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FROM BOWSERS IN WISBECH AND MARCH

Property prices up by £11,000 year-on-year

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed that UK house prices have, on average, increased by as much as £11,000 year-on-year.

In July 2017, the average property price in the UK sat at approximately £226,185 – up an impressive 5.1 per cent on figures recorded in July 2016.

Month-on-month, values were up by almost £3,000, representative of a 1.1 per cent rise on figures recorded in June this year.

The news echoes separate research published by mortgage lender Halifax in recent days, which also found that property prices enjoyed robust growth throughout the summer.

Halifax’s data found that UK-wide property prices rose by almost £2,500 in August, while figures from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) suggest that the level of market activity was also high throughout the summer months.

According to HMRC, the number of property sales recorded across the UK surpassed 100,000 for the seventh month running in July.

Russell Quirk, Founder and CEO of property website eMoov.co.uk, said that the latest research provided “the most compelling evidence yet” that the UK’s property market has “been able to shake off the woes of the previous year and snap Election.”

Trade union goes to court over council’s redundancy plan

A leading trade union has gone to the High Court in an effort to block redundancy proposals set out by Britain’s largest local authority.

Unite is currently embroiled in a bitter dispute with Birmingham City Council over proposed changes to the refuse service in the second city.

The frictions have rapidly developed into a major industrial dispute, with bin men on strike and rubbish piling up in the streets as the number of collections has reduced.

The row has already led to the resignation of the city council’s leader, John Clancy, who had previously announced that an agreement had been reached only for the strikes to be renewed weeks later.

Now Mr Justice Fraser is considering the case, having heard evidence from representatives from both Unite and the local authority.

The High Court was told that council bosses intend to restructure the waste and recycling service, removing the role of “leading hand” among crews and changing the four-day, nine-hour shift pattern to seven hours for five days.

Unite has maintained that disposing with leading hands and giving their responsibilities to lorry drivers would present health and safety issues.

The trade union subsequently launched legal action, arguing that redundancy plans were both unfair and in breach of the workers’ employment contracts, claims which have been disputed by council bosses.

Unite will be hoping that the Judge will grant an injunction which would halt the redundancy plans, pending a ruling on the circumstances of the underlying legal dispute.

“Monkey selfie” dispute resolved after two years of wrangles

One of the most unusual legal disputes of recent years has finally been resolved.

British photographer David Slater had been locked in a two year battle with the animal rights group Peta over photos that had been inadvertently taken by a monkey.

The macaque, named Naruto, had commandeered Mr Slater’s camera in the Indonesian jungle and managed to press the shutter button. The pictures of the primate, which appeared to be beaming down the lens, quickly became famous around the world.

But Peta had suggested that the intellectual property for the images belonged to the monkey and it was only right that Naruto benefit.

Mr Slater, who said he had made around £100 a month in royalties, found himself pulled into a legal battle which left him facing financial ruin. At one point he even considered giving up photography to begin an alternative career.

Judges in the United States previously ruled that copyright could not belong to the animal, but Peta appealed their decision. Now however the parties have reached a settlement.

Mr Slater, from Monmouthshire, Wales, and Peta issued a joint statement which confirmed that 25 per cent of all future revenue from the photographs would be donated to registered charities “dedicated to protecting the welfare or habitat of Naruto.”

Mr Slater said that he cared about wildlife conservation but had argued from the outset that he had done more than enough to claim copyright; the photographer had spent several days in the rainforest gaining the trust of the monkeys before the incident took place.

Business Brexit letter urges negotiators to “get a move on”

The UK and EU’s biggest businesses will sign a letter later this week urging Brexit negotiators “to get a move on”, according to the BBC.

The British broadcaster said it had seen the letter, which urges both parties to clarify the rights of UK and EU citizens working abroad by October.

The businesses, which employ around one million workers between them, also call for “real progress” towards future arrangements by the end of 2017.

A deal was imperative to safeguard jobs and investment, it says.

In reference to a letter previously drawn up by the UK government asking Britain’s businesses to support its approach, one FTSE 100 chairman told the BBC: “I think this is a much better letter than the one the government tried to circulate - it's written for business by business.”

The Government’s letter was highly criticised by businesses, which were reluctant to endorse an approach which “lacked clarity”.

“We represent businesses of all sizes, sectors and regions of the UK and employ nearly one million people in the UK and EU,” says the letter, authored by the CBI.

“We are committed to helping secure a successful new economic partnership between the UK and the EU, based on the principles of barrier-free trade. We welcome the strengthened collaboration between business and government to achieve this. This must now lead to progress.

“We are therefore writing to urge both sides to be pragmatic and determined to move to the next stage of the negotiations. Until transitional arrangements can be agreed and trade discussed the risk of 'no deal' remains real and has to be planned for, with inevitable consequences for jobs and growth on both sides.”

Mounting concerns over unreported sexual harassment in UK workplaces 7th September 2017

More than one in ten (or 12 per cent of) HR decision makers at large British companies claim that instances of sexual harassment have gone unreported in their workplace.

The worrying findings come from a new report published by the Young Women’s Trust in recent days, which found that as many as 63 per cent of large employers believe that sexism is becoming growing problem in UK workplaces.

According to the research, 40 per cent of female UK workers believe that their organisation, or the male staff working within it, regularly exhibit signs of sexism.

Meanwhile, a further 33 per cent feel that they themselves have been subjected to discrimination or prejudice due to their gender.

Dr Carole Easton OBE, Chief Executive of the Young Women’s Trust, has raised concerns that far “too many young women” are now “facing sexism and harassment while trying to carry out their jobs” – yet far too few are taking action when subjected to unfair treatment or discrimination.

She welcomed the Supreme Court’s recent landmark decision on Employment Tribunal fees, which recently found that such fees are ‘unlawful’ amid growing concerns that they were restricting access to justice for vulnerable workers.

“It’s important that women have access to justice when they face discrimination and harassment at work,” she said.

Store workers are equal to depot staff, says EAT in equal pay ruling 5th September 2017

Staff working in Asda’s stores can compare their pay to depot workers for equal pay purposes, according to a new ruling from the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).

The judgment relates back to a ruling in October 2016, where an Employment Tribunal said more than 7,000 current and former Asda employees – nearly all of which were women – could bring an equal pay claim using their better-paid male colleagues in the distribution centres as comparators.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggested the decision could cost the supermarket more than £100 million, with claims dating back as far as 2002.

In its appeal, Asda said the different departments were run by two separate entities which used different methods of setting pay, therefore, no comparison could be made.

However, this argument was struck down by the EAT in August.

Tim Roache, general secretary of GMB, the trade union that helped bring the case, said: “GMB looks forward to Asda management sitting down and finding a sensible negotiated solution to recognising that our female members in stores should be paid and valued as equal to the men.”

An Asda spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with this appeal ruling, which relates to a technical preliminary issue of whether jobs in different parts of the business can be compared. The EAT have given us permission to appeal against this judgment to the Court of Appeal. We continue to strongly dispute the claims being made against us.”

“Pay rates in stores differ from pay rates in distribution centres for legitimate reasons, including the different market rates for different jobs in different sectors,” the spokesperson added.

Larger firms responsible for more than half of late payments owed to SMEs 31st August 2017

Larger companies and corporations are responsible for more than half of the unpaid invoices owed to Britain’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), a new study suggests.

Research from insurance company Zurich has found that almost half of all SMEs that are subjected to late payments are forced to wait approximately six months or more before invoices are settled.

Meanwhile, it also found that almost two thirds of SMEs typically encounter delays of one month or more on payments that are already more than 30 days overdue – while the average SME is currently owed approximately £16,250.

These findings come not long before the official appointment of the UK’s upcoming Government-pledged Small Business Commissioner – a role that has been created purely to assist smaller firms in defending against the UK’s widening late payments crisis.

It is thought that the Small Business Commissioner will be active from autumn 2017.

Commenting on the research, Paul Tombs, of Zurich, warned that the ongoing late payments crisis could prove “unsustainable” for many SMEs.

He said: “For small companies, working with larger organisations and strong brands is an important part of building and running a successful business. But it is a two way street and large organisations are simply taking too long to pay small suppliers, which are dependent on reliable, regular invoicing to cover their own costs.

“The introduction of a champion for small businesses is a great initiative, but the new Commissioner must be more than just a figurehead. Large businesses should not be allowed to take advantage of their position in the food chain and remain unaccountable over their responsibility to pay their bills on time.”

Calls for inquiry over ground rent increases 30th August 2017

A charity has come under fire following claims that it is dramatically increasing its tenants’ ground rents.

The National Trust has been accused of trying to “make a quick buck” from those living in leasehold properties on its land.

A few days ago a number of news outlets reported that tenants were facing exorbitant increases.

In one case an 87-year-old man alleges that he was informed that his payments were to rise from their current level of £148 a year to £15,000.

Another case concerned a tenant who had been told the ground rent would increase to £5,000 a year – some 100 times its current level.

Following the furore, the Tenants’ Association of the National Trust has called for a probe into what is being proposed

“Rather than exploit vulnerable parties to appalling commercial opportunism to make a quick — and very large — buck, the expectation is that in line with the Charity Commission order, a standard of compassion is set,” a spokesman said.

“We call for an inquiry, a governance review of the National Trust and the immediate resignation of all those that allowed this sorry debacle to take place.”

The MP Ed Vaizey, who has been approached by a constituent who is among those affected, said that there was no way the “extortionate” increases could be justified.

“[The National Trust] should focus on its pastoral role for its tenants, who give a huge amount back as stewards of historic buildings,” he said.

In response to the criticism, the charity – which has around 5,000 homes on its land – said it would work with its tenants to find a fair solution.

A spokesman said: “We know that some leaseholders feel they have been misled as to the impact of modern ground rent and we take those concerns very seriously.

“If we are satisfied that that has happened then we will consider foregoing modern ground rent altogether, which we have already done in one case.”

Landlords eyeing up commercial property investments to beat waning residential market 30th August 2017

Residential property transactions are slowing across the UK, with the latest figures from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) suggesting that transactions rose by just 1.3 per cent in July.

Experts predict that a series of unfavourable tax and legislative changes affecting those active in the buy-to-let market is deterring investment in residential property.

Last year, a three per cent ‘second home’ Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) surcharge was introduced, payable by any landlords or investors purchasing an additional residential property.

More recently, changes to mortgage interest tax relief were phased in, dealing residential landlords another blow.

However, in a bid to beat such unfavourable changes to the residential investment market, an increasing number of landlords are turning towards commercial investments, a new study suggests.

According to the latest figures from prominent property auctioneer Clive Emerson, sales of commercial lots shot up by an impressive 16 per cent in July, equating to approximately £190 million in commercial property sales last month alone.

James Emson, Managing Director at the company, claims that inquiries from former buy-to-let landlords appear to be on the rise.

“We are noticing a definite trend towards commercial property sales as investors seek to widen their portfolios,” he said.

“The increased popularity of commercial lots comes as continuing record low interest rates help boost the market while residential sales are not helped by interest rate relief and Stamp Duty changes.”

According to Clive Emerson’s figures, the company successfully sold more than 70 per cent of all commercial lots it had listed for sale last month.

Tenancy deposit disputes double in 12 months, figures reveal 29th August 2017

The number of landlord and tenant disputes has soared over the past year, with deposit complaints front and centre of the disagreements, a report has revealed.

The latest figures show that tenancy deposit disputes almost doubled over the past 12 months, rising 40 per cent year-on-year.

The Property Redress Scheme (PRS), which published the report, said objections about tenancy deposits made up 27 per cent of the overall total.

Letting agent fees, on the other hand, made up just six per cent of complaints.

Property agents are required to join a Government authorised consumer redress scheme by law, but a separate report found that just one in five letting agents have still not joined a scheme.

The purpose of a scheme is to give consumers an escalated complaints procedure if they are unhappy with how their initial complaint has been dealt with.

Around 15 rogue agents were convicted of offences relating to the theft of deposits in 2017, with the average theft totalling £50,000.

But most disputes don’t involve a criminal element, and are often disagreements over the state of the property and if any repairs need to be made.

Danielle Cullen, managing director at StudentTenant.com, said: “Without having proof of the condition of the property before moving in, people are risking losing deposits when they move out as it’s their word against the landlord.

“Both parties must protect themselves and the property and inventories are the single most important thing. They both need to agree and sign a full inventory so, if for any reason there are any problems, there’s physical evidence to back up claims.

“If there isn't an inventory available, tenants should request an inventory check or take photos the day they get the keys and send them to the agents. At least then they have some visual proof of the condition of the property at the end of the tenancy.”

Public sector organisations not paying SMEs within the required 30-day timeframe 24th August 2017

New research into the growing business issue of late payments has revealed that more than two thirds of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are having to chase public sector clients over unpaid invoices – as an increasing number of organisations are failing to pay SMEs within the 30-day timeframe required by law.

According to the study, the number of SMEs in the engineering sector that regularly encounter late payment problems in relation to public sector clients rose by eight per cent between the first quarter (Q1) and second quarter (Q2) of this year.

In fact, 63 per cent of SMEs told the survey that they had encountered public sector organisations who had breached of Regulation 113 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 – as such organisations are not paying them within the required 30-day timeframe stipulated under by law.

The research, which was carried out by the Electrical Contractor’s Association (ECA) in collaboration with the Building Engineering Services Association and Select, suggests that the UK’s late payments crisis is worsening – and that the problem is not limited solely to private sector firms.

SMEs are being urged to take action in all instances of late payments, after separate research carried out by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) recently found that as many as 50,000 SMEs had been forced to close their doors as a result of their ongoing late payment woes.

Decrease in number of homebuyers using gifted deposits 23rd August 2017

For many years, a rising number of homebuyers – particularly first-time buyers – have been relying on gifted deposits from parents and family members in order to help get them on the property ladder.

However, a new study suggests that this trend has taken a downturn in the past year, with the number of first-time buyers relying on the so-called ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ down by 4.1 per cent year-on-year in July 2017.

The figures come from a report recently published by My Home Move, which suggests that the number of property investors in the buy-to-let market utilising gifted deposits has also fallen significantly over the same period, down 2.5 per cent year-on-year.

In July 2017, first-time buyers accounted for just seven per cent of all homebuyers using gifted deposits, while the vast majority (90 per cent) were ‘second-steppers’ or ‘middle-movers’.

Doug Crawford, CEO of My Home Move said: “We know that affordability is a key issue for first-time buyers, particularly as 55 per cent of them are looking to buy properties costing less than £150,000, which gives them roughly a one per cent chance of finding a suitable property.

“With gifts to this group falling steadily, it does beg the question as to whether this is reflective of a drop in the number of first-time buyers entering the market, or whether there are other factors in play,” he said.

Speaking of the rise in ‘middle-movers’ utilising gifted deposits, however, he added: “The average property deposit is now close to £60,000, so it’s likely that the Bank of Mum and Dad are stumping up the additional funds needed to help their children into bigger properties.”

Civil partnership fight will continue in the Supreme Court 22nd August 2017

A couple who have been fighting a battle for civil partnerships to be made available to mixed-sex couples are to take their case to the Supreme Court.

Back in February, Rebecca Steinfield and her partner Charles Keidan had suffered a defeat in the Court of Appeal. This followed a previous setback at the High Court in January last year.

Now the couple have won the right to appeal to the highest court in the land and hope that the next ruling will go in their favour.

Under the Civil Partnership Act 2004, the union which served as a precursor to gay marriage is only open to same-sex couples.

There had been some talk of updating the law so that those in a heterosexual relationship could also have a legally-binding civil partnership ceremony, but no such decision has been forthcoming.

Since launching their bid to secure a change in current legislation, Ms Steinfield and Mr Keidan have maintained that the current state of affairs is “incompatible” with equality laws.

The couple, from West London, say they are uncomfortable with marriage as an institution – arguing that it has religious associations and dates from a time when women had few rights.

In view of this they would prefer to enter into a civil partnership as a means of receiving various financial and legal protections.

Ms Steinfeld said: “We hope the Supreme Court will deliver a judgment that will finally provide access to civil partnerships for thousands of families across the country.”
The Government has said it does intend to review civil partnership legislation, but no timetable has been put forward as to when any possible changes will be brought before Parliament.

No news on Tribunal fee refunds for another few weeks 21st August 2017

The Government is not set to make an announcement on arrangements for refunding Employment Tribunal fees until next month, it has been revealed.

A few weeks ago, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) suffered a humiliating defeat at the Supreme Court, where Judges ruled the fees were in fact unlawful.

This led to the swift abolition of the system implemented in 2013 and a commitment that those claimants had been made to pay in the four years since the regime came into force would receive a full refund.

Indeed, Justice Minister Dominic Raab confirmed on the day of the ruling that “immediate steps” would be taken to allocate refunds.

The fact that there has since been little information as to when the estimated £32million will be repaid has led to a degree of criticism. There are also concerns that those eligible for refunds will have to make an application rather than have the money paid back automatically.

Last week, Whitehall officials confirmed that they were still thrashing out details on how the refunds will be processed.

Employment Tribunals in England and Wales has said that it is working to ensure that the process for refunds is as “simple and unobtrusive as possible.”

There are, however, questions to be answered in terms of how refunds will apply in cases involving multiple claimants or where the Tribunal had ordered the other party to reimburse the fee.

Company banned for Google impersonation 18th August 2017

A company that pretended to be associated with Google has been shut down after an investigation by the Insolvency Service.

Movette, a Manchester-based tech business, sold a service to manage the online “Google My Business” listings of its customers. The service is readily free through the search engine’s own platform.

The company used the trading styles of “Online Content Management Services” and continued the “same or very similar” business to that previously carried on by Online Platform Management Consultants, which was wound up on 13 April 2015 on the grounds that it operated against the public interest.

Movette had also been the subject of a number of complaints to regulatory bodies, such as Action Fraud and Trading Standards.

The Insolvency Service established that the company had misled customers by stating or implying that it represented or was affiliated to Google – when in reality there was no such relationship.

Movette also falsely stated or implied that customers would lose their existing services from Google if payment was not made to the company.

Furthermore, the business would renew customer contracts after 12 months and ignored or rejected customers’ requests to cancel.

The Insolvency Service further found that Movette used debt collection methods considered offensive and threatening.

Colin Cronin, Investigation Supervisor with the Insolvency Service, said: “Movette used deceptive methods to persuade customers to sign up for its service, including stating or implying that it represented or was connected to Google.

“The company then made it difficult for customers to extract themselves from rolling contracts and used debt collection methods which were coercive and intimidatory".

“These proceedings show that the Insolvency Service will take firm action against companies which operate in this manner".

“I would urge any business which is contacted by cold-call and invited to sign up for a Google My Business listing to make full enquiries into the service being offered before entering into any agreement. Google My Business is, in fact, a free service which allows businesses to enter and update information with the intention of marketing themselves to users of the search engine.”

Resolution voices concerns over new-look divorce form 16 August 2017

A newly-designed divorce form could lead to greater conflict, family law experts have warned.

The form has come under fire after it was revealed that it offers the opportunity for the writer to name the person who their husband or wife is alleged to have committed adultery with.

The previous version of the form was less stark, instead providing a space to name so-called “co-respondents”.

While this could include individuals that a party is accused of being unfaithful with, the fear is that the new wording may make people feel like they have to provide the information.

Margaret Heathcote, the vice-chair of family law association Resolution, is among those to have raised concerns about the change.

“Generally speaking, we don't name the third party. It increases the conflict from day one,” she said. “There's no need. But because the box is there, the indication will be to fill it in.”

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said that it had updated the divorce form to make it easier to complete and argued there was no obligation to complete this particular box.

A spokeswoman said: “It has always been possible for a petitioner to name the person they believe their spouse has committed adultery with on divorce application forms.

“As set out in the previous form, and more clearly in the new form, there is obviously no obligation to do so. This is a relevant part of divorce proceedings.”

Of the 100,000 divorces granted in England and Wales in 2015, adultery was cited as a factor in over 12,000 cases.

Case of elderly man who ‘lost everything’ highlights importance of taking special care with LPAs 16 August 2017

The recent case of an elderly man living with dementia who ‘lost everything’ highlights the importance of taking very careful measures when setting up a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA).

Dunkirk and Normandy war veteran Mr Frank Willet, Yorkshire, reportedly appointed his next-door neighbour, Colin Blake, as his attorney in 2003.

This was due to the fact that his only daughter, Ms Lesley Willet, lived 300 miles away from him in South Wales.

Once Mr Willet had appointed Mr Blake as his attorney, Mr Blake had full responsibility for the elderly war veteran’s financial affairs – which was later seriously abused.

According to BBC News, Mr Blake begun withdrawing substantial sums of money from Mr Willet’s bank account “just weeks after the papers were signed.”

The elderly Yorkshireman had amassed savings of around £60,000 over his lifetime, yet on one occasion in 2003, the manipulative Mr Blake was able to withdraw a sum of almost £9,000 from the dementia sufferer’s account without the bank contacting Mr Willet, his daughter or any of his family, due to the fact that Mr Blake was recognised as having power of attorney.

The war hero’s daughter, Lesley, was devastated to learn what the once-trusted neighbour had done.

Alongside her husband, Brian, she challenged the power of attorney in Court but experienced great difficulty trying to prove that Mr Blake was ‘unfit’ to be her elderly father’s attorney.

In fact, a Judge upheld the document in Court and it was not until many years later in 2008, when a new regulatory body came into power, that the power of attorney was properly investigated and revoked. A year later, Mr Blake was pursued by police and finally pleaded guilty to theft, receiving a sentence of four-and-a-half years.

Since the matter concluded, much more stringent rules have been put in place with regards to powers of attorney.

A modern lasting power of attorney (LPA) cannot be set up unless a professional who has known the subject of the order well for many years is able to provide a certificate for the document to be drafted – while the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) has been granted certain powers to investigate complaints.

Previously, an old-fashioned enduring power of attorney (EPA) could be set up with very little oversight and the OPG’s predecessor, the Public Guardianship Office had far less powers.

Nevertheless, the case highlights the importance of taking extra care when deciding to draft such a document – which should always be a well-rehearsed family decision and is best approached under the supervision of a solicitor who is able to give specialist advice based on your unique circumstances.

Peculiar court case highlights why no-fault divorce needed now 29 March 2017

A recent, somewhat strange case at the Court of Appeal has highlighted the pressing need for the introduction of no-fault divorce in England & Wales.

Countries like Spain and the US have for a long time allowed couples who have grown apart to legally extrapolate themselves via divorce, but even now in 2017, here in one of the world’s most liberal countries, blame still has to be attributed.

The latest furore surrounds the marriage of Tini Owens, who sought to overturn an earlier court decision refusing her application to divorce Hugh Owens.

She had alleged that the marriage had irretrievably broken down due to his unreasonable behaviour, but Mr Owens said that the marriage had not broken down, so a judge was required to consider who was right.

Examples, given by her included a failure by him to provide her with love and affection, mood swings, frequent arguments, and also making disparaging remarks about her in front of people.

Whilst the judge acknowledged that the marriage had broken down, he refused Mrs Owen’s application as he felt the allegations were of the, “minor kind of altercations to be expected within a marriage”.

And to be fair it’s hard to argue otherwise in the sensitive arena of human relationships, let alone marriage.

The Court of the Appeal decided that the judge had not applied the law incorrectly and could not grant Mrs Owen’s appeal saying it was for the Government, and not the court, to change the law.

Most married couples in a loveless relationship won’t find themselves in the same position as Mrs Owen, as barely any divorces are opposed. However, many more find themselves in the uncomfortable position where they are required to apportion blame to obtain a divorce

Here at Bowsers, we’ve had many clients who have questioned whether this is really necessary, unwilling to point the finger of accusation at their spouse, particularly where both feel they have just got nothing in common any more.

So, this archaic situation remains where to obtain a divorce here in the UK, the person seeking the divorce has to establish that the marriage has irretrievably broken down by claiming one of five facts. Three of which require a period of separation of at least two years.

The only options available are to claim that the other has either committed adultery or shown behaviour so unreasonable that the other cannot be expected to live with it.

More often than not the couple agree to examples of unreasonable behaviour merely to get the divorce cleared, which isn’t ideal.

Many in the legal world have long been campaigning for an introduction of no-fault divorce, having seen the damage that the current law does to so many families. Finding fault often leaves a sour taste, which inevitably invites acrimony.

A Private Members Bill introduced in 2015 seeking no fault divorce failed and in recent weeks the justice minister, Lord Keen confirmed that there were no plans to do so. Maybe, at a time when the line “for better or for worse” seems not to carry as much weight as it did, perhaps there is reluctance for the government to open themselves up to the charge of making divorce easier?

However, this is simply not dealing with the real world. It’s time no blame divorce was here and the debate will continue until this happens.
 

Akhil Choudbury

Parents await big decision on term time holidays 22 February 2017

For all of those with school age children the prickly subject of taking their youngsters out during term for a holiday remains a hot debate in the media.

Those stuck in that narrow window of time, lasting a decade or more per child, frequently bemoan how the only time they can get away is when the travel companies have more than doubled the price, resorts are crammed, and the sun is too intense for many of us.

It is no wonder then that the case of the Isle of Wight dad, Jon Platt, who was charged £120 for his “failure” to ensure that his daughter attended school, when he took her on a family holiday certainly has provided lively debate throughout the land.

Mr Platt took the matter to the High Court and overturned the fine, with the judge deciding that taking his daughter out of school did not amount to a failure to ensure that she attended school in the overall bigger scheme, Mr Platt did ensure that his daughter attended school regularly. Therefore, the court decided no fine was appropriate.

This news came with great interest, especially as in the period between September 2103 and August 2014; an estimated 64,000 people were fined in this country, for taking their children out of school during term time.

In legal terms, this issue had been looked at previously and was on the somewhat narrow basis that taking children out of school to go on holiday amounted to a failure to ensure attendance. However, the High Court said that it should be looked at in the broader context of that individual child and it could be the case that it did not (as in Mr Platt’s case) amount to a failure to ensure the child’s attendance.

For those unfamiliar with the ongoing legal proceedings, the matter did not end there, as it was considered to be such an important issue, affecting so many. Therefore, the High Court granted permission for an appeal to the Supreme Court – the highest Court in the land, to rule on this issue.

The case went to the Court on 31st January and the judges in the Supreme Court will deliver their judgement in due course.

Meanwhile, here in the Fens, as well as everywhere else throughout the land, parents, teachers and the media will be waiting with bated breath on a legal matter that has certainly encapsulated the public imagination.
 

Ian Groome

Sugar coated social media playing big part in marriage break ups 6 Feb 2017

Amongst family law experts, there is a growing consensus that the pressures of living the perfect life that many people display via social media, is adding to increased unhappiness and marriage break up.

Much has been reported in the past couple of years about the effects of social media’s influence on us as a whole, and here in the UK many eminent lawyers are voicing opinions that the social media phenomenon is having an effect on the family unit.

Here at Bowsers, we see no reason to argue against this. After all, being bombarded with positive images of other people’s lives certainly can make many look at their lives in not such a favourable light.

However, it really is worth remembering that an image and a comment from Facebook or any other social media avenue is really just a snapshot of a moment in time of a person’s life, rather than their life as a whole.

For instance, it is all well and good to show an image of someone having a good night out with friends, but that person may have other aspects of their life that are not so great. However, they are unlikely to let this side of their life be on public display.

Family lawyers believe though that constant pictures of people looking happy and having a great time in all manner of exotic places can negatively affect many who feel their lives are somehow disappointing. This is a real problem.

If the warnings about social media make more people see these posts in a more reasoned light, then that’s a good thing.

We need to handle this relatively new medium of social media with caution and not let it dominate our lives.

Like many advancements there is a good and bad side. It is great that we can re-connect with old friends now in a way that just wasn’t possible not so long ago, but we all need to be aware that there is a downside too, which this article hopefully demonstrates.

We hope those who read this will appreciate that social media can distort what life is really like. People in testing times need to realise even more so to prevent a bad time really becoming much worse than it need be.

Marriages and all relationships need working on and everybody has good and bad in life. Remember that next time you pick up your mobile phone, for the sake of your own sanity.
 

Akhil Choudbury

Cybercrime changing the face of law 23 January 2017

Recent news that there were an estimated 3.6 million cases of fraud and two million computer misuse offences demonstrates how cybercrime has become a leading issue in this internet age.

The Crime Survey for England and Wales released in recent weeks included the offences for the first time in its annual report, which covered the year to September.

Also separate figures recorded by police showed an 8% rise in offences overall.

The Office for National Statistics said crime recording improvements meant the police figures could not reveal trends.

The fact is that crime has changed enormously in recent times; where as in the past, burglary and theft of vehicles were the high-volume crimes affecting most of us.
In this technological age, we have seen a seismic shift. When the crime survey started in 1982, fraud was not a significant threat.

Many frauds go undetected and a great deal never got reported to the police and forces have a hard job to keep up with even the ones they know about. It’s a very complex area.

Also, whilst businesses invest in new systems to stop the criminals, fraudsters are no fools and seem to be staying one step ahead of them.

The daily legal world is not immune to this either, and with big sums being exchanged in legal transactions the crooks look for ways to weasel in on the act. That is why good law firms like Bowsers take all the precautions possible following all the latest advice to ensure clients are protected.

Reports on this trend say that police forces outside of London are currently still lacking the skills needed to battle many of the problems.

We can only hope that this is a matter of some urgency, which will be addressed by our government and law enforcement experts.

The face of crime is less visible than it was. It appears the learning curve could be steep and in the meantime the public need to take all the precautions they can to ensure they don’t become a victim. We are certainly living in challenging times.
 

Ian Groome

Unregistered Land – Advantages, Pitfalls and Advice on retention of original deeds post registration 12th January 2017

With the passing of the Land Registration Act 2002 a great number of transactions or ‘dealings with land’ became compulsory for registration in England and Wales at the Land Registry.

The Land Registry gives guidance when first registrations should be effected and if one were to access their website https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/first-registrations and search for Practice guide 1: first registrations, a great deal more information on this subject can be obtained.

This article is aimed at discussing and exploring why it is important to register your ownership of your property even if you are not selling, transferring or mortgaging your property and why you should strongly consider registration on a voluntary basis.

An important advantage of voluntary registration is that the Land Registry will accept an application with a reduced registration fee.  You will need to obtain a valuation of your property as the fee is based on the value of the property you are registering.  The advantage of this valuation is that it gives you an up to date indication of what your estate is worth at a point in time.  You should consider keeping this valuation with your documents for future reference.

Before applying for voluntary registration, you will need to produce the deeds to your property.  You may hold your deeds in safe keeping, or they may be held by your lender (if any), or your solicitors. A map search at the Land Registry will confirm whether the land you are planning to register is already registered or not.  This search can be important as it will tell you if someone has tried to claim all or part of your land unknown to you mainly because it shows a map of all land that is registered and unregistered together with their title numbers, so if someone has fraudulently claimed part of your land as a squatter and is trying to work towards registration of it as their own you will know what action to take.  Also be aware that others can use the map to check who owns the property or if it is registered so that they can commence on a scheme to steal your property or mortgage it, (see later paragraph on Fraud prevention).

If your deeds cannot be located (i.e. they are lost or destroyed) then it is still possible to make an application for registration based on a Statutory declaration/Statement of Truth which must be prepared for you to swear/sign and should include all the evidence you have relating to the lost deeds.  Some acceptable evidence could be obtained from neighbours etc. based on their knowledge of your ownership and use of the land as appropriate.  This will be taken into consideration by the Land Registry. Putting together an application to register ownership based on Lost Deeds can be long winded and may prove expensive.

Another advantage of registration is that anyone wishing to know who owns your property can find out this information from the land registry by obtaining a copy of the register and a copy of the title plan showing the boundaries of your property, see below.

It could also make it easier to sell or transfer the ownership of your property by avoiding delays whilst solicitors produce the evidence of the ownership of the land and the buyers’ solicitors checking that the owner of the unregistered title is in fact entitled to sell the property.  It is not necessary to pre-register your property if you are selling, but it does make it easier, cheaper and less time consuming.

Registration also has the benefit of giving a degree of peace of mind knowing that you can usually rely on the title given by the Land Registry. The Land registry will guarantee your title.  If they have made an error in registering your title correctly and provided you have given them all the correct evidence of ownership, they will compensate you for any loss you may suffer if you stand to lose land because of their error.  Note this guarantee does not cover you if you have made an error in your application for registration.

Once registered the Land Registry provides a concise document giving the details of the property, including the address and the easements etc. to which the property benefits: details of the proprietor, i.e. who owns it; and a separate register showing what restrictive covenants and charges affect the property.  This register is called, Office Copy Entries (OCR) and is obtainable for a small fee from the Land registry. The OCE is provided as proof of ownership to any prospective buyer or transferee/lender. The registration does not prevent fraud which could be committed by person/s unknown trying to obtain money or claiming ownership of your property but provides an element of protection for you.

To prevent fraud, it is essential to provide the Land Registry with up to date address details so they can write to you should anyone apply to register a Notice, Restriction or Caution against your property.  You can have up to four addresses for service including an email address.  The Land Registry will write to you with any unusual activities on your title, provided your land is registered.  So, it is of benefit to have your ownership registered.

An additional feature introduced by the Land Registry to prevent fraud is contained in a standard restriction, called a Form LL restriction, which effectively means that the Land Registry must notify you if any application or activity occurs on your property to which you may wish to object.  For example, a fraudster applies to transfer the property to their name or to mortgage your property without your knowledge.  Although this may not stop all types of fraud committed on your property, it is a device that can slow down or put off potential fraudsters from even attempting to steal your property from right under your nose. This type of restriction is not an easy one to remove or overcome and can cause difficulty if an owner legitimately wishes to re-mortgage their property, but it is a good method of ensuring your investment and ownership is safeguarded.

You will have no such protection referred to above if your property is not registered.

Further advantages to registration is that the Land Registry will issue a Title plan showing the extent of your property boundaries.  Although this plan is not definitive, it is a good indication as to where your boundaries lie.  The disadvantage of the plan is that it only indicates a general boundary, i.e. because it is to a small scale, a thin red line between your and your neighbour’s land could be as wide as a metre, and this can cause friction particularly if you and your neighbour cannot agree as to who owns a fence/wall etc.  My recommendation is that at the time of application for registration, the Land Registry should be requested to return all original deeds so that they can be kept for posterity and as a reference point should such a dispute as described above arises.

If your property is unregistered, some unscrupulous neighbours can and do alter their boundaries, without your knowledge, to claim part of your land.  This can happen particularly if you are not diligent and do not regularly inspect your land and ‘walk your boundaries’.  This can happen even if you have registered your land.  So, a word of warning: If you own large areas of land, do be vigilant and check your boundaries regularly particularly if your property is unregistered.

As explained above, the Land Registry keeps an electronic copy of documents that may prove your title but they can and do make errors. In previous years, some firms of solicitors will send the original deeds to the Land Registry without keeping certified copies of the documents.  The Land Registry will scan in the documents to their electronic system and then send the originals for destruction.  Once the deeds have been destroyed there is no way to obtain copies of the missing information.  It can be expensive and time consuming to reconstruct the deeds and may even involve provision of indemnity policies for missing deeds.  My advice is to always arrange for your original deeds to be kept in a safe place, even though your property is registered, and to pass that bundle on to the next owner when and if you sell the property.  One may need to look back on old deeds over e.g., 30 years to see whether a drain should have been included on the title plan and this may only be ascertained by reference to the old deeds.

Today, the Land Registry requests that all applications for first registration be made with only certified copies of the document representing the application.  This therefore means that the original deeds should be returned to the owner for safe keeping.

The Land Registry are currently taking around 5/6 months or even longer to register ownership and this can cause delays in future sales.

A further word of warning, Mortgage lenders, estate agents and some Conveyancing Companies and even some solicitors believe that once your property is registered that is the end of the need to hold your deeds.  Their advice is based on the misbelief that because everything is revealed by the Office Copy Entries and Title Plan the deeds are no longer required.  I do not agree with this analogy.  I consider that not only are old deeds beautiful and in many cases a hand-written history of the ownership of the land we own and love, they contain certain details and features which could prove valuable if one needed to prove ownership of a particular feature of the land or if there has been an error in the registration.

The moral is, register your property to prevent fraud and keep hold of your original deeds.

Donna MacFarlaine

Property likely to still be a safe bet this year 11 January 2017

As is the natural course of things, each New Year sees a set of experts ready to give their predictions on all that will happen in practically every field, and this is certainly the case when it comes to predictions on the property market.

With the world and the UK in somewhat unchartered waters following Brexit and Trump’s up and coming presidency, it is somewhat comforting that the message that seems to be coming through is that 2017 will still be a good year to buy property.

One of the most respected experts in this field is the Halifax UK Housing Market Outlook, which predicts a slowdown in house price rises compared to the 6 per cent national rise of 2016, but still an acceptable growth of up to 4 per cent.

It’s fair to say though that many experts were somewhat taken aback at how strong the market performed in 2016, with talk of interest rate rises expected to have quelled growth.

Indeed, with 2017 now well underway many believe house prices are now rising at a sustainable level, which could mean growth for many years to come.

The housing market has survived the Brexit shock and the reduction in interest rates has made mortgages the most affordable they’ve been for years, so we hope 2017 will be another good year for the property market.

The fact is we still have historically low interest rates and a shortage of suitable housing in this much sought after island of ours.

So, for all of us its fingers are crossed for a good year in the property market. After all, it is seen by many as a barometer of a healthy economy.

Also, it is worth pointing out that if you are in a position where you will be moving or joining the property ladder this year; please remember that conveyancing needs to be done by a qualified solicitor. Property is generally the most expensive acquisition a person makes in his or her life, so not doing the legal work correctly is inviting problems.

Good conveyancing gives peace of mind and also helps minimise one of the most stressful experiences a person can have.

Here’s hoping 2017 is a stable year for all of us.

Re-mortgaging a good solution whilst interest rates remain low 17 December 2016


Do you recall a time when interest rates were high?

You probably do, but if you are like the rest of us it seems a very long time ago.

Since the grim credit crunch we have now had several years of historically low interest rates, which is totally unprecedented.

It has created a very strange few years, and with us at Bowsers and many other law firms being involved in conveyancing, the legal work to do with the purchase and sale of property, we have watched the housing market closer than most.

Of course, the so called experts and their surveys are plentiful, but one that came onto our radar recently was the one from Santander Mortgages, which showed that buying in the UK is now cheaper than renting in every region of the UK, with average rental prices each month now surpassing the average mortgage repayment.

According to their research, average rent is now £995 per month, whilst the repayments are just £805 per month.

Interestingly though, the research showed where we are in the East of England is very much on par with rent and mortgage, with monthly mortgage payments exceeding rent by just £2.

However, whilst we look at the legal side of things, it surprises us how many people seem unaware of the savings they could make by re-mortgaging, as recent times have seen lenders offering some great deals and many people in the Fens could save money by switching mortgages.

Latest general estimates are that interest rates will not move until mid-2016 and may not even rise for the whole of the year, but once the market gets a hint that an interest rise may be on the way the opportunity will be lost for those with mortgages.

The legal work of changing mortgages isn’t really that onerous, so long as you appoint experts who know what they are doing.

It is also worth bearing in mind that re-mortgaging can also help release equity from property for other reasons.

However, as guardians of the law, we cannot stress how vital it is to ensure you have sound legal advice when you have a re-mortgage.

It may be that changing your mortgage is one of the best decisions you can make.

We hope this article may make your pockets just that little bit fuller.

Ian Groome, law expert at Bowsers

Are relationship fixed term contracts the latest trend for the living together debate? 6 December 2016


So here we are all trying to dust off the Christmas cobwebs, as we all try to get back to normal after the festive break.

January is traditionally a time that most of us put at the top of the list for the months we dislike most and with good reason, as we are in the heart of winter and no doubt feeling a little financially poorer.

However, it is also a time when many of us try to turn to a new chapter in our lives, which is the reason why this month is also traditionally the busiest month for solicitors dealing with new divorce cases.

It’s sad to start the year in such a way, but understandable though as when there are marital difficulties they often seem to crystallise over Christmas, and what is meant to be one of the high quality times of the year can be anything but.

Bearing this in mind, and the fact that one in three marriages ends in divorce, I read with interest before the holiday season commenced about couples being advised to turn their backs on marriage and consider instead entering into ten-year contracts instead.

The article, which was published in The Independent said couples who choose a contract instead should firstly lay out their goals for the relationship and financial terms should it end, and agree to stay together for a decade.

As the 10 years approach the couple should then reconsider if the relationship is still working.

The dating experts quoted said that this prevents acrimonious divorces by giving couples a chance to re-evaluate their relationship.

As you can imagine, this idea has led to rather robust discussions online, and whilst we at Bowsers don’t wish to take sides, it does once more in these modern times show how the whole attitude to couples living together has changed so much in the past generation.

In the final analysis though, this argument does not have a right or wrong answer, the way couples live their life be it marriage, co-habiting, or whatever else is their own business.

However, what is always vital is that both parties do their utmost to ensure they are legally protected if the relationship doesn’t work out.

Human relationships are complex, so thoughts around finances, children etc should be considered by everyone entering a new relationship to ensure the happiness of everyone now in 2017 and what lies ahead in the future.

Akhil Choudhury, Bowsers

Time to make some legal New Year resolutions you won’t regret December 2016


It’s that time of the year when we take stock, put the lid on 2016 and focus on the coming 12 months and how we can make our lives better.

So, with this in mind we got to thinking about what could be a really useful couple of good resolutions that really would help all those who read this column?

There are some actions that are relatively inexpensive that are greatly beneficial for the well-being of those who follow this advice.It is simply to make sure that during 2017 you make a Will and also see a lawyer about a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), which will help you if your health fails and gives power to your loved ones to make decisions on your behalf.

This advice is hard to argue with, especially for those who are becoming more advanced in life. However, despite lawyers throughout the land doing their utmost to highlight how the pubic need to protect themselves in this way, too few take advice.

We can to a certain degree understand - after all it can be morbid contemplating ill-health and your own mortality.Sadly though, too few ensure they have the legal protection that is needed for them and their families, and this can leave horrendous problems to clear up, which can add terribly to stress.

Therefore, we ask that you do the sensible thing and make sure you take these steps in the year ahead, and we suggest you do them as soon as possible as there is never an ideal time.

Ian Groome

Inheritance tax changes but who are the winners? 22 November 2016


It is almost a decade since the Conservatives promised in a manifesto pledge to introduce inheritance tax of £1million for married couples.

Now all these years later the rules will finally change in April 2017, where in addition to the current existing inheritance tax threshold of £325,000 per person there will now also be an additional Residence Nil Rate Band (RNRB) allowable when a residence is passed on death to a direct descendant. This new RNRB starts at £100,000 in 2017/18, increasing by £25,000 each year up until 2021 by which time it will be £175,000.

What helps protect wealth further is the RNRB will be available if a person decides to downsize or ceases to own a home after 8 July 2015 and assets of an equivalent value, right up to the value of the RNRB are passed on death to direct descendants.

With most of us complaining that the tax man gets too much it all sounds welcoming.

However, as is usually the case, it’s not as straightforward as it seems.

There will be scrutiny as to whether beneficiaries from an estate are classed as direct descendants and many Wills that contain trusts will need to be reviewed. It means people leaving some or all of their estate to people who aren’t direct descendants will still have to carefully look at alternative tax planning strategies.

It is worth pointing out that the new RNRB will be tapered for a rate of 50 per cent for every £2 over the threshold of £2m, which could particularly affect estates with high property or land values.

So on the face of it the new rules may well benefit many people, but do not assume all is well.

The world of inheritance tax, estates, wills and trusts is such that expert advice is highly recommended. Bad advice or no advice can mean thousands of pounds and lives being changed.

As always we recommend good advice is sought early on as it gives great peace of mind for everyone involved.

Ian Groome

Public need legal help as dementia becomes biggest cause of death 16 November 2016

Many of you will be aware that dementia is now the leading cause of death in England overtaking cancer and heart disease.

Whilst it is a terribly sad disease, which causes so much heartache, it is also predominantly seen as a condition associated with old age and its rise is a result of longer lives in the developed world. 

When such an illness comes to light what is often overlooked is the legal implications, but as solicitors we have unfortunately had to become involved in trying to help families faced with this issue.

It can cause untold problems, yet there is action families can take, which could save them large amounts of time, money and stress.

This though comes with the proviso that healthy people now need to address their possible future health issues.

If dementia or another debilitating condition takes hold then most people will want someone they trust to have the legal power to make decisions on their behalf.

A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is the legal answer. It can set out how you wish them to handle your affairs including health and welfare to ensure you get the treatment you want.

The LPA will also mean that the person you have chosen will have control over your property and finances ensuring your financial responsibilities are met.

We wish to again highlight that to take out a Lasting Power of Attorney you have to do it while you are healthy.

Not doing this could mean your family having to apply to the Court of Protection, where you will have no say in who is made a 'deputy' because, by this time, you're legally considered incapable of making your own decisions.

It’s a hugely stressful problem for loved ones who are coming to terms with all the other issues associated with such a devastating illness.

This paperwork is something good law firms are well used to. It doesn’t take a great deal of time or money, but gives huge peace of mind if the worst does happen.

As yet there appears no cure for dementia in the offing and with an ageing population experts expect it to become more of a pressing issue on society.

We ask all of you who read this to take this sensible step. It is a form of  insurance well worth investing in.

Ian Groome, Director, Bowsers Solicitors

Lenders set to loan to the elderly in much-changed world 2 Nov 2016

As solicitors, we are often one of the first ports of call when people are looking at buying property.

Having been called upon to do literally countless numbers of conveyancing transactions in the Fens, we are often asked questions to do with the property market, which is such an important part of the British psyche.

Therefore, it is more than a little interesting to hear of developments, which could see many people paying mortgages until much later in life.

It has always been the case that many people focus on the day when the mortgage is finally paid off as a time when they are finally unshackled from the mortgage chains, but an ageing population combined with working and receiving pensions much later in life will mean some people now paying their mortgage off much later than used to be the case.

It makes sense too. Property prices everywhere have risen dramatically in the past generation or two, whilst people are living longer, so lenders are now adapting to this with some raising the maximum age of repayment to beyond 80.

This shows a level of flexibility in credit, which will be liberating for many of those in the autumn of their years, and so very different from when older people being able to secure loans was near impossible, regardless of their credit history.

To put this new world into perspective - Halifax, which is the UK’s biggest lender, has raised its lending age to 80, whilst if you scour the market some others are willing to loan until even later.

The Building Societies Association (BSA), claims the 11.6 million people over the age of 65 could rise to beyond 16 million within the next two decades. Thankfully, financial institutions are adapting to recognise this.

However, whether we are buying property in our 20s or now in our 60s, what remains vital is that the legal paperwork surrounding it is carried out correctly. We always tell people not to skimp on conveyancing - it is a small price to pay in the long term for peace of mind.

An Englishman’s home has always been his castle and new lending criteria won’t change that outlook- that we can be sure of.

Ian Groome, Bowsers

Cold Feet’s contested Will storyline a boost for legal awareness 6 October 2016

The return of the extremely popular drama Cold Feet to ITV is very welcome for many all across the UK.

Enjoyed by men and women alike, it has been one of the most successful programmes to hit the small screen in the past couple of decades.

Even now here in 2016, it has been attracting over 8 million viewers, which we understand is quite an achievement in the modern age of countless TV channels, plus the web’s many fascinating avenues to keep us all occupied.

Such programmes, whilst fictional often raise awareness of issues which provoke debate, and one such issue at the moment surrounds a character Pete, who took on a job as a carer and in doing so, helped an old man neglected by his family.

The old man overcome by the friendship shown to him leaves £50,000 to Pete, who has been a bit down on his luck, only taking on the carer role as a stop gap.

After the old man passes away, angered by the legacy left to Pete, the old man’s daughter and son contest the Will and our central character is very much in a quandary with the whole ethics of his apparent good fortune.

Contested Wills is a rising trend in the last decade or so for many reasons, most notably the more complex family structures that exist today. Storylines, like the one in Cold Feet, will certainly prompt some people to take action in updating their Will or even finally getting around to making a Will.

Whilst we are watching the drama unfold for entertainment purposes on the TV, we at Bowsers as lawyers are always pleased when there is a storyline which shows how the law affects us all.

Sometimes a plot in a TV drama can be far more powerful than any amount of solicitors trying to hammer home the message. After all, fictional tales often have a way of showing the public how it could so easily be them.

Solicitors up and down the land are every day helping many a member of the public gain peace of mind. There are so many ways that not using a solicitor or taking the right course of action can have dire consequences for the future.

The law is there to protect us all, but sometimes it is good for the public to pay just a little more attention to the actions they take. Using foresight in drafting and updating Wills, lasting powers of attorney for elderly relations, and even having the right kind of contracts drawn up for a business can save much money and many sleepless nights further down the line.

Such matters are well worth keeping on the public’s radar and the legal profession must continue to strive to educate all who will listen. What we do is too important for society to ignore.

Ian Groome, Bowsers

Parent power in property purchases sees pre-nups on the increase 23 September 2016

It says a lot about the growth in property values in the last generation that parents are now, according to some experts, one of the top ten lenders in property purchases.

Long gone are the days when generally a young couple with normal jobs could get the money together for a deposit, and get themselves on the housing ladder.

It is for this reason that parents with substantial financial stakes in the buying of homes for newly married children are behind a rise in pre-nuptial agreements.

These agreements, which protect assets that couples have prior to marriage are increasingly being used as the older, equity rich generation help their 20 and 30 something children get a foot on the UK’s property ladder.

Prenups are a prickly subject, but it is understandable why some parents are insisting on legal protection. The idea of giving their children say £40,000 to help buy a home and then risk losing  £20,000 of it to their child’s husband or wife if the marriage fails is seen as too much of a risk to many.

According to data on the subject, the number of couples asking for pre-nuptial agreements has gone up 300 to 400 percent since the courts first gave legal force to such deals not so long ago in 2010.

Also it seems that the majority all of the prenups are suggested by parents who are gifting money to a child or planning to do so in the future due to inheritance.

Judges will not always follow the terms of a prenup when they rule over who gets what in a disputed divorce settlement, but the Supreme Court ruling in 2010, which allowed the divorce of German heiress Katrin Radmacher to be dictated by her prenup, has meant these now carry substantial legal weight.  

Yet despite this, prenups are seen as private agreements with no official status, and therefore numbers are not officially recorded anywhere.

Critics argue these agreements are unromantic and build in the portents of doom for the marriage, and also say they are unfair to the poorer partner who feels weakened by such agreements.

These are totally understandable viewpoints and whatever way it is looked at there are far-reaching debates whatever side of the argument you are on. However, with property prices being as expensive as they are and the risk of divorce significant, we at Bowsers expect this to be a debate that rages on.

Akhil Choudhury, Legal Expert, Bowsers Solicitors

Brexit uncertainty yet to hamper housing market 15 September 2016

According to official Government figures, property prices are holding up well following the country’s decision to leave the EU.

The Office for National Statistics showed that annual house price growth in July, the month after the historic vote, indicated average prices are still over eight per cent up on 2015.

Whilst this is not good news for those trying to get on the housing ladder – in reality, it seems the uncertainty is yet to affect our bricks and mortar, which the English have such a fascination with.

As things currently stand, with interest rates still so incredibly low, and our little country being so crowded, it is not too great a surprise that the British love of property has not been quelled by the political commentators.

As a law firm that spends a great deal of time working on conveyancing here in the fens, in other words the legal work involved in the sales and purchases of property, we are of course pleased that the economy is motoring along well post-Brexit.

It also seems sensible to remind the public that they should ensure that the conveyancing work on property purchases is high quality.

It alarms respectable law firms that conveyancing is one of the most complained about areas of law, due to some members of the public thinking it’s not important and going for bargain bucket conveyancing.

Such moves can be calamitous, hence the reason for the complaints, with people’s house moving dreams in tatters and vital searches not done properly.

Really the price of decent conveyancing is miniscule in the overall figure of a property purchase, and it helps diminish the stress associated with what is nearly always the most expensive acquisition a person ever makes. It is worth remembering that good law firms are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which demands quality, so also look for this.

Like all of us, we hope as 2016 draws towards an end that property continues to remain buoyant and the post-Brexit tales of doom never materialise, and we hope that if you are moving or thinking of moving you ensure that you are protected properly.

Ian Groome, Conveyancing Expert at Bowsers

Report shows more needs to be done to fight sexual harassment 5th September 2016

There is no doubt that recent years have seen great strides in the workplace in the pursuit of equality of women.

After all, those of us who started our working lives in a different generation to now can no doubt tell tales of openly uncomfortable behaviour from male workers, which in 2016 broadly speaking would be seen in a very dim light.

However, let us not be so naive to believe that it is a problem that has gone away. 

This is highlighted by a report from the Trade Unions Congress (TUC), which shows that there are still incidents, which make us realise in some places a 1970s attitude on this subject is still prevalent..

Many stories of this nature have been shared with the Everyday Sexism Project and the TUC – whether that is women being subjected to comments about their looks to incidents of being groped at workplace social events or being sent pornography - sexual harassment still exists.

Dealing in Employment Law here at Bowsers, as one of our many legal areas of expertise, we are only too aware of the problem.

Of course, there are shades of grey, where some will dismiss incidents as a bit of banter, but the TUC’s findings, have worrying findings.

The report shows that over half of all women and nearly two-thirds of women aged 18 to 24 said they have experienced sexual harassment at work, which includes unwelcome sexual jokes or comments about their body or clothes  and nearly one in five women have experienced unwanted sexual advances.

It shows too that it is not diminishing - younger women are now more likely to be subjected to sexual harassment.

The survey also showed that in a frightening 17% of cases, the harasser was someone with management responsibility for the victim, leaving the victim feeling incredibly vulnerable.

The law states that employers have to protect staff from sexual harassment or they could end up at a tribunal. Employers need to have strong and specific policies in place – and need to train all their managers how to spot it and stop it. Also, they must set up ways to report sexual harassment that prevent repercussions on the victim.

Sadly, the government needs to do more as well, but bringing in fees for employment tribunals has made it trickier for women to gain justice. Alarmingly, since fees were introduced in July 2013 the number of employment tribunal cases brought has dropped by 70 per cent. 

The TUC believes the government should make employers responsible for protecting staff against sexual harassment from both customers, and workmates, which is particularly important for women across all fields of employment.

Sexual harassment is stressful, menacing and should not be tolerated. We hope this report will help many who have lived in fear find the strength to defend themselves and also to keep this debate in the spotlight. 

Ian Groome

New approach to target cyber criminals 19 August 2016

As the world of cybercrime starts to play a more significant role in law enforcement, it is of interest to see that Private law firms will be hired by police to pursue online criminal suspects.

In a pilot project by the City of London, police officers, overseen by the National Crime Agency, details of suspects and cases will be passed to law firms, which will use civil courts to seize the money made by criminals and fraudsters.

Such a move is welcome as this crime can affect us here in the rural Fens as much as in the cosmopolitan cities of this country - it is a crime without geographical boundaries.

The scheme is seen by police chiefs as a way of more effectively tackling fraud, which is now the biggest type of crime, estimated to cost the country £193bn a year. 

The problem has been overwhelming law enforcers and the legal system, so this pilot scheme, which is backed by the government and being monitored by other law enforcement agencies, is expected to lead to cases reaching civil courts by early next year.

Officers will call on private law firms to attempt to seize suspects’ assets. If unsuccessful, police could decide to leave it at that or pursue the case themselves. 

It is seen as a huge change as civil recovery allows police to get hold of a criminal’s money sooner, and repay back victims quicker.

As things currently stand, police pursue people’s financial crimes by prosecuting perpetrators in the criminal courts, and need to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt.

Only after conviction, a lengthy process starts to seize the proceeds of crime, which can take many years allowing some suspects to use the delay to hide their ill-gotten assets.

Under the pilot, a law firm will pursue the suspect in the civil courts before any conviction and possibly even without a criminal charge as the burden of proof is lower in civil courts, and they will only have to show that the suspect stole the money on the balance of probabilities.

Dirty money as many know it is being hidden around the world and getting a conviction and then seizing the assets of criminals can be very complex and lengthy. A criminal gang can be destabilised much faster by taking their asset off them rather than chasing them around the world for many years.

Analysing the views of legal experts involved in this area of law, it has to be financially worthwhile, meaning the scheme would only work for cases where losses ran into large figures.  The use of private investigators would push up the cost.

However, we at Bowsers like all decent citizens of the UK welcome all advancements in crime fighting. After all, the Office for National Statistics said as recently as July that there had been more than 5.8m incidents of cybercrime in the past year, enough to virtually double the crime rate in England and Wales.

The law is here to protect and utilising it correctly to help decent victims is always welcome and this move seems very much to make sense.

Ian Groome, Bowsers

Ex-husband’s challenge on mother-in-law’s will opens new avenues for aggrieved 28 July 2016

In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the number of Wills being challenged in court, with an increase of around 20 per cent in the past decade.

What is unquestionable is the clearly rising trend, and a recent legal victory will surely add to this.

If you are going to challenge the validity of a Will, you have to show that you have an
‘interest’ in the estate and until recently it was thought that only those who have a direct link with the deceased, such as a family member or someone who benefits from the estate under a rival Will for example, would have such an interest.

However, it seems the definition of ‘interest’ is much wider after the Court of Appeal said that the law should not be construed so narrowly when deciding if someone has an ‘interest’ in an estate for the purposes of challenging a Will.

Colin Randall insisted that, under the terms of his divorce, he was entitled to about £75,000 of his ex-mother in law’s Sylvia Corrall’s £250,000 legacy.


She had passed away in 2013, but Colin and his ex-wife, Hilary (Sylvia’s only child) had divorced seven years earlier.

The divorce settlement, which Colin and Hilary reached in 2006, said that if Hilary benefitted from her mothers’ estate, she could keep the first £100,000 for herself but had to share any amount on top of that equally with Colin.

When she died, it transpired that her Will provided for Hilary’s inheritance to be limited to the £100,000, with the balance of the estate to grandchildren.
However, Colin argued that he should be allowed to challenge the validity of the Will, which, if overturned, would see the £150,000 balance going to Hilary, and as such, £75,000 to him.

The court thought that the interests of a creditor of a beneficiary are ‘fundamentally different’ to the interests of a creditor of the estate itself, and with Mr Randall’s interest is to ensure that the estate is administered properly he won his case.

With this in mind, and also perhaps the courts’ discomfort with how easily Hilary could have dodged the terms of the divorce settlement, the court was prepared to adopt the broader interpretation of ‘interest’ in this context.

This now means that creditors seeking to recover monies now have a route to explore, which they may not have considered previously. Whether it opens up the floodgates to similar appeals, as Mrs Randall has claimed, following the decision, only time will tell. However, what is certain is the word interest now means more than it used to in such situations.

Ian Groome, Bowsers

Film star’s marriage split shows up prickly topic of pre-nups 14 July 2016

Hollywood superstar Johnny Depp’s split from his wife has seemingly highlighted the stigma that is still too evident around the subject of prenuptial agreements.

As is the nature of celebrity chatter, after news of the couple’s relationship becoming unsalvageable, there has been speculation about what will happen to his multi million dollar fortune after it became clear the couple did not sign a pre-nuptial legal agreement prior to their marriage detailing what would happen to the assets in the event of the two of them divorcing.

It is safe to say that we can suspect both will never be short of cash, as the ex Mrs Depp, Amber Heard, is a millionaire actor in her own right.

However, beyond the shallow veneer of celebrity gossip this tale resonates in the ordinary lives of people like us.

Johnny Depp, having been one of the biggest film stars in the world for the last 20 or more years is estimated to be worth over $400m, and it is conceivable that his ex could walk away with a huge chunk of that fortune.

For those of you unaware of pre-nups as they are known by many, it is a document drawn up where the parties in a marriage declare what is to happen with the wealth and assets they had going into a marriage if the marriage fails.

It’s much more common these days with many people marrying more than once, or marrying later, having accrued assets from the days before they met their partner.

However, whilst on the face of it they make good common-sense, the problem is whether you are worth £400m from Hollywood blockbuster or have just 20 years equity in a terraced town house overlooking the Nene, pre-nuptials seem cold and unromantic.

After all, even Hollywood stars, don’t want to think their marriage is going to fail but even those who walk the red carpet are human and fallible.

We at Bowsers believe a better way is to look at pre-nups as a form of insurance, which you hope you never have to claim on. After all an agreement written when you are content with life and thinking logically is more favourable than having to face the trauma of a court battle when you emotionally fragile due to upset of your world being thrown off its axis.

We urge people to use the insurance analogy- after all around half of all marriages in the UK fail, so having paperwork in place to ensure the two of you can part company with a little less acrimony makes sense.

We hope those thinking of tying the knot will at the very least think of per-nuptials as food for thought- it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t make sense.

Akhil Choudhury, Bowsers

Brexit- untangling from the EU a truly gigantic task 29 June 2016

Now that the initial shock has subsided and the dust is beginning to settle just a shade after the news that Britain has voted to leave the EU, it makes sense to try and talk about the legal implications.

As most of you are no doubt aware, until Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union is activated we are still a member of the EU.

So from a legal point of view as it stands now it’s business as usual.
The next question is what UK legislation will be needed to be repealed or amended in order for us to leave if and when Article 50 has been triggered?

Well, unquestionably, the most important piece of UK legislation that would need to be repealed is the European Communities Act 1972 (ECA), which provides for the supremacy of EU law. Repealing this would bring an end to the constitutional relationship that exists between EU and UK law.

Then the vast amounts of secondary legislation that has been passed to implement EU law would have to be considered by the government.

Commercially, however, even if we decided not to replicate any EU law, companies looking to trade in the EU would still be required to comply with EU laws, such as EU competition rules, regulations and standards.

The next matter is the not so small issue of European Directives, which require implementation into UK law in order to have effect.

It means the government will have to decide whether to embark on reviewing Acts of Parliament and statutory instruments with a view to deciding whether to keep or dispose of each piece of legislation. Huge amounts of legislation would need to be amended to take into account the new relationship with the EU.

One question we are obviously being asked about is will UK courts still be bound by decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJUE), which is the final arbiter on questions of the interpretation of EU law.

As the aim of Brexit is to achieve political independence from the influence of EU institutions, it is unlikely the CJEU will continue to have a long term role of direct influence and it could mean that CJEU decisions would cease to be binding in English courts.

However, in practice, given the sizeable extent of the task of unpicking existing EU-influenced law, the UK courts are likely to continue to have regard to the CJEU rulings at least until a fuller transition has taken place.

In a nutshell, regardless of where you stand on this seismic change for our country, it is fair to say that pulling away from the EU after forty plus years will be no easy task. It will be every bit as complex as many other experts say.

Intrusion of privacy on the rise as libel falls 15 June 2016

It is noteworthy that legal actions over intrusions into privacy have reached record levels, with celebrities and other high-profile public figures having a lot to do with this upward trend.

These public faces are trying to restrict publicity about their lives with a recent survey showing that privacy claims have more than doubled over the course of the last five years, up from 28 in 2010 to 58 in 2015, with about 20 per cent of those cases involving celebrities or politicians.

Meanwhile, defamation actions have been in the opposite direction with Ministry of justice (MoJ) statistics showing that in 2015 the sum of defamation cases taken to the high court fell by 40 per cent compared to the previous year.

In recent cases, media organisations have paid damages for breaches of privacy to actor Sadie Frost, ex footballer Paul Gascoigne, and also the husband of singer Cheryl Fernandez-Versini.

The media has said that it is too easy for public figures to use this tool to control what was being published about their private lives.
More than a third of privacy claims involve information passed to a company, to government or a public body, whilst also over a third of cases relate to the government or other public bodies.

We at Bowsers believe that the way in which we communicate and capture information has become more complicated, and the bounds of privacy law will move accordingly.

The fall-off in defamation claims is considerable with MoJ figures showing that 135 defamation claims were issued in London during 2015 compared to 227 in 2014.

There appears to be a transfer from libel to privacy claims due to people having realised that reputation management is much a more of a difficult art than the law is capable of dealing with.

Also, since the start of 2014 claimants now have to demonstrate that a publication has caused or is likely to cause their reputation serious harm, whilst companies trading for profit also face the difficult task of showing that a publication has caused them serious financial loss.

The rule against prior restraint in defamation cases also means that courts are extremely unwilling to issue injunctions to block publication. But it is easier to obtain injunctions about information, which is claimed to be private.

It is also worth bearing in mind that journalists may be showing more responsibility following the relatively recent Leveson report, which was highly critical of press intrusion.

That may or may not be the case, but what is certain is with the ability of the internet and social media to spread news in seconds, this area of law will keep evolving.

Ian Groome, Bowsers

£300,000 neighbour fall out over blocked drain shows importance of dialogue 31 May 2016

The sorry tale of how a row over a £4,000 bill to fix a blocked drain left a couple with an astronomical legal bill of over £300,000 demonstrates just how expensive legal battles can be if they aren’t sorted out quickly.

In the picturesque city of York, Terry Court and her neighbours John and Bernadette Van Dijk ended up in court after they fell out over who was responsible for a flood in their back yard.

The dispute reached the Court of Appeal in London where the court ruled in Mrs Court's favour leaving the Van Dijks in a hideous financial situation.

The tale began when Mrs Court moved in to her home in York in 1999 but the following year discovered that the drain in her back yard was cracked and called in a builder to repair it.

However, in 2007 she noticed the yard was flooding again and she arranged for the drain to be fixed, but after the work was carried out Mr Van Dijk, and his wife, claimed it caused flooding in their yard and spent £4,000 to fix it and asked Mrs Court to pay part of the cost.

When she refused they sued her and the judge in that case agreed that the cause of the flooding in their yard was caused by the work done by Mrs Court's contractor, so she was responsible for the bill.
But she appealed arguing that they had only claimed for damages based on the work done in 2007 and not 2000. Experts said that their flood was caused by a blockage created in 2000 not 2007.

Consequently, the Court of Appeal agreed and ruled that the original £4,227 bill should be paid by the Van Dijks, as well as their own legal costs of £220,000 plus Mrs Court's legal bill of £89,000 bringing the total to £313,227.

As solicitors well versed in dispute resolution, we can see how situations like this can quickly get out of hand. However, cool heads and mediation should always be used to prevent such matters occurring.

This story demonstrates, yet again, how legal battles of this nature are often very expensive for the losers. Where there are problems of this kind, it is always better to seek legal advice early and look for solutions.

With good solicitors working for both parties early on this would have avoided the headlines it has caused. There are no winners - a nine year battle, which has neighbours at loggerheads and results in a couple being financially ruined is of no benefit to either party.

We hope all who read this faced with a similar scenario will recall this and try to find an early answer, which can stop so much pain.

Akhil Choudhury, Bowsers

Too many not questioning ownership of property 11 May 2016

The saying goes an Englishman’s home is his castle and that cannot be questioned.

The fixation with property remains as strong as ever, but worryingly in an age where property is so expensive there are people living under the same roof, which they legally have very little hold over.
The problem is the law regarding purchasing homes is long out of date and not hugely relevant in 2016.

In 1925, the Law of Property Act was passed, and at that time most homes were rented - those that were purchased just went into the husband’s name. Unmarried couples just didn’t buy houses together.
However, fast forward nearly a century and with the family unit more fluid than it once was, and marriage not being the automatic path it seemed to be a generation ago, we have laws now, which can cause some considerable difficulty.

More couples in relationships are buying homes, and living together and they need to act to protect their contribution to the house in case the relationship breaks down, or additionally to protect the interests of children from a previous relationship.

It is a legal minefield and important questions need to be asked as ignoring them could have calamitous consequences.

Properties can be held jointly, which means if one owner dies it automatically passes to the other. Alternatively, it can be held in common where each party has a share be it 50/50, 60/40 and so on. It means that if the relationship ends the starting point is according to the contributions. It also means if one person dies the children will inherit a share of the property.

To give an example, an unmarried couple, both with children from a previous relationship buy a home, which is jointly owned. One dies and the other person inherits it. The person who inherits it would naturally pass the property to their children and nothing at all goes to the children of the first deceased.

Such situations do happen, and of course people do make Wills to say that when a survivor dies both families inherit, but this isn’t the end of it as Wills can be altered or revoked.

That’s why the deeds need to be in order and why you need to take specialist action at the start of the transaction, with the deeds drafted and backed up by making a Will. All agreements not reflected in the deeds are just storing up problems for the future.

It’s a worrying scenario for many and will raise concerns for many previously oblivious, but fear not as with professional legal help, it can be fairly straightforward to resolve. We hope those reading this that are affected, of which there will be quite a few, heed our advice to save potential heartache further down the line.

Ian Groome, Bowsers

Is it time for us to have a Wills register? 5 May 2016

Local solicitors like ourselves often talk about the importance of making a Will, but what is also equally important, and not much spoken about is the storage of the Will once it is made.

In many cases, Wills are stored in boxes under beds or hopefully, are given to family solicitors’ offices for safe keeping. The executors named in the Will have already been given a copy, but this isn’t always the case.

In fact, lost Wills are a frequent occurrence, and to the shock of many currently there is no national, central governmental Will register, which details if a Will has been made and where it is stored.
If you have made a Will it is vital to make sure you let those close to you know of its whereabouts. Hunting down a Will can be particularly difficult if a person has moved around a lot during their lifetime.

Here at Bowsers, we think this vital subject often omitted from the debates about Wills is tackled and certainly we can see an argument for possibly a national Wills register. Losing a loved one is hard enough and this kind of problem on top of losing someone close is just so sad and unnecessary.

In our experience, generally the process when someone passes away, family or friends look through their paperwork, but needless to say this task is determined by how organised the deceased person was .

Currently if a Will is never found the person is then treated as having died intestate, which means as if they had never made a Will.
As well as it being hard on those left behind, it also means the deceased person’s wishes are never carried out.

As things stand, a national Wills register isn’t even on the radar of the powers that be, so until that day comes we ask everyone to make sure all those with a Will let their nearest and dearest know where it is.

It obviously makes good sense for it to be stored for safekeeping at good local solicitor’s office.

With all bureaucratic matters surrounding individuals whether they are legal or not clarity is vital, so do try to get your paperwork in order.

We hope this has helped some of you ask some important questions, which will unquestionably give a lot of peace of mind.

Ian Groome, Bowsers

Rogue law firm’s shows why reputation still reigns for solicitors 19 April 2016

It is a sad indictment of the poor standards of some on the edges of our profession that the body, which oversees the conduct of solicitors in this country, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, has closed down five firms in the space of a week following suspicions of dishonesty.

Whilst on the face of it, this appears to not show our profession in the best light, we at Bowsers believe that it is good for the public to know that the fact that solicitors are regulated in such a way, and can be closed down if they are not seen to be acting correctly should be seen as a positive.

We live in an era where due to a combination of factors there are new opportunities open to the unscrupulous, and sadly law is no exception.

Because of the sums of money often involved in legal matters there will always be some of society’s more shady characters looking at ways to make a quick buck in as easy a manner as possible, regardless of how it can affect the lives of good honest hard-working folk.

This mind-set creates plenty of work for the SRA, but also publicity surrounding the fall from grace of many so-called seemingly respectable professions shows why reputation is so important.

The web, which has changed our lives in so many ways for the good and the bad, has given us choices for all manner of products and services, and we in the world of law have been affected just as much as others.

However, there are areas of law, which are unregulated, that can leave the public open to the possibility of peril from those of bad character.

The vast majority of established local law firms are run responsibly, adhere to the highest standards, and are pillars of their communities.
They have built a reputation, based on many years of hard work, honesty and reliability.

This standing we believe is the first thing the public should always look for when they are in the market for legal services.

Cyberspace promises from faceless people lurking behind well-written websites offering legal services from non-legal people are littered with the pitfalls.

Bearing in mind the ramifications of what could happen if legal matters go wrong it really is not worth even considering going down this route.

The villains will always be with us. It is up to all of us to do as much as we can to make their lives as difficult as possible.

Ian Groome, Law Expert at Bowsers

Lawyer’s organisation decides it’s time for us to ditch the jargon 17 April 2016

Without doubt, an aspect of law, which causes great frustration, is the use of jargon within our profession.

Every solicitor will tell you that a day doesn’t go by when numerous clients says to us, “Can you explain that in English.”

Therefore, it will be with some relief that the Legal Services Board (LSB), which oversees law firms in our country, have asked our profession to make our messages clearer to the public.

The LSB has said particularly financial services; healthcare and utilities have made an effort to make their services accessible to consumers and this need to be applied to the legal sector.

The report has focussed on three non-financial barriers to legal access: inaccessible language, lack of trust and failure to cater for the needs of vulnerable consumers and sought advice from a range of bodies, including the Financial Conduct Authority, the General Dental Council and Department for Work and Pensions.

Regarding the communication issue, the length of and reliance on terms and conditions were found to prevent the public from progressing a matter, or even seeking advice again in the future.

Understandably, in the face of what seems gobbledygook this has also contributed to decreased trust in lawyers.

Interestingly, the report said firms should try to layer information they present to clients, so that certain key information is drawn out and presented up-front or in bold.

It states one way to improve this may be to provide lawyers with guides or toolkits to help them break down phrases or words to make them more understandable.

We at Bowsers can only applaud the LSB and we hope this report can start a process, which sees communication barriers eroded and with it trust builds up.

We are sure our views are echoed by every decent law firm up and down the land, and more importantly you - our customers.

Flood protection legislation to make home moves more complex 7 April 2016

It is clear something strange has been happening with our weather in recent times.

Whilst we can look with perhaps the distortion of rose-tinted glasses on long hot summers gone by and crisp cold winters, it is clear following a particularly wet winter that flooding remains a huge concern for many, especially communities like us in the Fens.
Therefore, from a legal point of view it is of great interest to the public that new flood protections for homeowners in flood hit areas will make the conveyancing process more complex.

Flood Re, a national scheme owned by the insurance industry, to help households at the highest risk of flooding, came into being in the past few weeks following authorisation by the Prudential Regulatory Authority and Financial Conduct Authority.

In essence, it is a reinsurance company where insurance companies forking out millions due to flooding damage can pay premiums to protect themselves against these substantial pay outs.
Not all properties are eligible to benefit from the not-for-profit scheme and due to the extremely detailed criteria defining whether your property qualifies, it is now posing questions throughout the conveyancing process, which is creating extra work for conveyancers.

Only what is termed as ‘interpreter’ flood reports flagging potential eligibility for Flood Re would ‘sufficiently’ protect homebuyers experts involved in the scheme has warned.

The fact is while it is to be welcomed as offering protection to homebuyers purchasing properties in flood-risk areas, it means more work to be done for legal teams, which has to be passed on to the customer.

We at Bowsers believe that by highlighting this we hope we once again show the importance of the public searching for reliable conveyancers when buying a property.

We, like all reputable law firms, have to get our heads around all matters regarding the legal complexities of purchasing property.

Lives can be ruined if conveyancing isn’t done correctly, which can be the case with the cheap and not so cheerful firms on the web.

There are many pitfalls in the process of buying a home, which must be considered. This is especially so here in the Fens, where only those conveyancers who know the geography of the area should be trusted.

Ian Groome, Law Expert at Bowsers

Housewife’s huge divorce pay out shows British justice looks at the big picture 16 March 2016

Often we hear tales of the woman left struggling after a divorce, having sacrificed her best earning years to raise a family, but post separation many women struggle to earn an income to support their previously customary lifestyle.

However, what has just recently come to light is the tale of a businesswoman who became a stay at home mum, while her husband built a fortune, awarded virtually all of the family assets by a divorce judge.

Jane Morris, 52, had been criticised by her former husband Peter for not earning more money after they split, but she had, with his blessing, quit a successful career as a recruitment consultant to keep house for him and their three children for around 20 years.
Yet she has been awarded half a million pounds, whilst Mr Morris, the managing director of a software company with over a million pound turnover, was left with just £66,000.

He has launched a challenge in the court of appeal against the financial outcome of the divorce together with a suspended six-week prison sentence, which is looming after non-payment of maintenance.

The court heard the couple, who lived in the Chiltern Hills, enjoyed a high standard of living in their £1.2m cottage, but extravagant spending, both during their marriage and after their acrimonious break-up in 2013, has reduced their multi-million-pound family assets to just £560,000.

Awarding 90% of the family assets to Mrs Morris, the judge had said that she “needs adequate maintenance,” because she had sacrificed her career and now in her 50s would find it hard to earn a decent living, whilst her husband had a substantially larger earning capacity and a bigger pension pot.

What does this story tell us?

Fundamentally, it shows how British justice does look at all angles of the argument when divorces end so acrimoniously.

Many of us know cases where a party has been left aggrieved after a marriage break-up, but at the end of the day the law does what it believes to be best.

Thankfully, only a small fraction of divorces end up going to the judicial lengths of this particular tale, but we at Bowsers advise it is always best to try to come to an agreement before the situation becomes so toxic.

Divorce is and will always be a difficult business for so many reasons, but good legal advice and trying to find common ground from the outset does far less damage in the long run.

We hope anyone in the midst of marriage breakdown always bears this in mind as in our experience very little good comes from such cases, even for the winner.

Akhil Choudhury, law expert at Bowsers

Court case victory of former partner shows law on co-habiting needs overhaul 26 February 2016

As most of us are aware, the family set up is somewhat different here in the 21st century than it was a generation ago, but sadly sometimes the law does not keep up with changing times.

The recent case of a woman who had lived with her partner for 18 years, but was left nothing from his estate after he died has highlighted the flaws.

We at Bowsers have often warned co-habiting couples about holes in the law and how they need legal protection and we hope the tale of this lady Joy Williams highlights this.

She won her case and can now make a claim against the estate of her former partner, but it has taken 4 years of utter turmoil, which would have been avoided if her and her ex Norman Martin, who died in 2012, had just seen a good local solicitor many years ago.
The couple had spent 18 years living together unmarried but Mr Martin remained married to his wife Maureen Martin.

The co-habiting couple lived together in a property in Dorset, but as tenants-in-common it meant that when he died the property did not automatically pass to Joy Williams.

If they had owned the property as joint tenants it would have passed automatically to the survivor.

However, the judge last month (Feb) ruled Joy Williams was entitled to make a claim against the estate of Martin saying it was a “fair and reasonable result,” and she should now inherit half the value of the property.

The judge had said she should “retain an absolute interest” in the home where she and her partner had lived in what the law saw as a committed relationship.

Sadly though, Maureen Martin, 73, who separated from her husband back in 1994, has been ordered to pay £100,000 pending a detailed assessment - a disaster for his widow.

Simply put, couples who live together have to see a solicitor to ensure they have a co-habitation agreement in place and make up-to-date wills.

For us at Bowsers, this tale does not surprise us as many couples believe someone has legal protection when their partner leaves or passes away, but this is not the case.

The words of Joy Williams following her victory says all we need to know in so many ways:- “I hope my situation raises awareness for others to consider their own financial position in relation to their partner and consider whether they need to take advice to protect each other in future,” she said.

We hope those in the Fenlands living in similar circumstances take note and more importantly take action.

Trust in lawyers shows an even split. 28 January 2016

Often we are complimented by the community for the wide range of subjects we cover in our legal column.


From divorce, death to extraordinary legal cases we like to demonstrate that the law is a wide-ranging subject, which has a great effect on the average man or woman in the street.

Being a local law firm though, who have been, ‘part of the furniture’ of the Fens for many years, we place a huge amount of significance in being trusted.

Therefore, whenever there are headlines for the wrong reasons about anything to do with our profession, we inwardly groan. So it is with great interest that we have just seen a newly published poll of public attitudes to the professions, with lawyers being very much mid-table.

Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 990 adults across Britain and the results showed 51per cent of Britons trust lawyers to tell the truth compared with one in four who trust estate agents, 43 per cent who trust local councillors, and 49 per cent who trust NHS managers.

Doctors and teachers emerge as the most trusted professions, whilst interestingly Judges, who are part of our profession, emerged as the third most trusted on the list.

It almost goes without saying that politicians are the least trusted with just 21 per cent believing them. However, whilst this poll is quite fun to read what does it really say about us as lawyers?

Really, I think not a lot.

I would like to think the reason why we as a local firm continue to thrive, and why all good businesses throughout the land prosper is because of reputation where time and time again we have proven our credentials to clients.

There are good politicians and crooked doctors, but whilst generalisations can be a good guideline they never give the full picture. Bad publicity for anyone can tarnish many especially for those easily swayed. Like all good pillars of our community we like to think we are immune to rash generalisations.

In our eyes, the legal world is as it ever was, with good and bad, just like all walks of life, and I guess it will always be this way.

European ruling creates panic over employee privacy. 22 January 2016

It may have gone unnoticed by some but in recent weeks European judges have made a ruling, which has certainly stirred up some reaction in the media.


The decision means employers can read workers' private messages sent via chat software and webmail accounts during working hours.

It has made many sit up with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) saying a firm that read a worker's Yahoo Messenger chats sent, while he was at work was within its rights.In this case, judges said he had breached the company's rules and that his employers were in their rights to check on his activities.

However, they added that such policies must also protect workers against unpoliced snooping.

The judge’s decision means that countries that have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, which include Britain, have agreed to abide by the ECHR rulings that involve them.

However, the impact on domestic courts differs. Under UK human rights laws, judges must take into account the ECHR's decisions but are not bound by them.The worker, an engineer in Romania, who was subsequently sacked in 2007 after his employer, had discovered that he was using Yahoo Messenger for personal contacts, as well as professional ones.

The court said it was not "unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours".

The man’s employer had banned its staff from sending personal messages at work and added that the employee had had prior warning that the company could check his messages.

The ruling means from now all employers should clearly explain rules that would allow them to check on their workers' online activities.

A professor of internet law said after the ruling that the judgment was in line with UK law and in this case the employers said clearly that you are not to use the internet for anything but work.

This may seem harsh but, it is completely legal. However though, beyond the easy headlines it is best for the public to analyse this further.

Across the board bans on personal internet use whilst at work are still unreasonable because people retain the right to their own private life, even while working especially in an age where people are working longer hours.

Currently, UK law allows proportionate checks on employees' communications but this will need more clarity communicated to employees and adhered to by the employer.

As the world continues to develop and take into account the information age we live in, we at Bowsers believe the law will be tested more and more and it certainly is interesting times ahead.

Sad tale of Jimmy Hill’s last days has a legal lesson for many, 21 December 2015

For those of us who love football the passing of Jimmy Hill just before Christmas will have been a poignant occasion.


He was a memory of our younger days presenting Match of The Day for many years and was always a well-known and mimicked figure with his beard and pointed chin.

A strong figure he was a spokesman who fought against minimum wages for footballers and he was widely regarded as being one of the leading figures in football in the second half of the 20th century.

However, behind this admirable life there was family problems, which caused great difficulty for his loved ones and as law experts we feel it is only right to highlight them to stop others falling into the same trap.

Mr Hill was married three times and his case shows how many people who are re-married fail to ensure the best legal provisions are in place to help with their possible situations in later life.

In his last few years he suffered from Alzheimer’s and lived out those last days in a nursing home where he needed constant care.Of course this situation caused great problems for his current wife, as well as his five children from two previous marriages.

In 2013 his children Jamie and Joanna raised awareness of their father’s illness in the media to highlight the difficulties when a parent – with a large extended family – becomes too ill to make their own decisions.

Jimmy Hill had given joint powers of attorney to his last wife and their solicitor in 2005, when he was still in good health and it is thought that Hill stated at that time that he did not wish one of his children to be the second attorney.

However, sadly, none of his children has any say in his future affairs or his treatment.”The children only discovered the legal document’s existence later when Hill was assessed too ill to look after himself. It was only then that the law required that his offspring be informed that powers of attorney had been granted to Mrs Hill and the couple's solicitor.

We urge elderly parents to talk to their children so that they are included in uncomfortable discussions about who has powers of attorney as in his last days his children had no rights over his treatment and care, which obviously caused them great distress.

The fact is children whose parents have complicated family situations should be made aware that they will be unable to influence their affairs if they register a power of attorney.We at Bowsers believe children should have this conversation with parents, before poor health sets in, about whom they want to be in charge of their lives and care.

The sad case of football pioneer Jimmy Hill affects many other families and it will become a more common problem unless the lessons are learnt.

Re-mortgaging a good solution whilst interest rates remain low 17 December 2015

Do you recall a time when interest rates were high?

You probably do, but if you are like the rest of us it seems a very long time ago.

Since the grim credit crunch we have now had several years of historically low interest rates, which is totally unprecedented.

It has created a very strange few years, and with us at Bowsers and many other law firms being involved in conveyancing, the legal work to do with the purchase and sale of property, we have watched the housing market closer than most.

Of course, the so called experts and their surveys are plentiful, but one that came onto our radar recently was the one from Santander Mortgages, which showed that buying in the UK is now cheaper than renting in every region of the UK, with average rental prices each month now surpassing the average mortgage repayment.

According to their research, average rent is now £995 per month, whilst the repayments are just £805 per month.

Interestingly though, the research showed where we are in the East of England is very much on par with rent and mortgage, with monthly mortgage payments exceeding rent by just £2.

However, whilst we look at the legal side of things, it surprises us how many people seem unaware of the savings they could make by re-mortgaging, as recent times have seen lenders offering some great deals and many people in the Fens could save money by switching mortgages.

Latest general estimates are that interest rates will not move until mid-2016 and may not even rise for the whole of the year, but once the market gets a hint that an interest rise may be on the way the opportunity will be lost for those with mortgages.

The legal work of changing mortgages isn’t really that onerous, so long as you appoint experts who know what they are doing.

It is also worth bearing in mind that re-mortgaging can also help release equity from property for other reasons.

However, as guardians of the law, we cannot stress how vital it is to ensure you have sound legal advice when you have a re-mortgage.

It may be that changing your mortgage is one of the best decisions you can make.

We hope this article may make your pockets just that little bit fuller.
 

Poll shows public seeing sense in having wills drafted correctly 20 November 2015

For us in the legal profession it is heartening to see a recent survey has shown that more than half of the public think will-writing should be regulated.

The YouGov poll research for the Law Society, the body that oversees solicitors in England, has shown in a survey of 1,554 adults that 55% wanted all will-writers to be regulated, while over 95% praised the services provided by solicitors.

We believe it is a sign that the public in this country are recognising the reassurances that one receives when using a law firm over an unregulated will writer.

The survey also showed almost 90% of respondents who had a will drafted by a solicitor were satisfied with the process.

In the past few years, solicitors and the Legal Services Board have fought for will writing to be regulated, but much to solicitor’s dismay this was rejected by the Government meaning currently anyone can call themselves a will writer.

However, it is fair to say that anyone not seeing an expert in a firm of solicitors is very much taking a huge risk.

It is worth bearing in mind that badly drafted or ineffective DIY wills are an issue for around 38,000 families a year.

Here in the 21st century, wills are no longer as easy to draft as they once might have been due to complex modern family structures.

Wills have to be written in a way where there is no ambiguity, and a well-qualified solicitor who has found out exactly what a person wants their will to detail is the obvious place.

All law firms can tell of the terrible consequences that we have seen due to problems with poor wills or even dying without a will. It can have a huge effect on lives and the exasperating fact is that so often just taking the time to see a solicitor can prevent all this.

Like all law firms, we will continue to do our utmost to get the message across about the importance of wills and we hope gradually everyone will listen.

Co-habiting numbers at record high but public unaware of lack of rights 10 November 2015

In the past few weeks it has been announced that the United Kingdom has a record high number of co-habiting couple families.

Figures in early November published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), shows that cohabiting couple families in the United Kingdom have reached 3.2 million, an increase of 29.7% in the past decade alone.

To add to this, there are around another 3 million co-habiting couples without families.

It’s a huge number and shows us just how much society has changed. For many of us beyond the first flushes of youth we can recall that there was a strong conservative stigma associated with unmarried couples living together and having children ‘outside wedlock’ as many would describe it was extremely difficult for those involved.

Social attitudes have changed greatly in the past couple of decades but what is alarming is despite this the law has not moved on to reflect this.   

Here at Bowsers we have said before that too few people are unaware that they have no legal protection if their relationship fails.

We would like that to change and we believe it makes sense if the law accommodates itself to the fact that co-habiting couple families are the fastest growing family type in the country.

However, the law can often move very slowly and it will  disturb many reading this to hear that even now it is possible to live under the same roof as someone for many years and to have a family together and then leave without taking any responsibility for a former partner if the relationship breaks down.

Obviously, this can cause huge distress in some lives, particularly in cases where one of the couple has given up or reduced their work to raise children.

Co-habitation and families by such couples is a trend that will continue to grow, but the rights of those involved in such a relationship is not going to change in the imminent future.

Only by seeing a good local solicitor when the relationship is on steady ground obtaining sound legal advice about the best way to protect oneself, can co-habitees avoid the turmoil that affect so many.

We hope the Fenland public in this position take note and more importantly take action.

Monthly mortgage borrowing increase at five year high as UK’s love of property continues 28 October 2015

It is heartening for all of us in business, and indeed the nation as a whole, to see consumer confidence helping boost our economy.

News in recent weeks that mortgage borrowing is at a five year high is further reason for us to feel thankful as the not so distance memories of the credit crunch still makes many wince from time to time.

Figures from the British Bankers Association showing August 2015 as being the best month for lending since August 2010 adds fuel to our belief that the public is now very keen to put money in bricks and mortar again.

With interest rates still so incredibly low and lenders now more flexible than they have been for a long time, it is little wonder that the British love of property still burns brightly.

Being a law firm that oversees the legal work involved in the sales and purchases of property, we have noted the improvement for a while and this latest good news seems a sensible time to remind the public that they need to ensure that the conveyancing work is high quality.

It is irksome to us in the profession that this is one of the most complained areas of law, but it doesn’t surprise us.

Sadly, many of the public look no further than the cost, not thinking of getting the job done right and what the consequences might be if the work isn’t carried out correctly.

Good conveyancers find out all the issues early on, keep the client informed all the way through the process, and help alleviate the stress associated with what is nearly always the most expensive acquisition in a person’s life.

We have all heard horror stories about how someone is already choosing the curtains and looking at colour charts, only to find out at the last minute that something has gone drastically wrong and they are left devastated.

In the big scheme of the cost of buying a home, good conveyancing is little more than loose change, but it is unquestionably money well spent.

Good law firms are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority which demands quality.
Long may the confidence in property continue and we hope if you are soon to be house hunting you take note of our good advice
 

Ian Groome, conveyancing expert at Bowsers

Consumer rights strengthening good news for the public 2 October 2015

This month has seen a huge change in an area of law affecting all of us and it is very welcome.

As of the start of October the Consumer Rights Act, has undergone the biggest change in consumer law in a many a long day.

It applies to all purchases made after October 1, 2015 and its purpose is to make consumer law far easier to understand.

Now, for the first time, anyone who buys faulty goods will be entitled to a full refund for up to 30 days after purchase, when previously consumers were only entitled to refunds for a "reasonable time"

Also, and embracing the modern age there will also be new protection for people who buy digital content, such as online films, music and eBooks.

Now they will be entitled to a replacement, if the downloads are faulty, but not a refund.

To add to this, if a download infects a computer with a virus, the provider could also be liable to pay compensation for getting rid of the virus.

Even second hand goods are covered, when bought through a retailer.
To add to this, services such as car repairs and haircuts are also given stronger rights.

Under the changes, providers who do not carry out the work with reasonable care, as agreed with the customer, will be obliged to put things right or they may have to give at least a partial refund.

Often retailers offer to refund goods even if customers change their minds about a product - but there is no statutory right to a refund.

These laws will help people to know and use their rights as and when disputes occur. Consumers will now be able to avoid court and take their complaints through a cheaper route of certified Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) providers.

The Consumer Rights Act says that goods must be of satisfactory quality, based on what a reasonable person would expect, taking into account the price. Also they must be fit for purpose.

If the consumer has a particular purpose in mind, he or she should make that clear and also meet the expectations of the consumer.

This new change also enacts a legal change enabling British courts to hear US-style class action lawsuits where one or even a group people can sue on behalf of a much larger group.

It will be easier for groups of consumers or small businesses to seek compensation from firms that have fixed prices and formed cartels.

So as of now, October 2015, it is a good time to be a consumer, but of course you will always be in a stronger position if you know your rights, so be aware of them.

HSBC’s wills sale to little-known company leaves many in the lurch 24 September 2015

One of the biggest banks in the UK, indeed the world, HSBC’s decision to sell its wills and probate business to a centralised firm means many people across the country need to act immediately to ensure their will is in order.

The decision to sell to a little-known business in the public eye called Simplify Channel Ltd means there are many ordinary people with concerns about how it affects them.

Here at Bowsers, just like as many law firms who have expertise in this field, we have advised many people who have had wills drafted by banks and in the majority of cases the wills appoint these banks as the executors to act on the will when the person has passed away.

The clients of HSBC have had a letter offering them an option to sign what is called a codicil to appoint Simplify or another executor of their own instead of HSBC, or to inform HSBC that the will is no longer valid.

In most cases we would advise the public to make a new will or codicil to amend the executors name in their will and choose a close family member, trusted friend or a reliable firm of solicitors to help oversee the administration of the estate.

It is understandable that many people wish to keep such important affairs local where they know they can get easy answers to any queries rather than deal with the less than sufficient personal service often associated with large centralised institutions.

For us in the legal world it is noteworthy that HSBC have provided no information on the financial arrangement that led to the sale to Simplify, which is due to go through by the end of October.

It is also worth pointing out to the public that in the majority of cases firms who act for banks charge far higher fees to take into account referral fees than regular high street law firms.

As we have said before wills are vital documents that too many people do not pay enough attention to leaving their family in perilous situations after they have gone.

We hope this advice not only helps those affected by HSBC’s commercial decision, but also brings home to the masses that if you need a will now is as good a time as any to get the wheels in motion, and local regulated law firms are easily the safest option to protect a lifetime’s assets.
 

Growth in fake law firms shows public must beware 11 August 2015

It is of great concern to all in the legal profession that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has recently reported a truly astonishing increase in bogus firms in the last couple of years.

The latest figures, which are for 2014, show that this problem has more than doubled since 2012. In 2014, there were 701 reports, which is also an increase of 28 per cent on the previous year.

It is a worry for law firms as we often have to deal with other solicitors in our day to day issues, especially in transactions like conveyancing involving the buying and selling of property.

Respected solicitors like Bowsers wish these crooks would stay away from our profession, but with the dawn of the Internet creating rich pickings for criminals, we have to deal with the world as it is and not how we would like it to be.

It doesn’t matter where in Britain you live. A victim is as likely to come from the Fens as from one of our metropolitan cities and identity theft is the biggest issue, with it accounting for 41 per cent of the statistics available.

We believe it is only right that we use this platform as a means to educate the public here in the Fens as to the scale of this problem. The issue will not go away easily, so the only way the public can stay safe is by using solicitors who they know and trust.

It’s clear that law firms like us, and other high street practices are really the safest option.

The legal world is a complicated one there for the big decisions in life s it makes sense to not take risks as the work we are involved in often involves  great sums of money.

High quality professional advice in any field should not be the cheap as chips. It should be about value and quality, giving customers the assurance that excellent legal professionals are doing a good job.

We like all decent professional lawyers will do all we can to keep reminding the public to stay away from the reaches of criminals.

Daughter overturning mothers hits the headlines and rightly so 4 August 2015

It is always of great interest to us in the legal world when a story about the law makes the mainstream news, and such an event is not one that can go by without us commenting.

In recent weeks we’ve had one just national case where a landmark ruling has seen a woman awarded £164,000 after being cut out of her mother’s will in favour of animal charities.

Heather llott’s battle has lasted since her mother Melita Jackson’s death in 2004, where she was left without a penny from the £486,000 estate.
However, the Court of Appeal has now ruled she should receive a third of the estate.

The ruling together with the subsequent national publicity surrounding it could well weaken people's right to leave money to those they want to inherit it.

However, this ruling would mean people could still disinherit their children but would need to explain why they have decided to leave their money or assets to others and, even after that, the Court could still override their wishes.

For those of you unfamiliar, the court heard Mrs Ilott, 54, had never been forgiven by her mother for running off with her boyfriend at 17, and did not want her to receive a penny of her estate, which instead went to animal charities, the RSPCA, RSPB and Blue Cross charities.

Despite her mother’s anger Mrs Ilott married her partner and over 35 years later the couple still live together in the Home Counties. They have five children and the court heard Mrs Ilott planned to use the inheritance to buy their home.

The recent court appeal saw her awarded a third of the estate because her mother hadn't left "reasonable provision" for her in the will.

The general feel amongst many in the legal world is this will probably encourage disinherited adult children to challenge wills and claim greater sums and lead to an increase in the number of wills being contested.

Mrs Jackson had made her last will two years before her death with a letter to explain why she had disinherited her only child.

In the latest hearing the judge Lady Justice Arden said Mrs Ilott's mother had been "unreasonable, capricious and harsh" and ruled she should therefore receive a greater proportion of the estate.

It’s all an intriguing tale, and it underpins what we feel at Bowsers that wills need to be written by professionals, and in an era of less conventional family structures than of old it also makes sense to revisit your will every so often.
Wills are vital documents and if a person wants to make sure their wishes are granted they need the best advice.

Couples living together need to take steps to avoid court 23 July 2015

In the legal arena there is more and more talk about the way couples living together are getting themselves into court battles if the relationship breaks down.

It is a messy situation and really the public have to be advised about the pitfalls they face in plenty of time.

The reason this subject receives more headspace than it used to is because there are now double the number of co-habiting couples in the UK than in the mid-90s, an estimated 6 million people.

The simple fact is that without the protection that a marriage or a civil partnership gives there is no safety net and unfortunately, many people are unaware of this.

Really, the old saying a stitch in time saves nine applies so it is sensible to see a solicitor early on so that if the worst does happen, both of you can take what is legally yours without the stress that goes with a legal fight.

A co-habitation agreement showing what assets couples have at the start of a relationship and how they should be divided if the relationship should finish is a sensible step.

It is worth knowing that a co-habiting person has no rights to stay in a home or take any assets not owned by them, so a cohabitation agreement or declaration of trust, laying out how assets would be divided if they split up is so relevant.

As we’ve said before in this legal column, the family set up is much more diverse than it was a decade or two ago and, whilst society has changed the law hasn’t really kept pace.

We hope this has provided food for thought because as co-habiting continues to grow all that can be done must be done to help those involved.
 

Google placings providing rich pickings for unscrupulous law providers 16 July 2015

The web is often known as the information superhighway, but as all of us know it is also the biggest spreader of misinformation on the planet.

Lies, propaganda and scams have had a lease of life never known before since the birth of the net, which sadly is the flipside to the wonderful way it has also empowered our lives in so many ways.

This more unsavoury side unfortunately has seen some unregulated sellers of legal services establishing themselves at the top of Google, as a recent report in the Law Society Gazette has revealed.

It showed that internet searches are leaving the public in potential jeopardy.
The research carried out by the Legal Services Board, which oversees law in England and Wales, showed many reputable firms of solicitors were excluded from the first page of Internet search engines in response to basic legal questions.

Searches such as ‘legal help for divorce’ or ‘where to go for legal advice on a will’ often brings up lists for unregulated organisations, which on many occasions misadvise the public.

The findings estimated that the unregulated sector accounts for up to 30% of total sector turnover, which is an alarming statistic.

This analysis highlights in no uncertain terms how the public need to be on their toes, when they have a legal query.

Coupled with the deregulation of some legal services means organisations, some of them disreputable are using internet marketing as a means to get new custom, whilst sometimes the public think they are being given the right advice when they are not.

We at Bowsers cannot stress enough just how vital it is that legal advice should be sought from a solicitor.

As solicitors we are heavily regulated. In other words we have to be right up to speed with what is happening with the law. We also have indemnity insurance, which gives the customer added peace of mind, which the unregulated sector does not.

Let’s be clear. Unregulated in his simplest terms, means no regulations. It is the Wild West, a lawless place, where you go to at your peril.

If you care to consider when you need legal advice, it is generally for big problems, where specialist advice is needed, and that is why legal mistakes can be extremely costly.

So the plain fact is if you need to pursue a legal action a regulated local firm of solicitors with highly trained staff is simply a price worth paying.
 

Cheap and nasty wills need highlighting for public’s sake 3 July 2015

We all love a bargain. However, for every excellent purchase, if we are to be honest, there are as many times when we have bought goods, which are substandard.

The simple fact is sometimes you have to pay for the quality of a job done well.

Unfortunately, in the law profession we have substandard goods being peddled in the form of cheap wills totally inadequate for purpose.

They are causing terrible problems and the public need to be made aware.

Perfectly illustrating this is the case of Tinuola Aregbesola, who is seeking hundreds of thousands of pounds compensation from Barclays, claiming the bank’s £90 will-writing service resulted in losing a stake in an expensive London property.

We wish we could say cases like this are isolated, but they are not.

Poorly drafted or ineffective DIY wills are at the very least to blame for a prolonged probate ordeal for around 38,000 families a year.

Wills have become increasingly complex due to modern family structures and have to be drafted in a way where there is no ambiguity, and this can only be done by a legal professional who knows how to do this, and has taken time to find out exactly what a person wants their will to detail.

In the case of Ms Aregbesola court documents detail how in 2007 her father, instructed half of the home to be given to her on his passing.

However, the property was owned jointly by Mr Aregbesola and his wife, who was not his daughter’s mother. Due to the joint ownership, on Mr Aregbesola’s death in 2014, the property in its entirety went to his wife contravening the wishes spelt out in the will.

It is claimed Barclays neglected to severe the joint tenancy agreement. If they had done this it would have enabled half of the property’s value to pass as instructed to his daughter.

Mistakes in cheap wills happen many times and often we get asked to look at them. It really is quite alarming.

Everyone knows how important a will is, so it is vital they make one properly and ensure that it is revisited periodically, so they know that it is kept up to date.

The heartache that we have seen because of poorly drafted wills is enormous. Families can be ripped apart and all because of something that is quite cheap in the big scheme, being undercut by bargain bucket prices where the emphasis is on quantity and not quality.

However, we hope this tale will make everyone who reads it realise that a will is not something you can compromise on.

A cheap will’s problems are only found out when it is too late. We urge you to make sure you don’t leave your family picking up the pieces after you have gone.

Supreme Court decision to show if dishonesty is the right policy 16 June 2015

The case of two ex-wives who claim they were tricked into accepting unfair divorce settlements could set a legal precedent as to how dishonesty is treated in family courts.

The ladies involved Alison Sharland and Varsha Gohil have appeared before the Supreme Court fighting their divorce settlements, on the basis that they were deliberately misled by their ex-husbands during the original hearings.

For us in the law profession we are intrigued as the outcome is likely to have a huge impact for those in similar situations, and could well open up further challenges over divorce settlements.

These cases raise great issues about how the courts should handle situations where information used in agreeing a divorce settlement is at a later date found to be either false, incomplete or both.

In the case of Mrs Gohil’s a criminal trial revealed that her husband had intentionally failed to disclose his finances in the divorce proceedings where a settlement of £270,000 and a car was agreed.

Three years ago, the High Court agreed to scrap the settlement, but a later hearing in the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the husband, saying that because courts were not allowed to use evidence from the criminal trial, therefore they could not prove he was being dishonest.

In the second case, Sharland agreed a straight 50/50 split in her divorce settlement. However, it later transpired that her ex-husband had misled the courts over the value of his business.

However, the appeal court ruled that they could not overturn the original settlement, as the non-disclosure would not have led to a different outcome.

It is all meaty stuff in the cut and thrust of two bitter divorces and it is likely that if the Supreme Court overrules the previous divorce settlements in these cases, we may see many people trying to re-open their final settlements owing to their former spouses’ dishonest disclosure.

Many a lawyer will be watching these proceedings carefully, and you can be sure that many a former spouse who feels they have had a rough deal from their ex’s will be doing likewise.
 

SSad condition of movie icon a time to highlight our need for Lasting Powers of Attorney 29 May 2015

The recent news that Omar Sharif, one of Hollywood’s most charismatic actors, is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease has saddened many of us who remember him in his heyday.

A heartthrob who became a worldwide name for his appearances in Lawrence of Arabia and Dr Zhivago, for many of us it is hard to believe he is now a frail 83-year-old, who has been blighted with this very sad condition.

As well as being a great actor, Omar Sharif was also a very adept bridge player - quite clearly an intelligent man who had a sharp mind.

However, as the news broken in the past couple of weeks shows time waits for no one.

Whilst sad it does give us a law professionals an opportunity to help advise families who are as much victims, having the arduous task of caring for someone who has lost use of their mental faculties.

Age-related illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia is increasing as we live longer and it means that many independent people can no longer look after their financial affairs.

To the vast majority the Mental Capacity Act 2005, which will allow people to manage money on behalf of loved ones under what is known as lasting power of attorney agreements, needs publicising when we hear of such tales as what has happened to this Hollywood star.

In essence, a lasting power of attorney is a drawn up document, which allows another person to make decisions where a person has lost mental capacity, but what has to be emphasised is they can only be set up when the person is still able to make decisions for themselves!

It is necessary to safeguard many,  and also make dealing with the financial affairs of those with dementia and other conditions much easier.

I’m sure all of us have heard tales of people trying to talk to banks or utility companies on behalf of someone and ending up getting nowhere due to confidentiality.

Dare you imagine how difficult that is if the person is not able to make their own decisions?

As we said when the mental capacity to make the decision has been lost, it is too late and an application would instead need to be made to the Court of Protection, a lengthy and expensive process.

It is worth saying that once a lasting power of attorney is in place it does not mean the donor can no longer make decisions for themselves. They can carry on as before, but the appointed attorney is there just in case.

So as you can see this document makes sense but it means families will have to face some uncomfortable issues.

However, with the Alzheimer’s Society expecting there to be a million people with dementia in the UK by 2025 the need for us all to have safeguards have never been greater. 

Any queries call Nolan PR on 01564 822861 / 07505 133302
 

Defamation case increase shows public need more social media awareness 12 May 2015

Sometimes there are statistics one just can’t ignore.

One such example is that defamation actions brought over derogatory social media content has risen by over 300 per cent in just a year.

The increase in libel cases due to irresponsible posting on the likes of Twitter shows the public seem to have misunderstood that they are responsible for what they write.

There were just six cases in 2012/13 rising to 26 in 2013/14 and while this may still seem still reasonably small, when the next set of figures are published you can be sure this trend will continue.

Perhaps the growth of high profile incidents such as Lord McAlpine’s action against Sally Bercow, wife of leader of the House of Commons John Bercow has heightened awareness. For those of you unaware Mrs Bercow ended up in court proceedings over comments made on Twitter, which resulted in a £15,000 pay out.

Also in recent times, England cricketer Kevin Pietersen accepted out of court damages over a Specsavers advert posted on Facebook and Twitter, claiming he had been defamed by a suggestion he tampered with his bat.

Whilst these are high profile cases we believe the way posts on the internet can be spread so quickly means the public really need to be aware.

As solicitors we are naturally cautious and we would warn that before you write anything on social media or text think carefully about the content.

Many a person can say something in the heat of the moment, but ponder possible ramifications before you press send as social media isn’t like a row in a room.

The whole impact of the early days of social media, Twitter, Facebook etc will only be known when the historians write about it in a generation’s time. In the meantime perhaps the best advice is the old saying ‘If you’ve got nothing nice to say, say nothing.’
    
Any queries call Nolan PR on 01564 822861 / 07505 133302
 

Legal fraudsters demonstrate that the traditional way is still the best 29 April 2015

For those of us who have dedicated our lives to the legal profession it saddens us greatly when we hear tales of those of poor morals who have besmirched our industry’s good name with deceptive behaviour.

Sadly though whilst the internet has added to our lives it has also opened the door for fraudsters of all types and the legal profession is not immune.

Recently on BBC Radio 4 a journalistic piece in the programme You and Yours told of how scams and reports of fraud had doubled in 2014 from the previous year.

This excellent journalistic piece focussed primarily on a man who lost £175,000 when buying a flat due to being duped by a supposed legitimate solicitor who had been found on the Law Society’s Find a Solicitor website.

This crook had communicated through emails and had stolen the identity of a solicitor as part of his plan in what was an elaborate scam.

The innocent solicitor in question, who is based in the Wirral only found out some weeks later when he started receiving emails about sums he apparently owed.

It turned out his details on the Law Society Website had been changed, and his email address pushed customers into the bogus firm’s path, and subsequently many lives were affected.

Thankfully insurance premiums ensured the victims are compensated, but cases like this mean that high quality law services become more expensive due to increased insurance costs.

This case has been alerted to law firms to ensure we do all we can to keep our houses in order, and it’s only right. However, at Bowsers we believe through this column we have an opportunity to say that this story shows the old face to face way of dealing with legal matters is still the best.

The relationship between a solicitor and his or her client is a key component in transactions that often involve sums that have a huge bearing on people’s lives.

Word of mouth still remains far and away the best source of new business for law firms and that’s why we at Bowsers are still thriving. It’s also why many other respected organisations with reputations continue to prosper.

The message of this story is simply you cannot take chances with legal services. The internet and email has provided rich pickings for villains and much of the police’s work now involves cybercrime.

It may be the 21st century, but some times the old fashioned ways are the best. We believe this alarming tale illustrates this with some force.  

Any queries call Nolan PR on 01564 822861 / 07505 133302
 

Comedian’s estate shows importance of inheritance tax planning and wills for us all 21 April 2015

In the past couple of weeks there have been more than a few column inches in the papers telling the tale of woe relating to the much loved comedian and actor Rik Mayall.

The star of The Young Ones and Bottom failed to have a valid will in place when he died unexpectedly last summer, aged just 56.

The probate records, which showed the lack of a will, have led to speculation about potential inheritance taxes, which may well be due on his near £1.2m estate.

It is now possible that the family may now have lost tens of thousands of pounds, which the government will instead receive.

Sadly this could have so easily have been avoided. However, at Bowsers it is something we see too much of.

In a case such as Rik Mayall’s – a married parent dies without a will, a portion of their assets go straight to their offspring, which triggers a potential tax liability.

Good responsible solicitors have always advised that people should have a valid will to avoid tax pitfalls.

All adults should ensure that they have a valid will and make provisions so the people they want to benefit do so.

For Mayall, his personal estate will be divided according to Government intestacy rules, which take into account marital status, children or surviving relatives.

Whilst Mayall’s children would be automatically entitled to a share of his net estate, they could inherit an amount liable for inheritance tax.

The tax payable will depend on the value of the late comedian’s chattels or personal belongings, which would go to his wife.

Rules for a married father mean his wife would be due to receive £250,000 plus all his ‘chattels’, which would include his personal belongings.

As the law currently stands, Mayall’s children would then get half the remaining value of the estate, creating a potential tax bill if the amount is more than the inheritance tax limit of £325,000.

It’s all quite messy, but too many people fail to plan properly for their passing and this celebrity’s case is not unusual.

Inheritance tax planning is vital and should not be put off as shouldn’t the need to make a will. Too many people wait until the time is right and this time seldom arrives.

The great peace of mind that a person gives their family by seeing their solicitor and ensuring their estate is in order cannot be underestimated.

We hope the sad tale of Rik Mayall will ensure that the public realise its circumstances are something that can happen in so called ordinary lives.

Our message is simply make an appointment to see your solicitor as soon as possible 
    
Any queries call Nolan PR on 01564 822861 / 07505 133302
 

Government hike in divorce court fees comes in unnoticed 22 March 2015

In the week that Chancellor George Osborne unveiled his latest budget, there was something happening that was relatively overlooked by the majority of the UK population.

Whilst the fallout over the budget was being analysed, under the radar of the public, the price of getting divorced soared by 34%.

The Ministry of Justice said it had raised its fees to pay for the overall cost of administering justice, but the cost increasing from £410 to £550 has provoked much annoyance in the legal world.

At Bowsers, like many of our colleagues, we too are shaking our heads in disbelief at the massive cost, which is far higher than the actual cost of the legal procedure.

What has also rankled with many solicitors is the fact that this rise only became apparent less than a week before the changes on Monday March 21st.

Not surprisingly, the Ministry of Justice have denied that the measure has been rushed in.

They have said the additional income will provide extra funding for the justice system, which has suffered greatly in times of austerity of recent years.

So those now going through a divorce have no option but to pay the increased fee.

Every divorce petition has to go through the courts and many people currently in the bureaucratic process won’t have had time to get their petition in before the increase took place.

This is the case whether people mediate, negotiate their own outcome or actually go to court. It is worth noting too that the actual cost of the administrative process has been shown to be £270, meaning that at new rates the Government are making a profit of more than 100%.

Sadly, there seems little we can do as the changes have now also gone through parliament.

The general consensus in the media is this rise is nothing more than a tax on divorce, which cannot be avoided by a captive audience.
Divorce has never been easy and sadly this extra cost adds more misery to what is already a difficult process.

Court fee increases of up to 600 per cent in force with barely a murmur 20 March 2015

Astonishing fee increases of up to 600% for bringing a money claim case to court have been put in place this month

Our Government confirmed in January that the fee for issuing a civil claim worth more than £10,000 would be increased to 5% of the sum claimed, with a maximum fee set at £10,000.

The move followed a consultation that prompted criticism from many of the judicial systems senior legal figures, as well as the UK’s business community.

The concerns include the risk that higher fees would limit justice to those with financial means.

Under the new rules, fees on a claim worth £200,000 have been raised by £8,725, whilst the previous maximum charge for claims over £300,000 was £1,920 but the new requirements herald an increase of £8,080 or 421%.

We can see it really impacting on businesses and believe a lot of companies in supply chains could be reticent about using the courts to resolve long running late payment disputes.

It may not deter the giants of industry, but it certainly will be difficult for small businesses.

The Government has stopped short of raising the cost of getting a divorce and other fee reforms probably as no doubt they know the outcry would be too loud.

They claim the vast majority of cases would not be affected by the introduction of the enhanced charge and that the money raised would go towards improving court services.

Time will tell if the court system, which has more than its fair share of criticism, will improve, but this doesn’t feel like a great move for our democracy.

At Bowsers and throughout the law profession we believe access to justice is a fundamental principle of our legal system and anything that prevents this is worrying for all of us.
    
Any queries call Nolan PR on 01564 822861 / 07505 133302

Divorced woman’s claim against millionaire-ex sets a new precedent 12 March 2015

Many of you will have read recently the tale of a woman whose marriage broke down 30 plus years ago winning the right to seek payments from her millionaire ex-husband. For those who haven’t it’s worth highlighting.

The tale surrounds Kathleen Wyatt who has been granted permission by the Supreme Court to lodge a belated claim against her ex Dale Vince, who founded the energy company Ecotricity.

Wyatt who brought up their son is claiming £1.9m from the relationship with Vince who has re-married and is reportedly worth £57m.

The couple met in 1981 and their son was born in 1983, but soon after they parted and were formally divorced in 1992.

In these years Vince’s business venture took off and his son with Wyatt now works with him.

In a unanimous decision, five justices of the Supreme Court said the family court could not strike out Wyatt’s claim without full consideration of the issues, but warned Wyatt she faces “formidable difficulties” in seeking to establish that any financial order should be made in her favour because of the long delay and the fact that the relationship lasted less than three years.

She may, the Supreme Court said, be able to rely on her much greater contribution to the upbringing of the couple’s child over many years, a factor which could justify a financial order for a comparatively modest sum.

Wyatt will now have to return to the high court to pursue her claim.
The way we see it is this ruling really paves the way for anyone without a completed financial order to bring a claim against their ex regardless of how long ago they went their separate ways.

This highlights the importance that all financial matters are finalised at the time of divorce, and when a court order is first obtained. Without this it may well lead to future claims for a share of the wealth earned after the divorce.

It is unprecedented to hear of a claim being so long after a break up, but the court has ruled that because there was no financial order and no time limit in family law for making a financial order, there was nothing to prevent the claim from being successful.

The high court will meet to decide how much she should receive bearing in mind current law.
     
Any queries call Nolan PR on 01564 822861 / 07505 133302
 

Sad tale of son losing his inheritance helps cement importance of Wills 26 February 2015

In the past few days many people have mentioned to us the sad tale of a son who was left with nothing after his father died.

The story was in the Daily Mail and we hope that its ingredients are such it will make all those who read it, and read this column take action.

It is about a man called William Herd who when he died left £300,000 but his only son Stuart never saw a penny.

William, who was widowed, remarried at 67 to a lady called Dorothy, much to Stuart’s delight as he feared his father would live out the rest of his days alone, after the death of his wife in 1986.

Little did Stuart realise it would lead to a bitter feud over his inheritance and instead, everything has ended up with Dorothy’s son.

It was all because of the type of will William drew up, and changes that Dorothy made to hers after William’s death.

Stuart told how his father was a very trusting person who would never have wanted his family not provided for.  

But instead Dorothy’s family not only have her money but his father’s money as well.

Before William passed away in 1997, he explained that he and Dorothy had drawn up mirror wills. This meant that, when one of them died, everything would pass to the surviving spouse.
The wills stated that, after both died; the estate would be divided equally between William’s son, Stuart, and Dorothy’s son from a previous marriage.

But after Dorothy died in July 2012, Stuart discovered that she had changed her will to leave everything to her son - leaving him with nothing.

Since then Stuart has begged Dorothy's family to share the inheritance but so far without joy.

In Stuart’s word he says: ‘I hope this will act as a warning to others - you have to be so careful with mirror wills, as they depend on the surviving spouse honouring their wishes.’

We would add to that and say be careful with all Wills. It is a vital document and can cause terrible feuding if the wishes of the deceased are not followed.

Everyone should have a Will and should see their solicitor every few years to ensure that their Will is up to date. This is more important than ever in an era where the family situation is so complex.

Disputes over wills are soaring and making a will is vital if you want to be certain that your wishes will be carried out.

Without a will providing clear instructions, rows are often inevitable. Yet more than half of adults in the UK have not made one.

We hope no one who has read this have a tale like Stuart Herd’s in the future. There really is no excuse.
    
Any queries call Nolan PR on 01564 822861 / 07505 133302
 

Silver separators Wills negligence leading to family strife 20th January 2015

There is a growing trend in people divorcing later in life with so-called “silver separators” having increased by 85 per cent since the year 2000.

With us living longer this trend is inevitable and whilst once it was rare to hear of couples who have been together for 30 or so years starting life anew it is something we have to get used to.

However, once we finally leave this mortal coil it is causing a fair few problems for those left behind.

Widely reported figures in legal circles estimate one in four over-50s have not updated their will for more than five years, and one in 10 has left it untouched for a decade or more, whilst 70 per cent do not have a will at all.

It is concerning to hear that so many over-50s are currently without a valid, up-to-date Will and the effects this will have on society.

For those of us who have lost a loved one dealing with the grief and trying to readjust to the change in life is quite enough without family rows draining our energy.

It makes me recall the case of the late great actor Sir Peter Ustinov, who was married three times. He died without a valid will and all those related to him ended up frittering away his millions on the legal fight.

It is over 10 years since his death and last reports in the media, a couple of years ago, said his son was close to bankruptcy.

Many less publicised battles are happening throughout the land for the same reasons.

However, divorce and remarriage are not the only reasons a person may need to rewrite their Will in later life. Buying or selling a property, receiving an inheritance or having new grandchildren may also need to be reflected.

Wills are a morbid subject we know, and at the bleakest time of year this probably is one of our less jolly legal columns, but Wills are one of the most important documents that a person can make.

Family fallouts over assets can so easily be avoided, but it needs action.

So if your circumstances have changed make sure you reflect this in your Will. It’s not too late for New Year’s resolutions so put this one on your list.

Fenland property set for stable 2015 29th December 2014

When a New Year starts there are lots of predictions and the world of property is one of many subjects that often has a mention in this annual ritual.

Being involved in helping so many people move home we can’t help but be caught up in this little game, and we suppose we do have more of an insight into what will happen more than most men in the street.

Looking at all the predictions from large estate agents, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and large lenders, it seems that 2015 isn’t going to be a year of boom or bust for the property market here. The tabloids won’t thank us for saying this but it all looks quite unremarkable.

Those comments aren’t the most headline grabbing, but in the UK we have an obsession with property and here in the Fens this is no different, so it is worth saying.

All the indications should mean a year when there remains trust and confidence in property and thankfully that should benefit the whole economy.

Most of the experts have predicted slow rises and this should mean many moves during the year to be more based on lifestyle needs rather than anything else.

A stable housing market means people move for the right reasons, which is good to see.

A few years ago when property was rising at an astronomical rate it created a very strange environment and we can only hope the effects of the relatively recent recession has meant people have learnt lessons.

What will remain so for those moving in 2015 is the sure knowledge that a property purchase is a highly stressful matter and those involved need to make sure they don’t cut corners.

Buying a house is in all likelihood the most expensive acquisition you will ever make so don’t skimp on cheap conveyancing which is dealt with in a call centre environment hundreds of miles away.

Good conveyancing in the scheme of a property purchase is relatively cheap and can give you assurances that everything has been done correctly. It prevents some nasty shocks and it is well worth ensuring you have that peace of mind.

Bowsers Secures top accolade from National Law Society 18th December 2014

Bowsers have retained the national Law Society’s law management quality mark, Lexcel.

Lexcel is developed specifically for the legal profession. It is an optional, recognised accreditation scheme for law firms and in-house legal departments which gives assurance that a practice meets high client care and business management standards.

To gain and retain Lexcel accreditation, practices must undergo a rigorous initial then annual application and assessment process. This includes conducting background checks and an on-site visit from and experienced, trained Lexcel assessor.

Chris Ringham, Practice Manager said: “While we are proud to have secured Lexcel, it is our clients and staff who are the main beneficiaries. They can be assured that the way we manage the practice has their interests at heart and runs efficiently. There is a lot of choice in the legal services market but being Lexcel accredited demonstrates our commitment to client care and best practice.”

Andrew Caplen, President of the law Society of England and Wales, said: “Gaining and maintaining Lexcel is no mean feat. There are many facets of being a Lexcel accredited law firm, including client care. A commitment to customer service in today’s evermore competitive legal services market is vital.

By undergoing the rigorous Lexcel application and assessment process practices can show the positive steps they are taking to help clients in the increasingly diverse, complicated legal services market.

The scheme is a beacon of quality to clients and potential clients alike.”

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Bowsers is a trading name of Bowser Ollard & Bentley Limited, a limited company registered in England and Wales (Company Number 8199090), who are authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA Number 571570). Registered Address: 15 South Brink, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, PE13 1JL. VAT No 599 513 096.
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