Thursday, 17 December 2009

Stop thief! They're my clients!

Shropshire businesses who make staff redundant should take steps to safeguard their clients in the wake of the decision. The warning comes from our Employment Law Specialist, John Mehtam, who said employers should beware redundant workers who may try to poach clients.

“Making staff redundant is difficult enough, but what can you do if they take valuable clients and business with them when they leave? What restrictions should you put on employee contracts, and how far can you go to stop them stealing your business once they’ve left?”

I
n a bid to help employers protect their business, we have invited one of the most highly-regarded lawyers in the UK to host a unique presentation at our offices in Euston Way. Mohammed Zaman QC will give the only presentation of its kind in the Shropshire area on January 14, and the free event is open to employers in all industry sectors.

Mr Zaman will tackle the issues companies face when former employees set up in competition or try to steal customers or ideas.

“This really is a wonderful opportunity for local companies to hear from a renowned expert, and it’s right on the doorstep,” said John. “In challenging economic times like this, it’s traumatic enough to have to consider axing staff, but to face the threat of them stealing your business afterwards is even worse. It’s vital in today’s climate that companies protect their existing assets, which include the relationships they have with their clients, and this presentation will help give clear guidelines on how far you can go.”

The event will be held from 8am to 9.30am, and employers interested in attending should register in advance with Martin-Kaye Solicitors as places will be strictly limited.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Christmas could cost you dearly

Christmas is fast approaching, but Shropshire companies have been warned getting into the festive spirit could cost them dearly.

Our Senior Partner, Graham Davies, said many businesses chose to play Christmas carols in the background in the run-up to the big day. “But it’s not as simple as just putting on a CD of seasonal music and singing along – your company will actually need two licences if you want to play music in the workplace.”

Graham said to play music in a commercial environment, businesses must have licences from both the Performing Rights Society (PRS) and Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL). To find out the accurate price for a licence, companies must apply to both organisations’ websites and the minimum licence length is 30 days.

“It’s important to remember though that as soon as you ask for a quote, you will have alerted them to your intentions and so the risk of receiving a visit from one of their inspectors is much greater.

“And as well as following up licence enquiries from their websites, they actively seek out companies who are flouting the rules. One tactic that may be used is for inspectors to phone a business and see if music is being played in the background, and then check their registers to see if you have a licence.”

Graham said if you are found without a licence, your company will be required to apply for one immediately. “You will have to pay a 50% premium on top of the usual licence fee, and if you refuse to pay, you will risk being prosecuted and fined.

“Some businesses without a licence may be tempted to sit tight, play the music anyway and let the inspectors find them, taking the view that the music will only be playing for a few weeks. But this is a risky strategy that could cost your business dearly in the long term if you are caught and fined.”

Monday, 16 November 2009

Hot topics on the agenda

We've pledged to help Shropshire businesses battle their way through the current economic crisis with a new season of our popular HR and Employment Law in Practice (HELP) forums.

Hosted by our Alpha HR Team, the next event in the programme will be held at our offices at The Foundry, in Euston Way, Telford, on November 24, and will specifically target the challenges companies are now facing.

Emma Palmer, our Alpha Team Manager, said: “At the next session, we’ll be discussing the hottest topics in employment law. In particular, and as a result of requests from local businesses, we’re looking at issues that employers are facing on a daily basis during the current financial climate.”

Topics covered will include: liability for workplace stress; new rights for agency workers; termination payments and Compromise Agreements; pregnancy and maternity rights; and legal representation at internal hearings.

Emma said the HELP forums had been held in both Telford and Shrewsbury for the past four years, and had proved particularly popular with employers who have limited time, but who want to learn as much as they can about the latest issues.

The forums run from 8am to 10am, usually quarterly, and provide employers and HR professionals with an opportunity to exchange ideas and to discuss trends. The events are open to all businesses and any company who would like to attend should contact June Noto on 01952 272222.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Legal team on call - 24 hours a day

We're launching a 24-hour hotline to help companies fight back against the Recession. The service is believed to be the first of its kind in the UK, and companies from all over the country have already signed up.

John Mehtam, who leads our Alpha team, said: “Desperate times can leave businesses feeling as though they’ve got nowhere to turn, and with the credit crunch tightening its grip, we felt we had to act now. Our Alpha project already offers employment law and human resources support to small and medium sized companies, but now we’ll be on call 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

“The telephone hotline advice is a unique service and will ensure that companies who need help have access to urgent advice as and when they need it. For manufacturing companies in particular, who may operate outside of traditional office hours, or those working continental shift patterns or night shifts, this service could prove invaluable.

“A legal practice offering 24-hour advice is virtually unheard of, and given the difficult times many companies are facing, we believe it’s something that will be very popular both locally and regionally.”

John said the hotline would help businesses to make fully-informed decisions which suited the individual circumstances they found themselves in.

The all-in-one Alpha package offers face-to-face legal advice and assistance with HR policies and practices, and legal expenses insurance against fees, costs and tribunal awards. To find out more, email alpha@martinkaye.co.uk or visit www.alpha-hr.co.uk

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Michelle makes the grade

A Telford woman who joined Martin-Kaye Solicitors as a legal assistant is celebrating after achieving a professional qualification.

Michelle Poulton has worked for our firm for ten years, and has studied to become a Licensed Conveyancer alongside her day-to-day duties. She is now a member of our Domestic Conveyancing Team, and is working with clients all over the UK.

“My role has included working on re-mortgages, right to buy cases, equity release schemes and transfer of equity. I’m really pleased to have achieved my formal qualification and to be working with such a professional and forward-thinking company.”

Martin-Kaye’s Private Property Department employs over 35 staff, and the team use the very latest technology to ensure they deliver the highest quality customer service. They combine the IT and systems technology of a larger firm with the accessiblity of a smaller local firm so that clients get the best of both worlds.

Pic: Michelle Poulton who has qualified as a Licensed Conveyancer at Martin-Kaye Solicitors

New face joins Alpha team

Our business protection scheme for Shropshire employers has proved so successful that we've taken on extra staff.

The Alpha project, which is based at our offices in Euston Way, is the first of its kind in the UK, and has beaten all targets in its first two years.
Now, with interest still increasing on a daily basis, the team has taken on a new adviser – Claire Williams.


Alpha is a comprehensive 24-hour business support package with particular emphasis on employment and Human Resources support, and the scheme also provides insurance protection against claims.


Claire said: “I have worked previously for two Human Resources and Employment Law consultancy services with over 2500 clients.
My clients have been from all kinds of sectors including football clubs, large retail organisations, care homes and security firms.


“I’m really looking forward to the challenge of being part of the Alpha team, and to building on my legal qualifications to develop my skills still further.”


Claire will be closely involved in the Alpha project’s advice to employers service, which offers face-to-face legal advice and assistance with HR policies and practices.


Companies who sign up to the all-in-one Alpha package also receive legal expenses insurance against fees, costs and tribunal awards; legal representation at any employment tribunal; legal updates; training workshops; and direct access to the entire Martin-Kaye Commercial Department, not just the employment team.


Alpha includes discounted legal services for each member business and their employees too – no matter which department they need help from – including conveyancing, wills, divorce, and other personal issues.


To find out more about the Alpha project email alpha@martinkaye.co.uk or visit www.alpha-hr.co.uk


Pic: Claire Williams – the newest recruit in the Alpha Team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Swine flu threat looms

Shropshire companies are more likely than ever to see swine flu in their workplace this winter – and bosses are being urged to make sure they don’t pay the price. New figures show that with swine flu at its current level, experts say it’s probable that employers will encounter at least one case on their premises.

And Tina Chander, a Solicitor in our Employment Law Team, has warned that if companies do not take precautions, they could be held responsible for spreading the disease.

“Employers have a duty of care to protect their staff from reasonably foreseeable dangers, and contracting a contagious disease can fall into this category. But even if another employee did catch swine flu after coming into contact with it at work, they wouldn’t automatically be able to bring a claim against your business.”

Tina said the infected person would need to prove that they did actually contract the illness in the workplace, and that the company failed to prevent this from happening.

“But of course, this would be difficult to do – if they use public transport to get to work, or a family member has the virus, this obviously introduces another possible source of infection. And if you’ve put sensible measures in place to reduce the infection spreading, they will struggle to argue that it was your fault that they caught it.”

If the virus does strike your workplace, Tina said there were a number of steps to take to minimise the risk of further infection.

“If someone starts showing signs of swine flu, send them home straight away, and insist they stay there until they’ve recovered or a medical diagnosis confirms they’re clear of the illness. Increase cleaning procedures and use antiseptic wipes where possible, and remind your staff how important it is to wash their hands and dispose of tissues properly. You could also suggest short-term flexible working arrangements with employees working from home if possible.

“Taking measures like this will strengthen your position if anyone does try to claim against you, as they will have to prove they caught the virus at work and that you failed to stop the infection spreading.”

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Allow extra time over busy months

Shropshire businesses are being warned to allow extra time to file documents with Companies House in the coming weeks.

Amanda Wickstead, from our Corporate Department, said the long-awaited final details of the Companies Act were due to come into force at the start of October.

“The overhaul of the Companies Act has been a mammoth task but now the final changes are set to take effect. But of course, with so many changes to implement, Companies House is expected to be extremely busy over the next few weeks.

“So it’s important that businesses don’t take any chances during this busy time – if you need to file documents with Companies House or just want to make enquiries about anything that may be time-sensitive, allow plenty of time. Once the changes are in place, things should hopefully return to a more normal state, but for now, it pays to be cautious to make sure you don’t miss vital deadlines.”

Amanda said the Companies Act 2006 had been phased in over the last two years, with several rafts of changes to be considered.

“The latest batch of new legislation brings yet more changes – one of the key developments this time is that directors’ home addresses can be protected, and providing a service address on documents will now be sufficient. A new scheme has also been introduced to help companies prevent corporate identity fraud, where documents can be filed online and paper documents will be automatically rejected.

“After such a drawn-out introduction, it’s good to see the Companies Act finally in place, but businesses should take care in the next few weeks to make sure they don’t get caught up in any confusion.”

Taking the plunge for charity

Two intrepid employees from Martin-Kaye Solicitors took the plunge to raise vital funds for charity.

Lisa Batchelor and Stephanie Powers took part in an abseil down the House of Fraser building in Telford, in aid of the PDSA. And their efforts have proved a great success, raising over £300 to help raise funds for pets in need of vets.

Stephanie, a solicitor in our Corporate Department, said: “It was a great experience, if not a bit daunting when we stood on the edge of the building, but I’m really proud to have completed the challenge. There were people from all walks of life taking part, and it was a fantastic opportunity to try out a new skill and raise vital funds for charity at the same time.”


Lisa, who is a member of our Alpha Team, said: “The PDSA is one of Martin-Kaye’s chosen charities for the year, and so it was a brilliant chance to support a very special cause and test our nerves! We’re very grateful to everyone who has supported our efforts, and we’re looking forward to the next challenge!”

Pic: Lisa Batchelor (left) and Stephanie Powers celebrate their abseil success

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Hot topics bring out businesses

Local businesses have been keen to take advantage of the first in our new series of advice seminars.

We have launched a new season of our popular HR and Employment Law in Practice (HELP) forums, and the first event was a great success. Hosted by our Alpha HR Team, the forum took place at The Prostar Stadium, in Shrewsbury, and tackled the hottest topics in Employment Law.

Emma Palmer, Alpha Team Manager, said: “Our HELP forums have been held in both Telford and Shrewsbury for the past four years, and we’re very pleased to have launched a new season. They always prove particularly popular with employers who have limited time, but who want to learn as much as they can about the latest issues their business is facing on a day-to-day basis, and what to expect on the horizon. Thanks to our interactive approach, businesses can also request specific topics for forthcoming seminars.”

Topics at the latest Alpha HELP forum included: the changes likely to follow the Government’s Equality Bill which aims to harmonise existing discrimination legislation; working time regulations; new rights for agency workers; pregnancy and maternity rights; calculating compensation; liability for workplace stress; and termination payments and compromise agreements.

The forums run from 8am to 10am, usually quarterly, and provide employers and HR professionals with an opportunity to exchange ideas and to discuss trends. At each event, delegates receive a presentation dealing with the latest employment issues, together with practical examples, followed by a question and answer session, and the chance of a free contract audit.

To find out more about future events or a free contract audit call 01952 272222 or visit www.martinkaye.co.uk and click on the Alpha logo.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Staff must look the part

Shropshire company bosses should think carefully before imposing strict dress codes on their staff.

Lynsey Woolley, from our Employment Team, said: “Understandably companies want their employees to dress appropriately in the workplace, but the rules need to be fair. It’s vital that a dress code does not discriminate against any sector of the workforce by introducing rules that affect only men or only women.”

She said some dress codes may be dictated by health and safety rules (if employees needed to wear protective clothing), and others may be influenced by the professional image of the company.

“In these cases, you may decide that staff should not have any body piercings or tattoos on show, and that tops should not be low cut or expose the employee’s stomach. It’s entirely up to each individual company which rules they set, but if you’re going to have a definite policy, it will need to be enforced correctly.”

Lynsey said if a company was introducing a dress code for the first time, or was making significant changes to existing rules, staff consultation would be a good idea.

“You should also ensure your managers receive training and advice on how to implement the rules, so they are sensitive to any possible discrimination issues.

“The appearance of your staff reflects directly on the professional image of your company, and in today’s challenging economic times, it’s important to do all you can to stay ahead of the competition. Ensuring your employees look the part could well give you a head start in terms of securing that vital deal.”

Friday, 14 August 2009

Cycling success for Louise

A solicitor from our Commercial Property team has beaten all expectations by clocking up 345 miles in a national cycling time trial.

Louise Clowes has a passion for extreme sports, and was persuaded to take part in the 24-hour trial by clubmates at Lyme RC. “We decided to try to get a team of three around the national course, cycling loops to cover as many miles as possible during the 24 hours,” said Louise.

“My target in my head was 300 miles, and I started off thinking that anything more than that would be a bonus. In fact I eventually cycled 345 miles.”

But it wasn’t all plain sailing for Louise – the first 200 miles passed without incident, with regular pit-stops. “The third block of cycling was the hardest, riding out at about 2am knowing that pretty much the whole segment would be done in the dark and cold. By 5am, a lack of sleep and proper food meant I started to hallucinate, and I actually fell asleep on my bike and crashed.

“I really thought my time trial was over and went back to my tent hoping for some sleep. But after 45 minutes rest, a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea, which worked wonders, I was back on the bike and completed almost another five hours in the saddle.

“I’m absolutely delighted to have finished the trial and to have achieved such a great distance beating all my targets.”

Louise is a keen triathlete in her spare time, and competes in a wide range of events from sprint distance to the tough Ironman format.

Pic: Louise Clowes in training on the GPM10 Haute Savoie Training Camp

Friday, 3 July 2009

Don't abuse expenses to boost your salary

Shropshire bosses should review their expenses policies in order to stop staff getting away with false claims.

John Mehtam, our Employment Law Specialist, said the MPs expenses scandal had uncovered a raft of issues that could not be ignored.

“We’ve all seen the continuing press coverage and the uproar over the MPs’ claims, and it’s an important lesson for companies to learn. Now is the perfect time to review your expenses policies, and ensure staff are not using your expenses system as a way to boost their salaries. Some people seem to assume they have a right to expenses on top of their wages, but in fact they are there to reimburse staff and not as an additional extra to reward them.”

John said companies should check the expenses staff were claiming were actually correct – particularly travelling expenses.

“But of course you’ll probably have much more pressing things to do than check every single expenses claim – and that’s what expenses cheats are relying on. There is no reason though why you can’t introduce spot checks. Select a couple of claims at random and look through them in detail – this should be enough to put employees off who may be considering submitting inflated claims.

“If you do find someone has made a false or embellished claim, challenge them – if they’ve clearly broken the rules, you can start disciplinary proceedings, and of course, it’s actually also a criminal offence.”

John said companies should also insist on receipts – for every expense they claim, staff should need to prove it. “Take heed of the scandal that’s hit Westminster, and don’t allow your own company to suffer at the hands of employees who are prepared to take a chance.”

Think carefully before you sign

Shropshire couples should think very carefully before they sign a prenuptial agreement as it will now have a huge impact on the rest of their lives.

Graham Davies, our Senior Partner, said previously prenuptial agreements had been taken into consideration by the courts, but could not be enforced. But now, in a landmark decision senior judges have given their clearest signal yet that courts in England and Wales should take prenuptials as binding documents, bringing them into line with the rest of Europe.

“The law previously said that prenuptial contracts were not enforceable, but the judges said the legislation was patronising and outdated,” said Graham. “So in the case of a wealthy heiress, they ruled that the prenuptial contract she and her husband had signed should be decisive in their divorce case.

“In future, the courts will now regard these contracts as binding, unless there is a reason not to. This means couples should give more consideration to the agreement before they sign it, as it could be a key factor if they ever decide to divorce and need to divide their assets.”

Graham said the judges had decided that ignoring prenuptial contracts seemed to be “increasingly unrealistic” and “reflected the laws and morals of earlier generations”. “By bringing England into line with the rest of Europe, the judges have put a stop to divorcing couples from overseas coming here to finalise their arrangements and avoiding their prenuptial agreements.

“The outdated law meant it was open season for couples who wanted to disregard the contracts they had previously signed – now England is on a level playing field. Any couples considering a prenuptial agreement would be wise to think things through very carefully – the consequences of signing one could have a huge impact on your future.”

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Beware employee fraudsters

Shropshire bosses must look for tell-tale signs that their employees may be struggling to cope with the realities of the credit crunch.

John Mehtam, our Employment Law Specialist,said: “Tough economic times lead people to resort to all kinds of desperate measures. Last year employees were convicted of frauds totalling £300 million, and with the credit crunch biting, many more may be tempted to try to cheat their employer.

“Many employees with previously spotless characters may resort to drastic tactics when under pressure, and it’s important to spot the early warning signs. Is someone behaving oddly? Have they started to come in extremely early, or stay very late?

"If so, ask them why.
There could be a reasonable explanation, maybe they’ve got an excessive workload or they’re unhappy at home. But it’s also possible they could be waiting for everyone else to leave so they can get at the petty cash.”

John said it was important to carry out regular audits on any cash held on the premises, and if large amounts need to be paid out, make sure two people authorise it.

“Look for an employee who may be making unusually excessive purchases, or who is going to expensive restaurants more regularly, or taking more foreign holidays than usual. If it doesn’t fit with their salary, then something’s not right. Of course, there could be a simple explanation, perhaps they’re spending an inheritance, but it’s also possible the money is coming from your business account."

Friday, 29 May 2009

In the danger zone

Company directors across Shropshire could find themselves top targets when it comes to identity theft.

Our Senior Partner, Graham Davies, said national research had shown that company directors aged 30 to 50 were particularly vulnerable.“The research showed that any senior staff living in rented accommodation were most at risk, as they tend to share post boxes and move house more often.This gives fraudsters more opportunity to access and abuse their credit histories.”

He said directors earning more than £50,000 were almost three times more likely to fall victim to an identity theft – and those employing over 50 people were five-and-a-half times more at risk.

“It appears the most common method is to use a forwarding address fraud. This is where the criminal redirects your post to a ‘drop’ address, which they later visit to collect the items. This trick accounts for around 36 per cent of all identity thefts, but you will probably be completely unaware it is even happening initially.

“It’s only likely to be uncovered when you’re expecting private financial information, such as bank and credit card statements, and they fail to arrive. If you don’t receive the items you’re expecting, don’t ignore the situation. You should speak directly to the sender, and also insist they investigate any suspicious activity on your account.”

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Louise joins the Martin-Kaye team

A solicitor with a passion for extreme sports is the latest addition to our Commercial Property team. Louise Clowes, of Maer Heath in Staffordshire, has previously worked for companies in Manchester and Nantwich.

Her past experience has included working on minerals and environment cases, commercial sales and purchases, landlord and tenant work, easements and licences.
She has also handled more unusual cases including the purchase of a sand and gravel quarry to be turned into a nature reserve, and the purchase of an open cast coal mine.

Louise is a keen triathlete in her spare time, competing in a wide range of events from sprint distance to the tough Ironman format.

“I enjoy challenges, both in terms of my work and my spare time, and the Ironman event is a prime example of one of the toughest there is.
I’m thoroughly enjoying the work at Martin-Kaye, and looking forward to helping the Commercial Property team to build on its already strong reputation, both locally and on a wider national stage.”

Pic: Louise Clowes – the latest addition to the Martin-Kaye Commercial Property team

Monday, 27 April 2009

Maternity leave is no protection

Shropshire employees on maternity leave are not immune from redundancy cuts - that's the message from John Mehtam, our Employment Law Specialist.

"Many employers believe staff on maternity leave cannot be considered when it comes to job losses, but in fact, although women on maternity leave have the right to be offered suitable alternative work ahead of other staff selected for redundancy, they are not exempt from the process.”

John said many companies were facing tough decisions in difficult economic times, and redundancies were occurring in all kinds of industries. “If one of your employees has just gone off on maternity leave, which means she could be away for up to 12 months without making any contribution to your business – wouldn’t she be an ideal candidate for redundancy? It’s not the easy option that it may initially seem, but it’s not impossible.

“Women on maternity leave do have a special level of protection, so before taking the redundancy route, you must assess whether there is any ‘suitable alternative work’ available elsewhere in your company,” said John.

“It will need to be something similar to her current role so offering night shift work to a daytime employee would not be appropriate. If such work does exist, she takes priority over any other employees selected for redundancy, which in reality means she has an automatic right to the job. She’s then entitled to a four-week trial period to see if it suits her – at the end of this period, she can refuse the job and then be made redundant.”

But John said if there was no alternative work, employers should continue with the redundancy process – provided they go through the correct procedure, and have good grounds for selecting the employee, she can be made redundant. “As long as you’ve followed the process to the letter, the fact that she’s on maternity leave makes no difference. Keep notes of your reasons for selecting her, but make sure you don’t refer to her maternity leave as this will be considered discriminatory.”

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Alpha celebrates anniversary success

Our business protection scheme, which is the first of its kind in the UK, has beaten all targets in its first two years. The Alpha project has just reached its second anniversary, with interest still increasing on a daily basis.

It's a comprehensive 24-hour business support package with particular emphasis on employment and Human Resources support – the scheme also provides insurance protection against claims.

Senior Partner, Graham Davies, said: “We’re delighted to announce that every company who joined the scheme has renewed its membership, and interest is continuing to grow. Particularly in such difficult economic times, expert support and effective advice is proving to be extremely popular with all kinds of businesses, and through Alpha, we are delivering advice that makes a real difference.”

The all-in-one package offers face-to-face legal advice and assistance with HR policies and practices, and legal expenses insurance against fees, costs and tribunal awards. Companies also receive legal representation at any employment tribunal, legal updates, training workshops, and direct access to the entire Martin-Kaye Commercial Department, not just the employment team.

Alpha includes discounted legal services for each member business and their employees too – no matter which department they need help from – including conveyancing, wills, divorce and other personal issues.

For more information about the Alpha project, email alpha@martinkaye.co.uk or visit www.alpha-hr.co.uk

Martin-Kaye clients have also been keen to praise the service:
“I am glad we switched our HR protection to Alpha. The advice we receive is practical and geared to our business and the on-site visits are invaluable. We also appreciate having access to the wider aspect of the Commercial Department of a well respected law firm.”
Pam Wilson, Pink Skips

“The level of service provided by the Alpha scheme is second to none, far more extensive than any other scheme that we have looked at. The discounts available for members of our staff is unique and provides added value for us.”
Stuart Shepherd - APT Solutions Ltd

In the driving seat for safety checks

Shropshire companies are responsible for the safety of all staff who drive on business – whether they’re using a company vehicle or not.

Graham Davies, our Senior Partner, said employers must take steps to ensure their staff were not at risk.

“Under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, companies are now legally responsible for the health and safety of staff when they are behind the wheel on business, regardless of who owns the car. Any firm that fails to show a duty of care towards its employees can face prosecution if there’s an accident, and so can company directors and managers.”

He warned that setting out safety rules in the staff handbook was not enough – companies will have to demonstrate they are enforcing the policies and be able to produce appropriate evidence.

“Make sure your staff have the right insurance to use their own cars for business – this needs a simple amendment to their existing private insurance.You’ll also need to make sure that any car used for business is properly maintained – so take copies of MOTs and service histories, and keep a file for every vehicle as though it was a company car.

“And don’t forget to check the competence of the driver – just because you’ve seen their licence doesn’t mean they are safe. Ask all staff using a car in your business to agree to regular DVLA licence checks. These simple steps will go a long way to ensuring your company, and your staff, stay on the right side of the law.”

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Set realistic divorce goals

Divorcing couples need to be “more realistic” when it comes to negotiating their finances - that's the message from Nadia Davis, who leads our Family Team.

“There is no doubt that the current economic climate means people are looking for value-for-money divorce proceedings, avoiding potentially costly court hearings whenever possible.
The number of couples who want to go down the route of mediation or other non-courtroom alternatives is definitely on the increase.”

Nadia said if court proceedings were the only suitable option, couples should set their sights at a realistic level. “Don’t assume you will be able to secure the kind of settlement that we have seen previously in the more high profile divorce cases, particularly those involving footballers and celebrities.

“When the economy was stronger, those payouts were more achievable, but now, although it’s still important to make sure each person gets a fair share of the assets, the payouts are likely to be significantly lower.”

And Nadia warned couples that a long drawn out court case, with both sides arguing over the smallest point, would not be helpful either. “Obviously, in terms of costs, the longer the court proceedings go on, the more you will pay in legal fees, so the sooner both sides can agree a compromise the better.”

“The credit crunch is now really tightening its grip, and it’s clear that couples will need to fully appreciate the challenges this brings in terms of negotiating a divorce settlement. By being more realistic in terms of your expectations, you could find your case is resolved much more quickly and effectively.”

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Selling up to fund care costs

Elderly Shropshire homeowners who face the prospect of selling up to pay for their care must consider all the options.

Andrew Green, our Managing Partner, said more and more families were finding they had no alternative but to sell the family home to cover costs. “Research has shown that nationally more than 60,000 homeowners every year are being forced to sell their property to pay for their place in a care home.”

A strict means test system rules that anyone with savings or property worth more than £22,250 has to fund their own care payments. “This means that anyone who owns their own house or flat is obviously going to be over the financial limit, and local authorities have legal powers to make people in care homes sell their houses to meet the costs.

“Of course, the current economic crisis is making things even more difficult, particularly given the state of the property market with house prices at their lowest for many years. So even if homeowners do sell, they are unlikely to get the full value they would previously have expected for their property.”

Andrew said it was vital that families did not make rash decisions, and that they considered all the options available to them. “It may not be necessary in every case to sell the family home, particularly if you take legal advice early enough – you may be able to set up a family Trust, which can be tailor made to suit your family’s individual circumstances.

“Taking professional advice is important, because selling your home is a daunting prospect at such a stressful time, and it’s important to think carefully in order to protect your family’s future.”

Employers flock to hear advice




Over 100 business people from across Shropshire heard about radical new changes to grievance and disciplinary rules from a leading UK expert.


We organised the seminar at our offices at The Foundry, in Euston Way, Telford, with a guest presentation from Howard Paskin – a senior adviser at ACAS.
John Mehtam, our Employment Law Specialist, said the new rules on discipline, grievances and dismissals were due to come into force on April 6.

“We wanted to make sure local employers had the opportunity to find out exactly how the changes would affect their business, and we were overwhelmed with interested companies.
The event was a real coup for businesses in Telford and Shropshire as it was one of Howard’s few local presentations, and it was clear that employers were keen to find out everything they could in advance of the deadline.

“It’s important that employers are fully aware of their responsibilities too, because if they try to ignore the guidelines, any compensation awarded to an employee at a future tribunal could be increased by up to 25%.”

Any businesses who missed the seminar should contact our Employment Law Team on 0845 644 6376 or email alpha@martinkaye.co.uk for advice.

Pic: ACAS Adviser Howard Paskin (left) and John Mehtam, Employment Law Specialist at Martin-Kaye Solicitors

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Cycling for charity cash


Staff from Martin-Kaye Solicitors have proved they’re on the right track when it comes to raising charity cash.

The team joined other local organisations to take part in the British Heart Foundation Indoor Cycle event - organised by Telford & Wrekin Council, the aim was to encourage as many local people and organisations to join in with a virtual indoor ride using an exercise bike to cover 850 miles – the distance from John O’Groats to Land’s End.


Their combined efforts will help to raise money for a 3-d portable echocardiogram machine for Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital.


Sam Azzopardi-Tudor, for our team, said: “Telford & Wrekin Council arranged for an exercise bicycle and a fitness instructor to be on site at our premises for an entire day. And we asked volunteers from across the firm to take turns on the bicycle – with 12 members of staff clocking up a total of just over 81 miles in 30-minute sessions.”


So far, the Martin-Kaye team has raised £630 towards the cost of the state-of-the-art heart machine, and donations are still coming in.

Pic: Solicitor Steph Powers takes her turn on the exercise bicycle at Martin-Kaye

Monday, 23 March 2009

Beat the bad debts

Shropshire companies are being warned to protect themselves from bad debtors by tightening up their terms and conditions.

Our Senior Partner, Graham Davies, said: “With the number of businesses facing insolvency in these difficult financial times, it’s clear that companies should do all they can to protect themselves against customers going bust.” He said one solution was to introduce a Retention of Title (ROT) clause in sale or supply contracts – or if companies already had one, they should make sure the details were reviewed, adjusting them if necessary.

“The aim of an ROT clause is to prevent the legal ownership passing over to the customer until the goods have been paid for in full. It is important though that the wording of the clause is correct, and the best protection is provided by an “all monies” clause.

“If you word it properly, it will ensure that the customer does not get legal ownership of the goods until they have paid for them in full; and they must also clear any other outstanding debts they have with your company too.”

Graham said the clause could be included in your general terms of business, but many clauses proved to be invalid because they were not incorporated into a company’s terms and conditions correctly.

“It may not be good enough just to include the terms on the back of your sales invoices – ideally, you ought to make sure your terms are clear to your customer before you deliver the goods, and that they are included on as many documents as possible.

“If your customer is declared insolvent, a valid ROT clause may enable you to reclaim any goods which are clearly identifiable as yours. Or it may give you some bargaining room with the insolvency practitioners who will be looking to trade the company and may need your goods for trading purposes. Make sure you protect yourself and your business by taking the time to draw up a clear and effective ROT clause, and then it can be used it to its full effect.”

Friday, 13 March 2009

Divorced couples head back to court

Divorced Shropshire couples say the credit crunch is forcing them back to court to challenge financial payouts. Nadia Davis, who leads our Family Team, said there had been a real increase in the number of couples rushing back to court.

“It seems that in light of the difficult financial times, many people are finding that they just cannot keep up with the maintenance arrangements which were made when the economy was so much stronger. And of course we all know that the state of the economy is constantly changing – so at the moment, it may well be that a couple agree on a payout, but before it’s even finalised, the market has changed again.

“This means we’re seeing husbands delaying things until the last possible moment, or asking for additional time to pay. They know that by the time they have to come up with the money, their circumstances may be even more unstable, and so they may have to pay even less.”

Nadia said if an unforeseeable event happened after a divorce, the law allowed a former spouse to go back to ask for the deal to be looked at again. “But the real question is whether the economic downturn was foreseeable, or whether these spouses are just making the most of it as an opportunity to reduce the payments they have to make.

“No-one can accurately predict how long the credit crunch will last, and it’s clear that spouses cannot be expected to pay maintenance they cannot afford. But it’s vital that couples take professional advice on how best to proceed in order to protect their financial future.”

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Don't rush to cash that cheque

Shropshire businesses who fear their customers may not be able to pay their bills in full must proceed with caution. Chris Detheridge, who leads our Commercial Litigation Team, said the credit crunch was causing real problems for many companies in terms of cash flow.

“In such difficult circumstances, it may be tempting to take a part payment from a customer, to cover some of their debt – but this can be a dangerous move. Obviously it will mean that you do have at least some of the money they owe, but it could mean you kiss goodbye to the rest of the outstanding amount.”

Chris said the circumstances may occur if, for example, a customer owed your business £100 but sent a cheque for £80, saying it was “in full and final settlement”.

“You’re quite entitled to bank the cheque as a part-payment, ask for the balance, and point out that if you don’t receive it, you’ll take legal action. But recently the courts have been taking a different view – where a customer has offered part-payment on an earlier date, or from another financial source, this can sometimes be seen as sufficient consideration.

“This means that if you then bank the cheque, you can’t claim the balance – the courts say this is because you have derived a benefit too, such as receiving the money earlier, or the settlement of a dispute.”

Chris said the situation was even more difficult if you and the customer were in dispute over the bill. “If this is the case, don’t cash a cheque paid in full and final settlement if you want the full amount – return the cheque with a covering letter demanding payment in full.

“If you do decide to cash the cheque, respond as soon as possible with a counter-offer of what terms you will accept. Cashing the cheque is seen as strong evidence of acceptance, so you need to reject the offer immediately.”

Chris said for many companies, receiving at least some of the money would be very difficult to resist, particularly in such challenging economic times. “But tempting as it may be, you need to check the wording of any offer very carefully, and ensure you’re not agreeing to something you may regret later.”

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Great opportunity for first-time buyers

First-time buyers in Shropshire should grab the current window of opportunity to track down the home of their dreams.

That’s the message from Paul Matthews, of PMK Mortgages, in Shrewsbury, who said the timing could not be better for people trying to take their first step on the housing ladder.

“There are continuous rumours that it’s impossible to get a mortgage and that banks don’t want to lend, but that’s just not the case. The truth is that there are over 90 lenders currently offering mortgages in the UK, and they will only survive if they lend money. So they’re out there, they want to lend money, but they’re just looking for more security from potential buyers.

“In general, they’ll be looking for a clear credit history, with no county court judgements, or missed or late payments. You’ll also need to have at least a ten per cent deposit available, as there are currently no mortgages at above 90 per cent. And ideally, you should have at least six months continuous employment in your current job, and a 12-month employment history.

“The lender will want evidence too that you can afford the repayments over and above your existing financial commitments.”

But Paul said all was not lost if potential buyers were on a restricted budget as other options such as shared equity or shared ownership schemes could be appropriate.

PMK Mortgages (www.pmkmortgages.co.uk) offers independent mortgage advice for a wide range of clients across the county and beyond.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Good news from Northern Rock

Shropshire specialist, Paul Matthews, of PMK Mortgages in Shrewsbury, has welcomed the news that the troubled Northern Rock bank is to start offering mortgages again.

He said the decision should now help to kick-start the struggling housing market, and that home buyers could start to breathe a cautious sigh of relief. “This news from the Government is a real step forward, after many months of doom and gloom, and everyone is hoping it’s the first of many positive announcements.”

The state-owned bank, which was nationalised in 2007 with £27 billion worth of government support, initially had to rid itself of mortgage customers in order to repay the Government. This policy has been so successful that Northern Rock has reduced its outstanding loan to £9 billion.

Now the bank will be split into two divisions with one managing existing customers, and the other offering mortgage finance to new customers. Proposed figures show that new lending will be in the region of £14 billion by the end of 2010.

Paul said: “Government advisers have made it clear that the new lending from Northern Rock will be on commercial terms, to ensure it represents good value for money for the taxpayer. And their decision to allow the bank to return to the mortgage market is a positive sign that the difficult conditions are hopefully beginning to ease.

“Good news like the Northern Rock announcement can only help to boost the industry, and let’s hope it’s a sign of even better things to come.”

PMK Mortgages (www.pmkmortgages.co.uk) offers independent mortgage advice for a wide range of clients across the county and beyond.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Free seminar on radical rules

Shropshire employers have been warned they must not be complacent when it comes to grievance and disciplinary rules.

John Mehtam, our Employment Law Specialist, said radical changes were on the horizon which will transform the process. And so we're running a free advice seminar on Tuesday March 31 to help businesses learn more about just how much they will be affected.

“The new ACAS rules on discipline, grievances and dismissals, will be introduced on April 6, and the system will change beyond all recognition. Many employers think they know all about disciplinary procedures, and are comfortable with the familiar ‘three strikes and you’re out’ approach. But now, the incoming system will encourage companies to use conciliation and mediation to resolve differences.”

Our seminar will be run at our offices at The Foundry, in Euston Way, and will include a presentation from Howard Paskin, a senior adviser at ACAS.

“This is a real coup for businesses in the Telford and Shropshire area, as it will be Howard’s only local presentation, and so places at the two-hour seminar will be strictly limited,” said John.

Any businesses who would like to attend should contact our Employment Law Team on 0845 644 6376 or email alpha@martinkaye.co.uk

Monday, 9 February 2009

Credit crunch takes its toll

Business people struggling to cope with the tightening credit crunch are turning to the divorce courts for help, according to a Telford solicitor.

Nadia Davis, who leads our Family Team, said since the start of the year, there had been a huge increase in the number of wealthy people seeking a divorce.

“We’ve been inundated with enquiries from people who have either been made redundant, or who are worried they may lose their jobs, who are suddenly splitting from their partners. Their philosophy is that they know they will probably be asked to pay out smaller settlements if they are no longer earning the kind of big money salary they have done previously.

“And for some people facing the end of their marriage, they have no option but to continue to live with their estranged partner because the struggling property market means they cannot sell their house. Some people are even consciously trying to complete their divorces as quickly as possible, before the downturn gets any worse, in order to save their homes from being repossessed.”

But Nadia said it was important that families thought things through extremely carefully before taking drastic action which could have serious consequences.

“The Recession is definitely biting now, and many people are struggling to see a way forward both financially and emotionally. But it’s crucial that couples don’t just rush into a divorce in a bid to beat the credit crunch – every step must be taken slowly and deliberately, in order to ensure the right result for your family.”

Law firm has a worldwide audience

Disgruntled relatives from as far afield as Australia and Canada who feel they’ve missed out on an inheritance are turning to Martin-Kaye Solicitors for help.

We launched a new website – www.contest-a-will.co.uk – just six months ago, and have been inundated with enquiries ever since.

Chris Detheridge, from our Dispute Resolution Team, said: “In today’s modern world, the traditional family unit is no longer the norm, and family relationships are becoming increasingly complicated. As a result, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of people who believe they have been unfairly excluded from someone’s will, and who want to know what they can do about it.”

He said arguments over someone’s will were now all too common, particularly with more second marriages, more step children, and more same sex relationships than ever before.

The website gives anyone who may be concerned about someone’s will the opportunity to assess whether they actually have a case. It leads them through a series of questions to help check if their circumstances mean they should take any further action.

“The interest we’ve received from all over the UK, and in fact, all over the world, just shows that contested wills are a trend that’s set to continue.” To find out more visit the website – www.contestawill.co.uk, or call Chris Detheridge on 01952 272222.

Forums will go on

Shropshire businesses have welcomed our decision to extend our programme of popular advice forums.

We initially ran interactive HR and Employment Law in Practice (HELP) forums in Telford, and businesses in Shrewsbury were so impressed that they asked for their own programme of events, which ran until the beginning of this year.

Now, with the credit crunch biting, local companies have urged us to continue with our ground-breaking advice sessions in the county town.

Our Senior Partner, Graham Davies, said: “There has been an overwhelming response from local companies calling on us to continue with the forums, and so we are now planning a further programme of workshops. We’re also hoping to take them into the wider region, particularly the West Midlands in the future.

“One of the most popular elements of the programme has been the fact that businesses can request specific topics to be covered, and in today’s difficult environment, there have been many subjects to cover.”

The forums have been running quarterly in conjunction with the Royal Bank of Scotland, and an average of 40 businesses attend each session. Martin-Kaye is now planning to re-start the events in the Spring. The aim of the events is to keep employers up-to-date with current law and regulations, and to help them find the answers to tricky employment issues.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Be wary with your cash

Customers who want to avoid being left in the lurch when a store goes bust should make sure they buy wisely.

Chris Detheridge, who is based at our offices in Euston Way, Telford, said: “As the recession deepens, experts are predicting that up to 200 shops a day may close this year. This means more and more people could find themselves struggling to get their hands on goods they have already paid for if a store goes under.

“And the bad news is that customers have surprisingly few rights if a firm disappears, so it’s vital to think carefully about what you buy and how you buy it.”

Administration is a legal process that lets companies and individuals claim some or all of the money they are owed by the firm that has gone bust.

“But the problem arises when there are not enough assets to pay off everyone, and the amount of protection you have in this situation will depend on how you bought the item.

“If you paid for something with cash but the goods were never delivered, you will have to go to the administrators for a refund. Your purchase may well be packed and clearly marked with your name in a warehouse somewhere. If so, you are entitled to receive the item as ownership has technically passed to you.

“The best protection will be available if you paid for the goods on credit, either by credit card or with in-store finance. This will mean you can claim back the value of any item worth between £100 and £30,000 directly from the credit company.

“Given the current climate, be wary and think carefully before you make any major purchases – you don’t want to risk your hard-earned cash in these difficult times.”

Growing interest in equity release

More and more Shropshire residents are turning to the equity tied up in their homes to beat the credit crunch. And for many people, taking a lump sum from the investment they’ve made over several decades, may well be the only option they have.

Simon Wagner, who is based at our head office in Telford, said: “The profile and popularity of Equity Release is growing rapidly, and now this method has been given an extra boost on a national scale with debates even taking place in the House of Lords.”

“They looked at the way Equity Release was linked to retirement planning, and the role of Safe Home Income Plans (SHIP), the trade body representing over 90 per cent of the equity release sector. The aim was to come up with a consultation document on how to best achieve a result where significantly more people were using safe equity release,” said Simon.

“Many people are struggling to finance their retirement, and yet may be unaware they are sitting on a valuable asset they could use to make their life easier. By raising the profile of Equity Release, we hope to encourage people to use it safely, and they could find they are able to stay in their own homes for longer, rather than being forced to downsize because they can’t afford to live their lives.

“But it’s important to seek advice from a reputable independent financial adviser, and make sure you instruct lawyers who have a real knowledge of the process."

To find out more about our Equishield service, which guides clients through the complicated equity release process, visit www.equishield.co.uk

Thursday, 29 January 2009

De-mystifying home reversion plans

At a time when the concept of equity release is slowly beginning to win over the sceptics, home reversion plans continue to be viewed with suspicion by many commentators. Why is this the case? Well, it may be because home ownership is such an emotive subject in the UK, especially among the older generation who view owning their house as the culmination of many years hard work. It may also be because there is a popular misconception about the nature of home ownership and the legal rights attached to a home reversion, that serve to feed people’s fears.

And yet in certain circumstances it is an option that should be given due consideration, especially if the clients have a positive view of their life expectancy, want to leave a guaranteed inheritance, need to release the maximum sum available and house price uncertainty continues to prevail.

Under a reversionary scheme, the clients sell all or part of their property at a discounted rate to a provider in exchange for a lump sum or regular income. The clients are given a lifetime right to remain living in the property and remain as beneficial owners with their rights of occupation protected by a lifetime lease. The legal title passes to the provider essentially for practical purposes as they have to be able to deal with the property at the point at which it has to be sold. Contrary to popular belief, holding the legal title does not confer any financial benefits upon the provider.

So it may well be a matter of showing clients the bigger picture; an experienced advisor should have conviction in their recommendation and be capable of reassuring the most cynical of clients, and if they work closely with a similarly experienced lawyer the clients should be given the correct advice to enable an informed decision to be made.