Thursday, 19 April 2018

Cross border divorce is an issue

England could face a deluge of divorce cases from the other home nations if an estranged wife wins her current court case.

The wife and her aristocratic husband – who is a relative of the Duchess of Cornwall – are locked in a legal battle about whether arguments over their divorce settlement should be held in an English or Scottish court.

And now, family law expert Gemma Himsworth of Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, said if the wife wins, the case would set a precedent that could bring a huge increase in similar claims.

“The case involves Charles Villiers and his estranged wife, Emma, who lived for all but one year of their 17-year marriage in Scotland. They separated in 2012, and Mr Villiers filed for divorce in Scotland in 2014. But Mrs Villiers applied to the English courts three months later for financial maintenance of £10,000 a month.”

Mrs Himsworth said under Scottish law, inherited wealth is not taken into account when assets are divided, and maintenance payouts are generally limited to three years. “But here in England, a divorcee can secure financial support for the rest of her life from her former spouse.”

In 2016, the courts decided the English High Court could help Mrs Villiers because she was then “habitually resident” in England – they ruled Mr Villiers should pay her £5,500 a month to cover interim maintenance while the divorce is finalised and her legal bills.

“Now though, Mr Villiers is challenging the ruling and insisting that an English judge had no right to intervene in a Scottish divorce. The case is still ongoing but once it has been decided, if Mrs Villiers wins then England and Wales could see a real surge in similar cases from Scotland, and an increase in the arguments between spouses about which court should hear their dispute.

“Mr Villiers claims that his wife is ‘trying it on’ and that the courts should throw out her case.

“It remains to be seen who will win their claim, but it’s clear that the case could be a turning point in the way cross-border divorces are handled and the way that settlements are decided, so we will be watching closely to see how things develop.”

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Are networking events a data risk?

Most Shropshire businesses should by now be aware of the new data protection rules that will come into force in just a few weeks.

But how will the legislation affect any contact details you collect at networking events across the county?

Graham Davies, of Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, said: “It’s a tried and tested approach – you attend a networking meeting and automatically swap business cards with the other people you meet at the event.

“But under the new General Data Protection Regulation policy that takes effect on May 25th, surely you’re breaching the rules unless you inform your new contacts about how you’re planning to use the information?

“In fact, as you have exchanged personal data at a business event, it’s clear that both parties can reasonably expect their new contact will be in touch at a later date – otherwise why would you have handed over your business card?

“So in this situation, under GDPR you wouldn’t need to request permission to use the contact details, and you can rely on the fact your new contacts must have been interested in hearing from you by virtue of them giving you their details.”

Mr Davies said technically the new rules would require you to provide a full description of how you were planning to use the information, but common sense should be applied.

“If you’re hosting an exhibition stand at the networking event and collecting business cards from delegates, you’d be wise to display a statement that explains you may use the details later. If you don’t have a stand, maybe ask your new contact if they’d like to be included on your mailing list as they hand over their card – you need to make sure they realise that you may be in touch.

“Then when you first make contact following the event, ensure there’s a clear link to your privacy notice, and always remind your contacts that they have the right to opt out of any further marketing communications.

“The new GDPR rules are complicated and will apply to all businesses, regardless of their size or sector, but when it comes to face-to-face networking, there is room for more flexibility given the setting where it happens.”

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Tom takes on a new role at law firm

A Shropshire legal assistant has taken on a new role at a local law firm after impressing the management team with his hard work and dedication.

Tom Wickstead initially had a work experience placement at Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Euston Way, Telford, while he was still at school.

And then, after leaving Bangor University with his law degree, he spent seven years working for the National Health Service, before returning to Martin-Kaye as a legal assistant in the domestic conveyancing team.

Now, he will be assisting one of the firm’s Partners, Andrew Oranjuik, and his colleague Sara Brumwell with civil litigation, professional negligence and commercial litigation cases. Tom will also be involved in debt recovery operations.

Mr Oranjuik said: “We have been extremely impressed with Tom’s commitment and his attitude, and we felt this new role was the perfect opportunity for him to build on his already strong skills and expand his knowledge of different areas of law.

“He will work closely with senior members of the team who are all keen to share their extensive experience with him, in order to help him develop his legal career and build a strong future in the industry.”

As well as his day-to-day duties, Tom is also studying at the University of Law in Chester for his LPC (Legal Practice Course), which is also known as the Postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice – the final stage before becoming a qualified solicitor in England and Wales.

He said: “I’m very proud to have been offered this new role and I am thoroughly enjoying learning more about different areas of law. Everyone has been so supportive, and that has made the transition to a new team much less daunting than it could have been – it’s a great opportunity and I’m relishing the new challenge.”

Pic: Tom Wickstead who has taken on a new role at Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford


Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Are your workers illegal?

Shropshire employers could be held personally responsible if they fail to check whether their staff have the right to work in the UK.

Employment law specialist, John Mehtam, from Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, said 20 directors from 16 separate companies nationwide were disqualified in the last year for employing illegal workers.

“As well as a lengthy disqualification, the directors were also fined a total of £505,000, so it’s clear that turning a blind eye to the status of your employees is not a wise move.”

Mr Mehtam said no matter what size of company an employer may run, every director is legally required to ensure that the business is taking the necessary steps to prevent illegal working.

“Even if you’re a very small business, the legal requirement applies to all companies and all directors.”

He said directors should ask the prospective employee to provide the company with original documents showing they had permission to work in the UK, and then check the paperwork in their presence.

“You need to be sure that the documents are genuine, and that the person handing them over is the rightful owner – you should also check they confirm the person is allowed to do the type of work you have available.

“Double check too whether the paperwork says they have a permanent right to live and work in the UK, or whether it’s only a temporary permission. If it’s only temporary, you’ll need to carry out follow-up checks in the future.

“Take a copy of the original documents in a format which cannot be tampered with, and keep a record of the date the checks were made. You should never accept a copy of a document because it’s your responsibility to check it is valid, and if the document turns out to be fake, you’ll be held personally liable.”

Mr Mehtam said as well as disqualification, the maximum penalty for employing illegal workers due to inadequate employment practices is £20,000 per illegal worker.

“As long as you take precautionary steps to check the status of your employees, you should be able to defend yourself if an illegal worker is discovered on your payroll. Make sure you keep all the paperwork on file while the employee works for you, and for two years after their employment ends too.”

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Join the club - no-one can avoid new data rules

Clubs and societies across Shropshire have been warned they must comply with new data protection rules, even if they only have a handful of members.

Graham Davies, of Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, said the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was due to come into force on May 25th.

“The new guidelines mean individuals will have greater control over how their personal information is collected and processed, and organisations will need to be more accountable when it comes to data protection.

“Any organisation that collects data must comply with the rules or face the threat of significant fines which could be crippling for a local club or society.”

Mr Davies said organisations who used a mailing list to promote fund raising events, or exhibitions, or who kept membership details on file would need to follow the new criteria.

“If your organisation is a one-person operation or you’re just a small group of committed supporters, there will be some work to be done ahead of the rules coming into force, but you have to take responsibility in order to be compliant.

“Make sure you have a process for collecting and storing data, and nominate someone to be your recognised data processor who will be responsible for making sure the process is followed.

“Draw up a simple document that you give to all members which sets out what data you collect and how it will be stored. Have a consent form that asks people’s permission to store their details – this is the ‘opt in’ policy – and make sure they have a copy and that you have a signed copy.

“Anyone who joins your group has the right to be removed from the list, to see what information you store about them, to have their history deleted, and to change the details you hold.”

Mr Davies said it was also vital that members knew who had access to the list, particularly if an outside body would be able to view the information.

“You should also make sure any data is stored safely – this is the most challenging issue as you’ll need to keep a regular watch on your systems to ensure they are up-to-date, but in today’s dangerous cyber environment, this is just good practice and common sense anyway.

“Make sure your data processes are clearly set out, so that anyone can repeat the procedure whenever a new member joins. Then once you have the processes and documents in place, it will be simple to regulate the system and ensure you comply with the new data rules.”

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Be ready to prove what you're owed

Businesses who are owed money when a customer goes bust will need to prove the value of the debt if they want to stand any chance of being repaid.

Andrew Oranjuik, from Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, said the insolvency rules had been changed last year and it was vital that businesses knew how to make a claim.

“The changes simplified the insolvency rules in England and Wales in order to make it easier to make a claim online, and other changes were made to streamline claims by creditors.

“But if you are owed money, the most important criteria is that you can prove that the debt is actually owed.

“Under the previous rules, the Official Receiver or the insolvency practitioner representing the failed business would decide if they needed ‘proof of debt’ – if it was required, they’d send you a form to fill in. Now proof of debt is required for every claim, unless a court decides otherwise.”

Mr Oranjuik said if a business was owed a “small debt” – judged to be £1,000 or less – then purely writing to the Official Receiver or insolvency practitioner would be all that was needed.

“You’ll have equal rights to other creditors to any payments that are made by the debtor, but you won’t have a say in creditors’ meetings, so you’ll have to accept the terms that the other creditors agree.”

Mr Oranjuik said the problem was that businesses and individuals who went into liquidation or bankruptcy could not be relied upon to have accurate and up-to-date records.

“This means your debt may not show up, or it may show the wrong amount – if your records show a different amount from the debtor’s accounts, you may need to provide proof of debt even if it’s less than the £1,000 threshold. It’s particularly important to prove the amount if the debtor’s records show they owe you £1,000 or less, but they actually owe you more.

“Keeping clear and concise accounting records is a cornerstone of good business practice, and if you can prove your figures are accurate, it increases your chances of getting at least some of the money back that you’re owed.”

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Home visits hazards warning

Employees have been reassured they have the right to refuse to carry out home visits if they fear for their health and safety.

Employment Law expert John Mehtam, from Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, said occupations such as sales staff, surveyors and professional advisers all required staff to visit customers’ homes.

“But there may be times when an employee feels the home is a hazard and employers must listen to their concerns and take them seriously.”

Mr Mehtam said health and safety regulations declared that employees could refuse to carry out a visit if they were exposed to ‘serious, imminent and unavoidable danger’.

“This would include situations such as gas leaks or a building collapse – less dangerous concerns may not be covered by the rules, but they can still cause a problem and as an employer, you have a duty of care to safeguard your staff. So it’s vital that you’re prepared for this kind of scenario, and that your staff understand the kind of circumstances where a refusal to carry out a visit will be acceptable.”

Mr Mehtam suggested the best way forward was to ask staff to call the office if they were unhappy about the situation they found on arrival at a customer’s home.

“This way, you can discuss the problem together and decide what to do, and there will be no confusion over how to proceed. If you believe their refusal to make the visit is unreasonable – that they’re effectively making a fuss about nothing – then you do have the option to take disciplinary action.

“But it’s better to work things out before the situation even occurs, so work with your staff to identify all the potential hazards they may encounter in someone’s home, such as dangerous dogs, damp, piled up rubbish, or fleas and mice. Then make your staff aware of the kinds of situation you think justify a refusal, and those that don’t – for instance, a house that’s just untidy or cluttered.

“You should also take the health of your employees into account as anyone with a pre-existing medical condition could be at more risk from particular potential hazards, such as damp and mould.

“As an employer, you need to protect the welfare of your staff as best you can, which is difficult as you have no influence over their working environment when it’s in someone’s home. But a clear and structured approach to the worst-case scenarios they may face will mean everyone knows where they stand.”