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.