all shareholders.

The covenants allow each resident in the apartment /development recourse if someone isn’t maintaining their own property or isn’t paying their share of the management company service charge. You individually or the management company can even take a non-payer/non-complier to court or wait until the unscrupulous party tries to sell the property and create problems for the non-payer at this later stage.

You said about turning up and voting at the AGM. What if I just don’t bother and let someone else worry about it?

Well, that is your right. All that’s needed to form a quorum at the AGM is two shareholders. It’s in your interest to turn up to since these two shareholders can make whatever decisions are in their best interests, then pass them in the name of the management company. Didn’t you wonder why the guy in apartment 2’s brother was taking out the communal bins for an extortionate amount?

I didn’t think about it, to be honest.

Many people don’t and that’s often where problems arise.

Management companies require a small commitment of time and effort on the part of the shareholders to run the company. When run correctly management companies allow multiple households to manage common areas in as frictionless a way as possible. It is therefore imperative that a purchaser thinks about the long-term implications of owning a property which has the benefit of common areas, these areas being maintained by a management company.

Come to think about it I think my management company may be bankrupt…

Oh boy…

 

Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be legal advice or research but if you do wish to receive advice on any of the content discussed please contact us on028 3752 5400 and we will be happy to help you. Please note that whilst we will aim to provide accurate information the world changes at a fast pace so always follow up with your solicitor to ensure you are fully up to date with same. For complete Terms and Conditions please see the relevant section of our website.

Jumping on the Royal Wedding Bandwagon.

I’ve got a confession to make. At about half 12 yesterday, instead of keeping my nose to the grindstone, I was thinking about lunch. I had a hunger a regular sandwich wasn’t going to satisfy. I was weighing up The Galley chippy, maybe a Bagel Bean bagel (so much more than just a bagel) or Dominoes.

Then it hit me, I’ll go on O2 Priority and see if I can get a meal deal. Cheap and filling. Once I got there however, there were no meal deals to be found. I appeared to have forgotten about an event this weekend.

So, no meal deal for me but a premise for a blog post.

Now that Harry and Megan are going to be married what advantages will they receive (I’m going to use the term married here but it also applies to civil partnerships which are like marriages in every way but not called marriages. Hmm.) Anyway, steering away from that one

1. Dying without a Will.

If a person dies intestate (without leaving a will), the Administration of Estates Act (NI) 1955 sets out the order in which their family should benefit (i.e. receive property etc). If you die without a will, being survived by your spouse with no kids, your husband/wife will receive all of your estate. If you die leaving behind a spouse and kids your estate will be split between them with your spouse taking the larger portion.

If you are not married, your long-term partner will not have any immediate claim against any assets in your estate which are in your sole name, regardless of how long you have been living like a married couple. There is no legal standing for a Common Law Spouse.

A will is therefore essential to prevent your partner having to claim against your estate (in other words the claim would be against your beneficiaries under the Administration of Estates Act, most likely your children or your parents).

2. Inheritance Tax.

When you die your estate may be liable for inheritance tax. The current nil-rate band up to which you don’t pay inheritance tax is £325,000. [There is another £125,000 (and rising) residential nil-rate band but let’s keep this simple]

Every penny above £325,000 will be taxable at 40%. There is, however, an unlimited exemption of spousal gifts. So, if Harry leaves everything to Megan and pre-deceases her there will be no inheritance tax payable.

Similarly, any of the ‘unused’ portion of Harry’s nil-rate band that wasn’t required on his decease can be transferred to Megan so in the example above her estate on her death would have two £325,000 nil-rate bands or £650,000 before inheritance tax would need to be paid.

If you are a couple and not married, then you receive neither the spousal exemption nor the transfer of unused nil-rate band. This can have a drastic effect on the amount of inheritance tax your estate may have to play. Even if you have lived together for 50 years and have a grown-up family and grandchildren, but never married, you will still not receive the transfer of nil-rate band or the spousal exemption.

This obviously provides an extra incentive to conduct thorough estate planning.

3. Other tax reliefs:

  1. Capital Gains allowance can be shared by giving a share to your spouse on disposal.
  2. You inherit your spouses ISA allowance (allowing the cash to go to someone else if necessary).
  3. Marriage Tax Allowance if only one of the couple works.
  4. The surviving spouse may take a portion of their deceased spouse’s state pension, but this will depend on the circumstances.

As you can see social engineering at the state level has built some substantial benefits into being married. It doesn’t matter if you’re living unmarried with the same person for 40 years and have 8 kids. You will not receive the benefits.

Never wanted to marry? Married before and don’t fancy it again? Simply don’t see what all the fuss is about?

Then you absolutely MUST make a will and take steps to protect your estate from exposure to inheritance tax. By doing these things you will make dealing with your estate that much easier, at a time when things will be difficult enough for your loved ones.

Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be legal advice or research but if you do wish to receive advice on any of the content discussed please contact us on 028 3752 5400 and we will be happy to help you. Please note that whilst we will aim to provide accurate information the world changes at a fast pace so always follow up with your solicitor to ensure you are fully up to date with same. For complete Terms and Conditions please see the relevant section of our website.

“Data Protection” *snoring sounds* “Up to €20 million fine” *wakes up, spills coffee*

You may have noticed that social media and other apps have been updating their Privacy Policies over the last few days with updates taking effect 25th May. The reasons for this have been touted by the companies themselves as ‘giving you even more control over your data’ and ‘increasing privacy’. But we know by now that the largest social media companies lie to us. Unsurprisingly, the real reason the companies are updating their Ts & Cs isn’t scandals like Cambridge Analytica but the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) which come into effect on, you guessed it, the 25th May.

[Side note if you want to watch Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, use his massive IQ to talk his way out of the Cambridge Analytic crisis in Congress you can check out the key points here]

The GDPR replaces the original EU Data Protection Directive and once again these regulations come directly from the EU. There are six broad principles that personal data shall be:

  1. processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner in relation to the data subject,
  2. collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purpose,
  3. adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary,
  4. accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date;
  5. kept in a form which permits identification of data subjects for no longer than is necessary,
  6. processed in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data.

These principles are so onerous that every company which handles customer data should be wary of the penalties for a breach (up to €20 million or 4% of turnover fines). Here are some things to think about in the next month:

  1. What customer data is held? Is there a process for removing it once the data is no longer needed?
  2. Take a risk-based approach. Not all data is as sensitive as others.
  3. What third-party contractors do you share customers data with? Are they GDPR compliant?
  4. What will you do if there is a personal data incident?
  5. Are all employees up-to-date on the Regulations?
  6. Determine whether you require a Data Protection Officer.

Maybe this is a storm in a teacup and, like other EU Directives, fizzles out. Alternatively, maybe the Regulations have some teeth and customer data is protected better than in the past such as here, here and here. Either way, whether you run Facebook or you run a side business on the weekends the GDPR will necessitate up-to-date systems to deal with the new data handling landscape.

Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be legal advice or research but if you do wish to receive advice on any of the content discussed please contact us on 028 3752 5400 and we will be happy to help you. Please note that whilst we will aim to provide accurate information the world changes at a fast pace so always follow up with your solicitor to ensure you are fully up to date with same. For complete Terms and Conditions please see the relevant section of our website.

Employees over 22 years old get a pay rise! By taking a pay cut?

Tomorrow, and again April 2019, sees employees over the age of 22 years old get a pay rise. BUT you won’t see it on your next pay slip. In fact, you will likely see a reduction in your net pay. Instead it has been tucked away in your pension.

This is because of auto-enrolment, the scheme which says companies must opt-in their employees (who are over 22 years old and earn at least £10,000 a year) to pay towards a private pension. This is essentially a government mandated savings scheme to provide money for you later in life on top of state pension (whilst signaling the government believes the state pension will not be sufficient to live on when you retire).

For the tax year 2017/18 you contributed 1% of your wage to the scheme with a matched 1% from your employer.

From today, the new tax year, the amount both you and your employer must contribute to the scheme increases from 1% to 2% for the employer and from 1% to 3% for the employee. As this is taken from your pre-tax salary this is less than it seems!

So everyone receives a pay increase but takes home less immediately useable money. This may not suit you if you are dealing with financial hardship and it is possible to opt out.

By opting out it could be viewed as sacrificing short-term gain for long-term pain, but everybody’s circumstances are different. (It can also make sense to opt out if you’ve expensive, ie high interest, debt that you will pay off. But let’s be honest how much of the extra cash in your payslip will go towards paying down the debt? It’s important to know whether you can make this work.)

So that’s the good news and the bad news. More money!! Just not yet.

Be aware that in April 2019 the employee contribution will jump further to 5% and the employer will contribute 3%.

If you are an employee or employer needing help with employment contracts, auto-enrolment or any other employment matter, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be legal advice or research but if you do wish to receive advice on any of the content discussed please contact us on 028 3752 5400 and we will be happy to help you. Please note that whilst we will aim to provide accurate information the world changes at a fast pace so always follow up with your solicitor to ensure you are fully up to date with same. For complete Terms and Conditions please see the relevant section of our website.

Don’t Fear the Robots

As we move more and more into a digital world the data we share about ourselves online, from personal information to personality traits, will continue to grow. News stories recently have made it more and more tempting to fear technology.

Data Protection regulations or no, unscrupulous firms will use our data, collected legally in some cases [Just check out the terms and conditions on some websites & apps. Who’s going to read all of that?] to sell us things, to sell our details to other firms who will sell us things etc.

Seriously Twitter, no more Vodaphone ads. But I don’t want to tell you I don’t like them either.

 

Cambridge Analytica, the firm at the centre of the Facebook data scandal, have suspended boss Alexander Nix in the wake of allegations of manipulating personal data and using it to target voters in the 2016 American Presidential Election.

[Bringing to mind the phrase: If you don’t pay for a product; YOU are the product.]

Which is to say nothing of the information collected by cookies on the web, your phone on what apps you use, and for how long, Google Maps on our locations. The list is endless. We even have a robot in our kitchen tracking our every word waiting to hear “Alexa, play Cool FM” for Pete’s sake.

All of which is pretty scary.

There was supposed to be a ‘but’ here highlighting all the obvious advantages of tech, but I am struggling to be enthused by it. I just take the technology for granted. I’m also spending too much time watching Boston Dynamics pre-apocalypse videos.

 

I guess what I’m trying to say is we have to accept the rough with the smooth. Instead of worrying about the worst-case scenarios it is up to us, Citizens Of Early 21st Century, to educate ourselves on the pitfalls of tech and avoid them. Navigating things like Dark Patterns is part of the curriculum for the modern age.

Much more interesting to me, are the tech advancements which will help you the customer. One example would be the chatbot Do Not Pay which has been successfully fighting car parking tickets (and more recently getting flight refunds) for years FOR FREE. Technology which automates simple procedure will provide the lowest costs to end users and therefore benefit everyone.

Robot Financial Advisers are already making waves in the investment world and in the next few years, there will be an expansion of potentially similar technology in law firms [hint: in the biggest firms it’s already well afoot]. Whether this is client facing or not doesn’t matter, the revolution is coming. Deloitte forecasts that around 114,000 UK legal jobs are likely to be automated in the next 20 years, ‘most of them junior jobs, with many more at high risk of elimination through technology’.

All of which means you have to educate yourself or risk being left behind. After all, a robot is just a difference engine, it’s the humans programming it that we have to watch out for.

 

Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be legal advice or research but if you do wish to receive advice on any of the content discussed please contact us on 028 3752 5400 and we will be happy to help you. Please note that whilst we will aim to provide accurate information the world changes at a fast pace so always follow up with your solicitor to ensure you are fully up to date with same. For complete Terms and Conditions please see the relevant section of our website.

Snow Day! The Post That’s 12 Hours Out of Date Already!

 

The Beast from the East has hit.

For the kids it means snow day! For the rest of us it means gutting through snow covered roads, coaxing cars over snow banks, and paying an inordinate amount of attention to Traffic Watch NI. All for the pleasure of repeating the process at home time.

Travel Disruption

If you are affected by cancelled trains don’t worry, you should be entitled to a full refund. The same goes for cancelled flights under EU rule 261/2004 and you could also be due further compensation. I’d thoroughly recommend Martin Lewis’s Money Saving Expert for guides on how to claim without wasting money on solicitors (and you could use your snow day saving money with this brilliant website)!

What if you can’t get to work in the snow?

Strictly speaking your employer doesn’t have to pay you for days you aren’t in work! First port of call, as always in employment matters, is to check your employment contract! If you don’t have a written contract you are entitled to a written statement of terms and your employer must provide you with this if requested. Communication between employee and employer can go a long way to resolving issues before they become more severe.

What if your child’s school is closed and there is nobody else to look after them?

There are provisions whereby you can take unpaid leave to look after your children in emergency situations. Extreme weather should be coveres by this. In all employment matters the following maxim prevails: where both employee and employer are reasonable; it’s better to come to an arrangement that suits both parties!

As a last resort you can always work from home; as I type this in the cosy confines of my kitchen. Always clear this with your employer first of all! The benefits of modern technology can break down traditional work/home barriers (not always a good thing!) and limit disruption to an extent.

Stay toastie!

Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be legal advice or research but if you do wish to receive advice on any of the content discussed please contact us on 028 3752 5400 and we will be happy to help you. Please note that whilst we will aim to provide accurate information the world changes at a fast pace so always follow up with your solicitor to ensure you are fully up to date with same.

 

Quick Hit – Litigant in Person

Today the Supreme Court rejected a plea (with a majority of 3 to 2) from a litigant in person for special dispensation in fulfilling civil procedure rules.

The claimant, Mark Barton, had brought proceedings against a solicitor firm in England and had mistakenly believed that by emailing the necessary claim form he could serve the form to begin litigation. As the service was not acceptable under the Court Rules the claim form expired along with Mr. Barton’s action.

Mr. Barton brought the claim all the way to the Supreme Court (the highest Court in the land) to request special treatment as he was a litigant in person and therefore did not possess anything other than a laypersons knowledge of rules and procedure.

The decision by the Supreme Court rules out any special treatment of the claimant and states that the Rules as they stand must apply to all parties.

Lord Sumption giving the lead judgment (which can be read here) stated that lack of representation can justify making allowances in case management situations and the conduct of hearings but compliance with the Rules of the Court are still necessary.

This case was watched with interest by the legal profession as it strikes an interesting balance between access to justice (where Legal Aid is increasingly restricted) and the functioning of the Courts in as efficient and effective manner as possible. Litigants in person begin and run their own case without any input from legal professionals. This is considerably cheaper but obviously fraught with problems if the other side has legal representation given the presumptive knowledge gap in legal affairs. It also causes problems for the Court if the personal litigant doesn’t understand procedure leading to delays on an already straining Court waiting list.

In other words, if you want to be a personal litigant you need to be one smart cookie. If you are to be a litigant in person you can find online resources here (for claims brought in NI anyway) to assist you and if you take nothing else away from this DON’T use email as a method of service.

Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be legal advice or research but if you do wish to receive advice on any of the content discussed please contact us on 028 3752 5400 and we will be happy to help you. Please note that whilst we will aim to provide accurate information the world changes at a fast pace so always follow up with your solicitor to ensure you are fully up to date with same.