Here is the latest edition of our Newsletter which we hope you will find both interesting and informative. If you would like to receive future editions by post or email, please complete the simple subscription form.
(You can download this edition of our Newsletter here – PDF, 3MB)
A warm welcome
A warm welcome to our existing clients and readers, and in addition to former clients of Peter Zelnik who may be reading this for the first time.
We have all seen further changes in the last year, and the law and this firm are no exception. The Government has at last clamped down on some of the worst excesses of the personal injury claims management companies, although it continues to be important to choose a specialist solicitor you can actually go to see, rather than rely upon someone your insurer tries to persuade you to use.
As another sign of changing times, I have recently been in Greece training commercial litigators in Athens to become mediators. Although sometimes litigation is necessary, mediation is increasingly seen as a more civilised and efficient way to resolve disputes, whether they are within a family or between businesses. Involving less time, cost, and stress, mediation can leave relationships in much better condition than after court litigation.
I have again been answering callers’ legal questions live on LBC97.3’s Legal Hour, my colleagues Melanie Dunton and Linda Charman have presented a series of free talks on succession planning at Orpington Library, and Robert Sardo has been explaining Personal Injury claims at Biggin Hill Library.
A particular highlight for our clients has been the reassurance from our independent Law Society “Lexcel” auditor who said, “One of the best firms I have seen…and I have seen some very large firms.” So, it is possible to have the convenience and careful attention of using a local firm, with the reassurance that all the expertise you need will be on hand.
The ‘Help to Buy’ Scheme
Are you or your children looking to buy a property, and if so, have you heard about the Government’s ‘Help to Buy’ scheme?
Why has ‘Help to Buy’ been introduced?
The Government is aiming to encourage economic recovery by increasing home ownership and to stimulate the housing market with the ‘Help to Buy’ scheme.
How can ‘Help to Buy’ help me?
There are two ways in which the ‘Help to Buy’ scheme could assist you.
Firstly: If you are intending to buy a new-build property for up to £600,000 as your home the Government are offering interest-free loans for up to 20% of the property’s value.
Unlike bank mortgages, the Help to Buy loan is interest free for the first 5 years. In the sixth year, interest is charged at 1.75% of the outstanding loan plus 1% each year. The annual 1.75% charge will increase each year in line with the rate of inflation.
Secondly: If you are intending to buy a property for £600,000 or less the Government will provide a mortgage guarantee of up to 15% of the mortgage. This means you will need a reduced deposit rather than the 25% currently required by most lenders.
Who can apply?
To qualify for the loan or mortgage guarantee, you must be 18 or older and eligible for a mortgage from a reputable lender. You will need a deposit of at least 5% of the property’s value. The property being purchased must be your only residence.
The loan is only available for new-build properties.
The guarantee is available for all properties.
How can I apply?
New-build houses are sold by builders and developers, who will help you to apply for a Help to Buy loan. Registered developers and properties can be located through local Help to Buy agents.
Many lenders have indicated that they will be offering mortgages using the guarantee scheme. You will need to compare the different products and in particular the interest rates and set-up fees charged.
How long will the scheme last?
The scheme is expected to last for 3 years but the Government has the power to bring it to an end earlier.
How is the scheme being funded?
Both schemes look attractive and may assist you in purchasing a property. However, the costs will ultimately be passed to those who pay interest on the loans or use the guarantee scheme. As ever… you need to read the small print!
Will you need a solicitor?
When buying any property and particularly a new-build it is important that you involve an experienced property solicitor who will help you understand the scheme and its implications for you.
- http://www.helptobuy.net (Moat website)
Have you failed to prepare?
Approximately 30 million people, nearly 60% of the adult population, never prepare a Will and even fewer make Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs). Are you one of those?
Who will inherit?
Without a Will the law dictates what happens to your money. If you are married your spouse may not necessarily receive all your estate. If you are in a long term relationship but unmarried your partner will receive nothing from your estate. Making a Will provides an opportunity not only to make sure you leave your estate in accordance with your wishes but also to consider the impact of Inheritance Tax and care home fees.
Who will look after you?
By making an LPA you decide in advance who will look after your financial affairs if you are unable to do so yourself, and avoids expensive legal proceedings. You can also decide whom you want to look after your health and welfare when you can’t make decisions yourself.
Find out more
Why not visit our website to find out more about the importance of Wills and LPAs along with Inheritance Tax, care home fees and other related issues or simply call us on 01689 822554.
Failing to prepare can be very expensive!
Inheritance Tax: The basic facts
What is Inheritance Tax?
Inheritance Tax is charged on the value of a person’s estate at their death. Tax is charged at the rate of 40%.
Do most people have to pay Inheritance Tax?
The first £325,000 of a person’s estate (known as the “nil rate band”) is not charged to Inheritance Tax. If an estate is worth less than £325,000, no Inheritance Tax is payable.
If I leave my whole estate to my husband/wife, will Inheritance Tax be payable?
A gift between spouses or civil partners is exempt from Inheritance Tax. If the estate of a married couple/civil partners exceeds £650,000 tax will usually only be paid on the excess.
Can I gift assets during my lifetime to reduce the size of my estate on my death?
You can make a gift during your lifetime; however if you die within 7 years of making the gift, its value is added to your estate on your death.
Are there any exemptions to the “Seven year rule”?
Yes, there are a number of exemptions. You can gift up to £3,000 each year (known as the annual exemption). You can make gifts up to £250 to different individuals. If your child gets married you can make a gift of £5,000.
For further information on Inheritance Tax and other exemptions please contact Melanie Dunton or Rae Broughton on 01689 822554.
Why use a local lawyer?
With today’s technology, it is as easy to communicate with someone in Liverpool, Delhi or New York as it is our next door neighbour. Replying to advertisements on TV, national press or a pop up on a web page couldn’t be simpler. However, buying a product is one thing; is it always such a good idea to use people you don’t know and will never meet for more complex services?
Talk about the problem
For example, if you were ill, would you want to discuss your condition with someone maybe hundreds of miles away by email or would you want to see a local doctor?
Similarly with legal advice, the benefits of using local experts can far outweigh the initial convenience of the internet and can be just as cost effective.
Meet the experts
You will have the advantage of face-to-face meetings where you can ask questions, get immediate replies and ask for clarity where necessary.
You have the convenience of calling in to a local office or if you telephone you will speak to the person handling your case, not a call centre.
If you are buying a home, local solicitors will know a lot more about the local area and services. They will explain each step to you and be on the spot to resolve any issues quickly.
With Personal Injury claims, a meeting is essential so that your solicitor can see the effects your injury has on your life, not only medically but financially and socially. They can also visit you at home or in hospital.
Family issues including Wills, Lasting Powers of Attorney and Divorce are other areas where it is vital that you discuss your case in detail so that your solicitor can recommend what is best for you based on your individual circumstances. In this way solutions can be found to problems you may not have considered. Such detailed appraisals cannot be done effectively by telephone or over the internet.
Treated as a person
In all legal matters where you need reassurance, professional advice and a resolution that is right for you, a call to your local lawyer should be your first step; you will be treated as a person and not a file number.
At Thomas Dunton, our reputation is founded on a tradition of care to both private individuals and businesses. Our team of legal experts offer the personal and professional service that only a local law firm can provide.
Please call us on 01689 822554 to discuss any legal issue that you may have.
Personal Injury: Are you considering a Clinical Negligence claim?
Do you have a claim?
If you are considering a claim for Clinical Negligence you must be able to prove both Negligence and Causation.
- Negligence – this means that the medical attention you received fell below acceptable standards.
- Causation – this means that the negligence directly resulted in an injury to you.
It is not enough to prove negligence, you must also prove that you received an injury as a result.
Examples of Clinical Negligence
These can include:
- Failing to diagnose your condition or making the wrong diagnosis
- Making a mistake during a procedure or operation
- Giving the wrong drug
- Failing to warn about possible risks or side effects
Initial action to take
You must make a formal claim within 3 years from when you first realised you had suffered an injury or in the case of children under 18, they can make a claim at any time up to their 21st birthday.
You should receive an apology, an explanation and assurances that the problem has been addressed. If there has been negligence, compensation may be due to you and legal action may be required.
Instructing a Solicitor
Clinical Negligence claims can be very complex and you should speak to a specialist solicitor who will assess the strength of your case and possible value of the damages.
They will need the positive opinion of an independent medical expert without which your case will not succeed.
Your solicitor will need details of:
- Any injury sustained, the treatment received and your current condition.
- All expenditure resulting from injury, including all prescriptions, travel costs to hospital etc.
- Any loss of earnings and any State Benefits received.
- People caring for you and the number of hours they help.
- Any activities or work you are unable to do as a result of the injury.
Funding your claim
There are various options open to you including:
- Private funding – you fund the claim yourself.
- Legal Aid – is now only available for birth-related negligence.
- No win, no fee – also known as a Conditional Fee Agreement.
- Legal Insurance – found in many home and car insurance policies as well as bank account packages.
- Trade union – members may be able to receive advice.
At Thomas Dunton, our specialist Personal Injury team are able to offer you a free initial interview to assess your case plus a choice of funding options including “No win, no fee”.
For your free interview where we can assess your claim without obligation, please call Freephone 0800 146340 or email email@example.com
Employment: Problems at work
Employment law can be complicated and few people have a clear idea of all their rights at work.
Before resorting to the Law or an Employment Tribunal, it is always best to try and resolve the matter directly with your employer using their Complaints Procedure. The issue can be sorted out more quickly and if you decide to go to a Tribunal, your compensation may be reduced if you haven’t tried this approach first.
However, if a solution is not forthcoming, it is important that you take alternative action quickly as there are strict deadlines for making complaints.
Your claim has to be registered within the following time limits:
- Unfair Dismissal – 3 months
- Statutory Redundancy Payment – 6 months
- Breach of Contract – 3 months from termination of contract.
Generally, to make a claim you have to be employed for two years. There are exceptions where you are protected from the first day of employment. These include issues that involve:
- Trade union membership or dues
- Whistleblowing (anything illegal or dangerous at work)
- Health & Safety or your legal rights (eg paid leave)
You are protected against discrimination at any stage of your employment including your job interview, if based on your sex, sexuality, race, religion or beliefs, disability or age.
If an agreement is reached without going to a tribunal, a “settlement agreement” is produced wherein you give up any claim against your employer for an agreed settlement.
They are usually chaired by a Lawyer and possibly two other members, who consider the claim by weighing up the evidence, the Law, the procedures the employer has for dealing with problems, the behaviour of both employee and employer during the period and steps they have taken to resolve the problem.
Hearings are usually completed in a day with a decision announced immediately.
Compensation can be awarded but this is unlikely to be large and often will only cover your actual losses.
A solicitor can:
- Explain your options and advise you if you have a case against your employer.
- Discuss with you if the case is worth pursuing and the likely costs to yourself.
- Agree a plan of action which may include them negotiating with your employer or helping you negotiate yourself.
For more information, please contact our Employment Team on Freephone 0800 358 2757 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Family: If you are contemplating divorce
If you are contemplating Separation or Divorce, it makes sense at the very least to have an initial meeting with a Family Law Solicitor who will be able to advise you on your particular circumstances and the legal options available and best suited to your situation.
Everyone’s case is different and it will be in your best interests to secure legal advice that is tailored to you personally. By using a solicitor, they will be able to explain any potential legal complexities that might arise in your case and help you to identify the key issues relevant in deciding the appropriate financial and other orders between you and your former partner. Failing to get proper advice at the outset could seriously prejudice your position.
For most people seeking a Divorce, the issues which cause most concern are the finances and how they will be split, where each will live and the arrangements for the children. With the benefit of an initial consultation with a Family Law Solicitor, not only will you be armed with the right information but hopefully you will also feel more confident in discussing these issues together with your former partner. It will be much easier for the two of you to try and negotiate a fair settlement (either just between the two of you or with a Mediator or through solicitors) if you both know your legal entitlements.
Cuts in Legal Aid and the credit crunch have tempted some divorcing couples to represent themselves in Court or to use divorce websites without any understanding of the process. The Law Society warns that cut-price options are not always the best and can end up costing a lot more and adding to what is already a stressful time. An online-managed Divorce is certainly not suitable in cases where there is imbalance of power between the parties, or if one or both of them are being difficult or withholding information.
At Thomas Dunton, we recommend that you get legal advice as soon as possible. We offer an initial one hour fixed fee appointment at £150, plus VAT. All your options are discussed and you can find out where you stand legally.
You will only be seen by an experienced Solicitor. Our team includes members of Resolution (Accredited Specialist), the Law Society Family Law Panel and Children Panel Accreditation Schemes.
For more information and advice, contact us on 01689 822554 or e-mail: email@example.com
The rights of unmarried couples
An increasing number of couples are now choosing to live together without marrying. Contrary to popular belief, legally there is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’.
Couples who have chosen to live together, rather than marry, often don’t realise that if they separate they have fewer rights than married couples even where children are involved.
Therefore it is advisable for couples already cohabiting or planning to cohabit, to take steps to safeguard their position.
What happens when it all goes wrong?
Currently, unmarried couples who separate do not have an automatic entitlement to each other’s property. It comes as a shock to many who, on separating, find out how little they are protected by law.
If the house in which you live together belongs to your partner, you do not automatically have the right to continue to live there nor to claim a share of the value of the property after separation regardless of how long you have been together.
If the cohabiting couple have children, an application can be made under the Children Act 1989 for the house to be sold only when the children have grown up, or for a lump sum to buy an alternative property to live in with the children. Often this lump sum has to be given back when the children are adult.
Get independent legal advice
It is important when entering into any agreement that you and your partner do so freely and voluntarily, that both of you have the benefit of independent legal advice and that full disclosure has been made of all relevant financial and other circumstances.
A Cohabitation Agreement
A Cohabitation Agreement can provide the best way of trying to ensure a secure future if things go wrong or if your partner dies or becomes seriously ill. It will set out agreements for how to proceed if the relationship ends, which can avoid problems and legal costs if you do split up.
Sounds a bit unromantic?
Possibly it may sound a bit unromantic but by being realistic at the outset it could save you both a lot of emotional and financial problems in the future.
For more information and advice, contact us on 01689 822554 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please telephone, email or drop in for free information leaflets; further useful advice can be found on our website and in our local advertising.
The information in this newsletter is of a general nature and may not reflect your individual circumstances. Please also note that details may change.