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.”

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Don't assume new rules will bring fee changes

Businesses that handle customer contact details will still face a registration fee despite new rules being introduced that will transform the entire data protection process.

Graham Davies, of Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, said the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) guidelines would come into force in May, and businesses were already preparing for sweeping changes.

“However, some companies may not be aware that even though GDPR will replace the current Data Protection Act, they will still need to pay a registration fee to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

“Currently businesses that process personal information must register with the ICO to say they are data controllers, and they must explain what personal data they collect and how it is used, as well as paying a notification fee.

“Under GDPR, businesses won’t need to notify the ICO in the same way, but they must not assume that the fees will be dropped too.

“The fees will be set according to your company’s turnover, how many staff you have, and how much data you process – but it’s important that business owners realise the new fee regime begins on April 1st, which is well before GDPR comes in.”

Mr Davies said it would be easy to assume that as the rules were changing, then so would the fees, but that was not the case.

“If your ICO notification renewal is due before April 1st, it’s vital that you don’t ignore it, because until GDPR comes into force, you’d be committing a criminal offence if you don’t notify the ICO, and you could face a fine of up to £5,000.

“But if your renewal date is after April 1st, the ICO will contact you to tell you what you need to do to comply with the new rules. It’s crucial though that businesses get to grips with the new data protection legislation sooner rather than later, as otherwise you could face serious consequences.”

The registration fees will vary according to the set-up of each individual business – a business with fewer than 250 staff, an annual turnover under £50 million, and processing fewer than 10,000 records a year would pay an annual fee of up to £55.

But if the company processes more than 10,000 records, the annual fee increases to £80, with another £20 top-up fee per year if it also carries out electronic marketing activities.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Superheroes take on a challenge!

A team of intrepid staff from a Telford law firm will be sharpening their superhero skills in a bid to raise funds for a local charity.

The colleagues from Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, have signed up for the Kapow! obstacle race at the West Mid Showground in Shrewsbury, on April 21st, in aid of the Severn Hospice.

They will be tackling a 5km course featuring inflatable obstacles that must be climbed and conquered, as well as navigating their way through bubbles, and of course, dealing with the unpredictable British weather.

If you'd like to support their efforts, here's the link: - thank you for your generosity!

Monday, 29 January 2018

Tread carefully with online messages

Employers should tread very carefully when it comes to monitoring their employees’ emails and messages, a local solicitor has warned.

Gemma Workman, from Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, said employers should make their staff aware of any monitoring of their communications, as they could be guilty of breaching the employee’s right to privacy.

Her warning follows a court case where the European Court of Human Rights backed an employee who was dismissed after his employer found he’d been using a company online account to send private messages.

“In this case, the employee sent personal messages to his family, but he wasn’t informed that his emails and messages would be monitored.

“The court ruled that the employee’s privacy should have been protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees respect for private and family life, so the employee won his case.”

The case involved an employee who worked in sales and who was asked to set up a Yahoo Messenger account to answer client’s enquiries. He had been warned not to use it for private matters, but was found to have been using it to exchange personal messages with family members.

“The court’s ruling is a warning to employers that they need to think very carefully about why they need to monitor an employee’s emails and what they are trying to protect,” said Miss Workman. “Usually it’s to ensure they are complying with the law and their obligations, and so that’s likely to be a legitimate reason.

“But you must warn employees in advance that you might monitor their emails and text messages, and that you reserve the right to do so. You could refer to this right in the staff handbook so it’s absolutely clear.

“Another option for employers though is to block employees’ access to personal emails on their systems altogether, rather than retaining the right to review their private communications. It’s clear that employers need to tread very carefully when it comes to online messages, and that they must ensure their staff know exactly where they stand.”

Friday, 26 January 2018

Customer data warning for businesses

Shropshire business owners could be missing out on valuable customer information if they don’t offer free Wi-Fi for customers and visitors.

But Andrew Oranjuik from Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, said it was vital that the information collected was handled sensitively and appropriately.

“For many businesses, there’s often a time when customers have time on their hands while they’re waiting at your offices, and it’s the perfect time for them to catch up on emails or check the latest news headlines.

“By offering free Wi-Fi, you’re not only keeping your customers happy, there are advantages for your business too – in particular, information.

“You are controlling the network connection, so you can set your website as the homepage and ask for customer data such as their name, email address, and age, which is extremely useful for future marketing campaigns.

“But make it very clear what your customers are signing up to and how the data will be used. Don’t ask for too many details either or you could put your clients off altogether.”

Mr Oranjuik said new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules which come into force later this year were also a consideration for business owners.

“Businesses will have to comply with much stricter guidelines and be far more transparent about how they process customer data.

“So collecting information while your customers are on your premises will need to be very carefully managed and you’ll need to provide an active opt-in where they individually agree to you holding their details. Of course, if they want to use your Wi-Fi network, they will probably be more than happy to let you have their personal information, so it’s a win-win situation.

“You’ll need to ensure you have business broadband with unlimited downloads, and keep the new ‘public’ network clearly separate from your business Wi-Fi network by giving it a separate name and access code. Don’t be tempted to work with an open network where no access code is required as non-customers will be able to make use of your Wi-Fi just by being in the area.

“Give your customers a user-friendly code and promote it clearly inside your building. You’ll also need to ensure you have the highest level of cyber security in place so that all data transmitted will be encrypted. Free Wi-Fi can give your business a head-start when it comes to collecting key information, but beware the new GDPR rules and make sure you’re handling the details you collect with care.”

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Don't be deceitful over divorce

Divorcing couples have been warned not to try to massage the truth on court papers to secure a better deal.

Gemma Himsworth, who leads the family law team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, said research had shown there was an increase in the number of divorce petitions that were actually stretching the truth.

“Most people would assume that divorce papers would be an accurate reflection of why the marriage broke down and who was to blame.

“But in fact, only three in 10 people who were surveyed said the reason for their fault-based divorce closely matched the reason why they separated.”

Mrs Himsworth said some petitions included false claims and admissions of adultery, and the tweaking of separation dates to reduce the wait times in two and five-year separation cases.

“This is a very dangerous game to play and although it may seem tempting to try to make a divorce case easier and quicker, couples should be very careful if they decide to go down this route.

“A divorce petition is a document that goes before a court, and so it needs to be true and accurate otherwise there can be serious consequences. Taking such a risk can be costly, stressful and lead to the divorce taking longer to resolve, with the even bigger risk that you may have to start all over again or amend the petition if it is found to be incorrect.”

Mrs Himsworth urged divorcing couples to seek proper advice to enable them to navigate the grounds for divorce fairly and effectively.

“The trouble with fault-based divorces is that they don’t reflect the reality of relationship breakdown for most couples, and they also do nothing to help them deal with the aftermath of the break-up.

“The family justice organisation, Resolution, has campaigned for a no-fault divorce system and to ‘make no-fault the default. This could make a stressful situation much more comfortable for both partners, and reduce the chances of any additional conflict moving forwards.

“It’s time for divorcing couples to think very carefully before they are economical with the truth, and to work towards a positive and healthier result.”