Monday, 1 February 2016

Crime doesn't pay warning

A Midlands solicitor has warned that crime certainly doesn’t pay – particularly when it comes to inheritance issues.

Andrew Oranjuik, from Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, said a ruling from the High Court in the last few weeks had set out a stark warning for anyone who stood to be a beneficiary from someone’s will.

“The law says that anyone who stands to benefit from a will can lose their inheritance if they are involved in causing the death of the person that made the will – this may sound obvious, but it’s an area of law that’s not often tested.

“And now, the High Court has re-affirmed the point, after considering the case of a woman who died and left her entire £150,000 estate to her son in her will.

“The son, who was in his early 60s when his mother died, had lived with her for his entire life as he had poor life skills and his mother had done everything for him. He assaulted his mother at their home and she died from her injuries three weeks later, with the son then convicted of her manslaughter and sentenced to be detained in hospital.”

Andrew said in a murder case, the “forfeiture rule” had existed for many years where any beneficiary who causes someone’s death is prevented from inheriting anything in the will.

“But this was a manslaughter case, and so the court had the power to choose whether they should apply the forfeiture rule or not. They decided to refuse the son’s claim mainly because the assault leading to the mother’s death was serious and aggravated.

“And although the son had recognised mental health difficulties, they ruled that he had the capacity to know what he was doing and to understand the difference between right and wrong. So the court has given a clear message that crime doesn’t pay, and just because you’re named as a beneficiary in a will, your own actions could ultimately lead to you missing out if you break the law.”

Friday, 15 January 2016

Agents versus distributors? What's the best option?

Business owners who appoint selling agents or distributors to act on their behalf must put clear rules in place to protect their assets.

Graham Davies from Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, said many businesses turned to intermediaries to boost their sales but the move could prove to be a complicated process.

“It’s vital that businesses are clear about which route they’re taking and whether the intermediaries they appoint are agents or distributors, as they two positions differ greatly,” said Graham.

An agent negotiates and signs up customers on behalf of a business, and is paid commission on the sales they make – usually on a percentage basis. A distributor on the other hand is essentially an independent contractor – the business sells its products to the third party who then sells the products on to customers of their own, adding a margin to cover their own costs and profit.

“By appointing someone else to handle your sales, you can benefit from an agent or distributor’s local knowledge and established trade connections. You can also save on the costs of having to set up your own sales operation. But you need to decide which set-up will meet the specific needs of your business most appropriately.”

Graham said there were a number of situations where an agency arrangement may be the best way forward.

“It will allow you to keep greater control of the terms of sale of your products, particularly the price, as you can retain the right to fix whatever prices you like. You will also be able to manage the agent’s decisions on which customers they choose to deal with, and there will be fewer competition law issues to contend with too.”

Graham said through an agency agreement, businesses can also maintain direct contact with their customer base.

“This is extremely important if your business offers bespoke work or highly specialised after-sales support that only you can provide as it keeps you in touch with the contacts you’ve worked so hard to build up. Typically the commission paid to an agent is also lower than the margin which a distributor will earn, so an agency deal will probably cost your business less in the longer-term too.”

Notes can be tricky - don't take the risk

Business owners have been warned that off-the-cuff interview notes could trip them up – no matter how innocent they may seem.

John Mehtam, from Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, said anyone who had ever conducted job interviews would agree that it could be difficult to remember each individual candidate clearly at the end of the day.

“So it’s only natural that many interviewers like to make brief notes to remind themselves of anyone who stands out – but this can be a dangerous move.”

John said the warning was clearly illustrated by the case of a company that faced an employment tribunal brought by the chief executive’s former personal assistant.

“She found a pile of CVs on her employer’s desk and flicking through them, she found some handwritten comments he had made about the applicants. On her own CV, she was shocked to find comments that referred to her physical appearance, including her tattoos – and on other people’s CVs, he had commented on their weight and the clothes they were wearing.

“At the time, she took no further action, but when she was unexpectedly sacked after just six months, she claimed sex discrimination. And the tribunal agreed with her view that the notes made on her CV were unacceptable, and that the comments towards other women clearly showed a sexist working culture so the employer was ordered to pay her £10,500.”

John said although it was a warning, the ruling did not mean that employers could never make handwritten notes or comments during an interview.

“But as an applicant is perfectly entitled to ask to see any information you may hold on them, which would include their original application form or CV, you must always take care with what you write down.

“It’s not just remarks about someone’s appearance either that are risky – commenting on language skills, sexual orientation, disabilities or medical conditions are also a concern. So it’s far safer to make a rule never to make any written comments or observations on application forms or CVs, just to make sure you’re not caught out in the future.”

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Empty property still brings costs

Entrepreneurs with ambitious plans to redevelop their business premises could still face costly charges – even while the building is unfit for use.

That’s the warning from Anneka Sohal, of Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, Telford, who said owners should be aware that business rates would probably still apply during the redevelopment phase.

“If your business needs new commercial premises, a good way forward is to find a suitable vacant site and redevelop it. Careful design will ensure the redeveloped building will match the needs of your business perfectly – on the other hand though, major building work can take time, during which your building may well stand empty.

“You may presume too that during the redevelopment phase when you’re unable to use the building, that your business rates will cease to apply. But court cases in the last few months have shown that’s not the case, so business owners should prepare themselves for ongoing costs throughout the building work.”

Anneka said a recent case had involved the owners of a vacant floor in an office building who decided to redevelop the area into three self-contained flats.

“To carry out the work, the air conditioning system, ceiling tiles, sanitary ware and electrical wiring all had to be stripped out, and so the owners claimed they should not be liable for business rates due to the state of the building.

“And despite the local valuation officer disagreeing with their opinions, the Upper Tribunal Lands Chamber ruled in favour of the owners and said the building should only have a rateable value of £1.

“The officer took the case to the Court of Appeal which ruled that removing items like the sanitary ware did not make the property unfit for occupation. So they overturned the Upper Tribunal’s decision and said the owners must pay the business rates in full throughout the building works.”

Anneka said the court’s decision showed the only time the owners of a commercial building undergoing redevelopment would be free of business rates charges would be if the building was considered to be beyond economic repair.

“Business rates would be waived if the only sensible option would be to knock the building down and build something else in its place – so unless a business owner plans to start from scratch like this, then business rates will still need to be paid in full.”

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Solicitors hit out at shock proposals

Personal injury experts at a Telford law firm are calling on clients to back a petition that opposes new compensation rules.

The team from Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, have hit out at what they call the Government’s “shock proposals” to ban payouts for certain types of injuries.

Alison Carter, who leads the team, said the changes would also increase the small claims limit for personal injury cases from £1,000 to £5,000 in a bid to limit legal costs.

“Such a move would reduce the ability of thousands of people to claim compensation which is just not acceptable.

“Increasing the small claims limit will mean that genuine victims of injury will be unable to afford the legal help they need to bring genuine claims, as the insurers are only obliged to pay legal costs over the small claims limit.

“It’s the National Health Service and the benefits system that will be left to pick up the bills that are presently met by insurers.

“We believe this will have an adverse effect on victims’ ability to access justice as they will lose their right to independent advice about their claim.”

So the Personal Injury team at Martin-Kaye are urging clients to oppose the campaign and to sign the petition on the Government website: click here

“We are encouraging all our clients to actively participate in opposing these plans and all it takes is a couple of clicks on the petition link to show support for the campaign against the new rules,” said Alison.

The proposed changes include a ban on general damages for “minor” soft-tissue injuries and a general increase in the small claims limit to £5,000 for all personal injury claims.

They are due to come into effect from April 2017, and will prevent people from seeking legal advice for all claims below the £5,000 limit.

“People will also be prevented from claiming for often debilitating injuries received in road traffic accidents if the injuries are considered ‘minor’, so it’s clear that action needs to be taken now before the rules come into force.”

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Property experts join the team

Two property specialists have been appointed by an award-winning law firm in Telford.

Nick Gee and Asif Ahmed are the latest additions to the Martin-Kaye Solicitors team and will be based at the company’s head office in Euston Way.

Nick is a commercial property solicitor with over three decades of experience in the industry, and has handled all kinds of commercial property transactions for institutions, retailers, developers, investors, public companies, private companies and individuals.

He was a senior partner for many years in large law practices in Manchester, Birmingham, and Stoke-on-Trent, and his most recent transactions have included: the establishment of a wind farm; the acquisition of a heliport; and advice on the provision of search and rescue helicopter services at a private airport.

Nick said: “I joined Martin-Kaye because of the firm’s ambition to become one of the leading commercial property legal providers in the region, and I believe my skills and experience will help the firm to achieve that aim.”

As well as his UK property experience, Nick also has experience of the Middle East property market having been based in Dubai for three years as a consultant for an international legal firm.

In comparison, Asif is new to the industry and is keen to develop his knowledge and skills as part of Martin-Kaye’s hugely successful residential property team, after qualifying at a high street law firm in Birmingham.

“During my training contract, I found conveyancing a very interesting area of the law – but working at a high street law firm meant my experience was limited to straight-forward freehold property transactions, and I wanted to move to a larger firm like Martin-Kaye to broaden my knowledge and to experience other aspects of property law,” he said.

Senior Partner Graham Davies said: “Nick brings with him a wealth of experience that we’re sure will be invaluable, and Asif is just starting out in his career, so it will be exciting to watch as he develops his skills.”

Pic: Senior Partner Graham Davies (centre) welcomes Nick Gee and Asif Ahmed to Martin-Kaye

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Breaking up is hard to do...

Businesses who sign up for a commercial lease have been warned to check the small print before they sign on the dotted line.

Andrew Oranjuik from Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, said it was vital that commercial tenants should negotiate the terms and conditions of their lease before signing up as otherwise it could cost them dearly.

“The issue has been brought into sharp focus following a case in the Supreme Court between Marks & Spencer and BNP Paribas, when M&S triggered a break clause in their lease. Their yearly rent on a store in Paddington was £919, 800, and it was payable in quarterly instalments in advance.

“They gave notice that they wanted to end their lease early, as they were permitted to do, but had made a rent payment that covered a period of time after they no longer occupied the premises – so they claimed a refund.

“But there was no provision in the lease that meant the landlord was obliged to give them back the overpayment, even though it would have seemed to be the most ethical thing to do.

“And the Supreme Court agreed, ruling that the landlord was entitled to keep all the rent.”

Andrew said if there had been a clause included in the lease that required a refund, it was likely that the case would never have even gone to court.

“This ruling shows that if tenants want to protect themselves and their business, they need to negotiate their rights at the very start of a lease before they sign.

“Ultimately, without this provision being made in the initial paperwork, it’s very unlikely that the courts will rule in the tenant’s favour, and the business could also find itself severely out of pocket.”