Friday, 11 April 2014

George beats injury to reach his goal

A Telford man has successfully completed a half marathon challenge despite only being given the all-clear to begin training just weeks before.

George Heron is our office assistant at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, and he ran the Ironbridge Half Marathon in memory of his fiancĂ©e’s mum, Pat Downes.

His achievement is all the more impressive as he had been banned from running for five years after problems with his ankles – including surgery to insert metal pins in both joints – and only began training in February.

“After such a long time away from running, I knew completing a half marathon with only seven weeks training would be a huge challenge. But I was confident I could do it and I finished in two hours three minutes, so I’m really proud.”

George has so far raised £400 for Bowel Cancer UK (which is double his initial target) and his effort was particularly poignant as the event took place just days before the fifth anniversary of the death of Zoe’s mum.

“Everyone at Martin-Kaye has been extremely generous with their support, both financial and emotional, and I’m very grateful to all my colleagues, family and friends.”

Martin-Kaye Senior Partner, Graham Davies, said: “Given the difficulties that George has had, running the half marathon is nothing short of a minor miracle.

“We’ve been impressed by his commitment to his goal and it’s great to see him complete such a brilliant challenge all in aid of such a worthy cause.”

Chasing commercial rent arrears - is it worth it?

Landlords could decide to cut their losses rather than chase tenants for outstanding arrears, according to a local solicitor.

Madelene Schofield-Whittingham, who heads up our commercial property team at Martin-Kaye LLP Solicitors in Telford, said chasing up outstanding rent could be a lengthy and difficult process.

“There are many options available to landlords who are concerned their tenants may be struggling to pay their rent. But sometimes it may be more sensible to just recover possession of the building while you still can, before the legal process takes over.”

Madelene said if a commercial landlord was determined to take an official stance, they should think carefully about what steps to take.

“If your tenant paid a rent deposit when they took on the lease, you may be entitled to use this to cover the rent due. And if your tenant has someone who stands as a guarantor to the lease, you may be able to call on them to pay the arrears.”

Madelene also said landlords may in some circumstances be entitled to seize, impound and sell any goods belonging to the tenant, or you could choose a right of re-entry and take back the tenanted property itself – as long as you stay within the confines of the law.

“If you decide to take court action and claim against the tenant to try to recover the debt, this is unlikely to be much use if the tenant is about to become insolvent. But if the property is sub-let, then in some circumstances the main landlord can ask an under-tenant to pay its rent directly to them and cut out the middle man.”

Until your tenant is formally declared insolvent, landlords are entitled to use any of the options available to them.

“After the tenant becomes insolvent, some remedies will only be possible if the insolvency practitioner or the courts give their permission – this is likely to be a long and expensive process, and permission is not always given.

“You may even find yourself in the difficult position of being unable to do anything with the property, with no right to take it back, and with a tenant who is in arrears. This is of course made even worse if you have a new tenant ready and waiting to take a lease on the property.

“Think carefully and take advice about the options available to you before you even start any formal proceedings – you may decide it’s not always worth the stress, cost and time to pursue someone who may never be able to pay up.”

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Strike action is bad news all round

Teachers’ strikes are making life difficult for parents – and they’re just as problematic for employers too.

Tina Chander, from the employment team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, said with more possible strikes in the coming weeks, families and companies across the area would need to be prepared.

“There is often little advance warning that strike action will be taking place, and this is a nightmare for parents who suddenly find they need to arrange emergency childcare. And of course, if there is no alternative, they may well be forced to take the day off from work which in turn causes issues for their employer.”

But Tina warned that employers needed to try to be as flexible as possible in order to help parents handle a difficult situation.

“By law, staff are entitled to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to deal with family situations like this, and employers must take a sensible approach, even though it causes disruption in the workplace. If you don’t allow an employee to take time off to care for their child in these circumstances, you could well be breaching their rights so it’s important to handle the request sensitively.”

Tina said companies needed to have a consistent approach when it came to dealing with employees needing to take time off to care for their children.

“Your staff have no automatic legal right to be paid if they can’t get into work, but check your contracts carefully as they may say differently. And if you’ve previously paid staff in similar circumstances, you may have already set a precedent which you now can’t ignore.”

Several options are possible if staff are unable to come into work, and as long as an employer is even-handed and applies the same rules across the board, then the system will be seen to be fair.

“Ask your staff to take paid annual leave if they have any left available, or suggest they work from home,” said Tina. “Employees could also take the time off as unpaid leave if they have no alternative, or agree to make up the time lost by starting earlier, working later or taking shorter lunch breaks once they’re back at work.

“Strike action is never an easy situation to handle, but by remembering that both parents and employers are affected, and by taking a flexible approach, everything should balance out in the end.”

Protect your business - and your future

Companies must ensure they take reasonable steps to protect themselves when key staff move on, a local solicitor has warned.

Andrew Oranjuik, from our litigation team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, said it was vital that employers paid careful attention to the wording of each staff member’s contract right from the very start.

“When any new employee begins working for your company, set out in their contract a series of restrictions on how they will be expected to behave if they leave. These rules are called restrictive covenants and they are designed to help safeguard your business by stopping former employees giving away confidential information or stealing suppliers or clients. If you fail to include restrictions like this, your business could be in an extremely vulnerable position, and ultimately, your entire future could be at risk.”

Andrew said it was important though that any restrictions were worded in a way that they were considered “reasonable” otherwise they may not be enforceable.

“It’s clear that any restraints you include must not be excessively wide and they will usually only be valid for a set period of time. And if you include a clause that prevents the employee from working for a competitor, this will only be applicable if the restrictions are clearly in place to protect confidential information that you hold or your precious connections with customers.”

Andrew said if a former employee broke the rules, the employer would often seek an injunction from the court to stop any further breaches.

“This is particularly important if the employee has been dismissed or made redundant, as if there is any bad feeling, you will need to limit the amount of damage they can cause – both to your reputation and your business itself. If there is a major breach of the covenant – perhaps they have poached a key client – you can actually make a claim for damages, including the loss of profit your company has suffered as a direct result of their actions.”

Andrew said companies must also ensure they were vigilant in the period before an employee was due to leave.

“You must watch out for any attempts they make to encourage clients to follow them to their new employment, and look for any unusual activity such as printing or copying databases that could be crucial to your business. Most importantly, keep any evidence you find of any wrong-doing as you may need it if the case comes to court later.

“Introducing restrictive covenants may seem a tough stance to take, but you have to protect your business and the rest of your workforce, so you must take them seriously.”

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Staff discounts can prove costly

Companies have been warned that staff discounts may be a perk of the job but they can quickly get out of hand.

Tina Chander, from our employment law team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, said many companies offered discounts on their products and services to their employees, and some also extended the offer to family and friends.

“Some of the biggest names in retailing in the UK are renowned for their amazing staff discounts – with companies like Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and John Lewis offering up to 20 or even 25%. But for smaller companies, what begins as a staff incentive can quickly snowball, and rather than having clear benefits for your business, it can become a nightmare.”

Tina said it wasn’t only companies that widened their offer to their employees’ extended families and friends who were at risk – those who only allowed employees to benefit from reduced rates were also vulnerable.

“You may find your staff agree to buy products or services for other people, and maybe decide to split the difference between them. In this way, your staff are receiving the cash you could have earned from a direct sale. If this is just a one-off, then you may not be too worried about the situation, but if begins to happen regularly, your profits could be hit hard.

“And equally if you open up the scheme to friends and family, your staff may agree to help anyone take advantage of the reduced prices, even people they haven’t met before, as long as there’s a financial benefit in it for them.”

Tina said companies were under no obligation to offer a staff discount to anyone, but if they decided to go ahead, they should have strict rules in place.

“It’s wise to agree that employees must work for you for a certain time before they qualify for a discount, and make it clear they should not personally profit from the scheme or if they do, they’ll risk being disciplined. Put a limit on how many times they can use the staff discount, and reserve the right to change the terms of the scheme or withdraw it at any time.”

Tina said the policy should be regularly reviewed and records of all discounts should be kept to help companies spot any potential over-use. “Everyone likes a bargain and everyone loves a perk, but it’s important to protect your business from people prepared to over-step the mark.”

Monday, 24 March 2014

Record keeping can be simplified

Small businesses struggling to keep up with time-consuming admin will be relieved to hear it can be kept to a minimum.

Tina Chander, from our employment law team, said keeping accurate company records was vital in order to stay on the right side of the law.

“You need to keep statutory records of course, but it’s about knowing what’s essential and how to keep on top of things with as little of your precious time taken up as possible.”

Tina said The Companies Act 2006 set out the rules for exactly what information every company needed to keep.

“You’ll need a register of members/shareholders, a list of directors and company secretaries, details of anyone who has a right over assets of the company such as a bank, minutes of directors’ and shareholders’ meetings, and accounts. And if you don’t keep proper records, as a director of the company you will be held personally responsible, so it’s important to know where you stand.”

Tina said for anyone who was the sole director and shareholder of a company, records were just something that had to be dealt with.

“But if there are other people involved, the importance of your company records is greater, as you may need to rely on them if a dispute ever occurs. Minutes of your board meetings will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt what was agreed, and so the records will protect you – this is something to take into consideration even if you don’t believe you are ever likely to disagree with your fellow directors.”

Tina said anyone who detested dealing with paperwork, or who was just too busy to find the time to keep the records up-to-date, could look at alternative arrangements.

“You can now use free or cost-effective software that will guide you through your record keeping electronically, which will reduce the time it takes, and which also ensures your records are in the right format. Or you could appoint an external company to handle your requirements, although this of course will be at an extra cost, but you might decide it’s worth it to have one less thing to worry about.”

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Deposit bonus for savvy tenants

Buy-to-let landlords have been warned that savvy tenants could be exploiting the rules to their own advantage when it comes to their deposit.

Andrew Oranjuik, from our litigation team, said most residential landlords were aware that if they received a deposit from a shorthold tenant, it must paid into a formal tenancy deposit scheme.

“The rules were introduced to stop landlords withholding the deposit at the end of a tenancy, often for the flimsiest of reasons. I believe it’s a good thing to have the rules in place to protect tenants, but landlords must be aware of the consequences they will face if they don’t follow the guidelines correctly.”

Andrew said that within 30 days of receiving the deposit, a landlord must pay it into an approved scheme and inform the tenant of their actions.

“If you don’t take this step, the tenant can take their case to court and the court will have no other option than to rule against the landlord, ordering you to pay the tenant between one and three times the value of the original deposit.This rule applies even if you have already returned the deposit to the tenant in full at the end of their tenancy.

“Such a move can bring a real windfall for your tenant, and we have seen a noticeable increase in tenants becoming more and more savvy and willing to cash in on their landlords’ failure to comply with the strict guidance.

“And not only could you find yourself facing a payout that seems unfair, failing to deal with your tenant’s deposit correctly could cause difficulties when you try to take the property back. With a rise in the number of people taking advantage of favourable price rates to acquire buy-to-let properties, issues like this can have a real impact on many people.

“You need to make sure every detail is correct before you let the property out, as it can be very expensive if anything is left undone.”