Concerns over victims of cycling accidents with recent whiplash reform

Throughout the UK, roadways are more congested than ever, but not with motorists alone. Many adults are utilising the roadways to bike, either for pleasure or to commute to and from work, but the rise in the number of road users has created some concern in several arenas. The most pressing is the fact that accidents between motorists and other road users like cyclists and pedestrians are on the rise. A recent report highlights these statistics, citing a five per cent increase in the number of accidents resulting in serious injury among cyclists on UK roads. In 2016 alone, more than 100 cyclists died in an accident with a motorist, and another 3,300 reported serious injury after colliding with a vehicle. These stark numbers point to a real need for change; however, the government’s focus is on another issue surrounding the use of UK roads.

In 2017, the Civil Liability Bill proposed by lawmakers spelled out a grave need for reducing the number of fraudulent personal injury claims against motorists and their insurance companies. The focus of the bill is whiplash reform, as this soft tissue injury is often easy to fake and has been included in compensation claims at an increasing rate over the last several years. The initial roll-out for the bill set for October 2018 has now been pushed back to April 2020, giving many a reason to celebrate. While the whiplash reform programme has some positive aspects, many believe it unfairly includes vulnerable road users, including cyclists, into the mix.

Reform highlights

The Civil Liability Bill introduced in 2017 has several components, but the main focus is the need to reduce fraudulent whiplash claims relating to road traffic accidents. Whiplash often takes place after an individual has experienced a car accident, but the injury has been cited as an easy way to claim for compensation that may not truly be due to the accident victim. The proposed bill is meant to reduce the number of frivolous whiplash claims by fundamentally changing how compensation claims are processed.

Under the new reform, the biggest change in legislation revolves around the small claims court limit. Historically, the threshold for small claims court has been set at £1,000, meaning any claims above that amount were moved to civil court. The reform proposes an increase to the small claims court limit, up to £5,000, with the intent of decreasing the number of whiplash claims that can be brought with the help of legal representation. The proposed bill also requires medical evidence of whiplash after a road traffic accident, as well as a need to prove valuation of a claim for compensation. These tactics may indeed decrease the total number of whiplash claims, helping reduce fraud over time, but vulnerable road users including cyclists lose out in the deal.

Cycling accident victims and implications

Cyclists rarely experience whiplash after an incident with another road user, which a group of bike accident claims solicitors says is part of the reason the reform is not appropriate as it stands. Many cyclists involved in a road traffic accident have different injuries, ranging from broken wrists and ankles to broken collarbones and head injuries. Cyclists often see damage to their bike and clothing due to an accident, and they may have a loss of earnings while rehabilitating after an injury takes place. These issues are not explicitly addressed in the whiplash reform bill, nor is the reality that cyclists’ claims do not meet the new small claims court limits.

Under the proposed bill, cyclists stand to lose out the most because of these issues. The valuation of a claim in small claims court only includes the compensation for an injury. In 70% of cyclist accident claims, their injuries do not exceed £5,000 and so they may then be forced to go through the claims process without legal representation. If they do decide to use s solicitor to assist with their accident injury claim, their total compensation may be greatly reduced because they cannot recoup legal costs in small claims court. The reform blatantly overlooks these issues impacting cyclists and their ability to claim for compensation after an accident.

A nod to big insurance

While the whiplash reform programme is presented in a way which seems beneficial for road users, that is not the whole truth. Insurance companies and government leaders have been lobbying for a change in the personal injury landscape for years, citing a reduction in frivolous claims trickles down to savings for motorists. When insurance companies do not have to spend their money on settlement costs related to whiplash, they pass on the reduction in cost to drivers in the form of lower insurance premiums.

The reality is, however, that insurance expenses will not decrease as a result of whiplash reform, but instead, motorists will see little change. At the same time, vulnerable road users are left to fend for themselves in small claims court under the new programme. With the delay in implementing the reform, many have decided to speak out against it in the hopes that cyclists and other non-motorists on the road will have some protection, not penalisation, under the bill.

Image: Cycling Oxford cc by Tejvan Pettinger on Flickr

Business recovery – your options and when to use them

The stats are in and the picture isn’t rosy; four in ten small business fail within five years. It’s a fact of life – not every venture is going to be a big success. Having said that, financial problems don’t have to spell the end of yours. Company turnaround comes in many different forms to suit an array of different circumstances.

Cash flow problems

Cash flow problems can occur through numerous setbacks; is often unpredictable, and if ignored, can lead to the winding-up of a company. It might be a big contract your business has lost, or maybe you took on more staff than you currently need because predicted business growth hasn’t transpired. Maybe you just have a lot of cash tied up in book debt. Whatever the situation, a company facing these struggles will start to fall behind on paying their debts when they fall due, thus running the risk of insolvency.

The first step in turning around your business is identifying the underlying cause and addressing it. So, for example, if you are employing more staff than the company can support, steps need to be taken to either look to reduce the workforce or build up the business to a level where it is sustainable. To tackle the financial problems – there are several options to consider, including…

Financing through the storm

If you have cash tied up in unpaid invoices, which is restricting your spending power and your ability to pay off your own debts, then a factoring facility may be what you need. This type of commercial financing is essentially selling your unpaid invoices to a factoring company, who will then give you a percentage of their worth so you can get on with day-to-day business. These arrangements are easily tailored to specific industries and businesses, so whether you want to chase your book debt yourself or let your factoring company do that for you, these are all options on the table.

Formal arrangements

If the debt is more serious than a simple matter of delayed invoice payments, a formal repayment plan might be a better option for your company.
Sometimes, company arrears amount to HMRC debt only – in this case, a Time to Pay arrangement could allow you to get back on top of Corporation Tax, PAYE, NI, and VAT arrears.
If your business is a limited company, then a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) is another possible option. This would allow you to condense your business debts into one affordable monthly repayment, extended over a period of around 5 years, with the remaining balance of liabilities written off at the end. Similar products exist if you are a sole trader or member of a partnership.

Pre-packs and the technicalities

Sometimes, accumulated historical company debt can be so substantial that the business just isn’t viable in its current state any longer. In this case, the directors have an obligation not to continue trading if it is to the detriment of creditors, and the company would need to be liquidated.

A liquidator would sell assets at market value and distribute any proceeds amongst creditors. The shareholders of the old company may have the opportunity to purchase the assets from the liquidator at market value, they could essentially continue the business within a brand-new company. The ‘phoenix company’ would need a new name, however. This way, although the old company would have to end, a new one could continue the business in a debt-free format.

The challenges of commercial property investment

It makes good business sense to diversify your portfolio and limit risk when investing in property. Commercial property, although generally costlier than residential properties, can often bring an investor a greater and more secure yield.

However, an understanding of the market is vital as there will be certain legal considerations when going ahead with this investment. This post will give you a brief insight into some of the challenges and the decisions you may have to make when adding a commercial property to your portfolio.

Securing a commercial mortgage

To purchase a commercial property, you may need to apply for a commercial investment mortgage. Typically lasting between 3 to 25 years, they’re designed specifically for individuals who want to purchase commercial property to rent out, therefore benefitting from the rental income and property value appreciation.

There are a number of different types of property to invest in across a variety of sectors, including business, leisure, retail, industry, health and education. However, you should be aware that, according to MoneySavingExpert, some lenders have a minimum of £75,000 or more due to the legal and administrative costs associated with commercial properties.

Legal considerations

Of course, an investment of this amount should not be taken lightly and the following considerations may be vital in succeeding in buying and profiting from your commercial property investment:

Finding the right property

Unlike residential properties, there aren’t many high street agents for commercial properties. Many are sold through private treaty or by auctions, so it may be worth instructing a good commercial agent with investment expertise to help you get on the ladder.

Freehold or leasehold?

If you choose to buy freehold, you’ll own all of the property, including the land. With a leasehold, the owner contractually holds the interest for a certain period, which is limited to the length of the lease.

So, although you will probably spend more buying freehold, you are more likely to achieve a greater return in the long run.

Additional costs

Other costs you will have to consider alongside the initial purchase price include:

  • Stamp duty and land registry fees
  • Surveyor, estate agent and solicitor fees
  • Possibly VAT
  • Building survey
  • Environmental report

For more information on these, consider seeking legal advice from experts like DWF, who can use their experience to advise you how much these costs may set you back.

Buying a commercial property could be a lucrative investment decision. However, don’t forget about all the above considerations that come with it and consider seeking legal advice when investing in commercial property. By consulting the experts, you’ll have access to in-depth knowledge to identify opportunities and risks and help you achieve your financial objectives.

The importance of internal audits for lawyers

Internal audits are incredibly important for any business that provides efficient, compliant and secure services to its clients. These are three things (amongst many others) that every legal firm and individual lawyer must offer, which is why internal audits cannot be ignored by any lawyer in the UK.

As RSM reports, nearly 80% of jurisdictions worldwide have adopted the International Standards for Auditing (ISAs), showing recognition for a consistent auditing framework among many businesses. For lawyers, with the increased scrutiny auditing faces, this global uniformity allows internal audits to become more efficient, which is advantageous considering the importance they have.

Financial transparency

A lot of the times that law practice auditors arrive at a legal office or are asked to audit a lawyer, is when there has been a complaint made. This could either be from a fellow professional, client or someone else. However, the majority of times it is related to instances (or supposed instances) of financial mismanagement, fraud and when clients believe they have been overcharged.

Internal audits conducted before any such claims arise can help to provide financial transparency and hopefully prevent these issues occurring. Of course, an external audit will be more trusted by many current and potential clients but an internal one can be arranged a lot quicker, for cheaper and still offer an objective insight. This is easier for larger legal firms where it’s easier to find internal auditors who have no operational responsibility.

Identify and resolve weaknesses

An internal audit for your law firm should be undertaken on a regular basis to pick out any potential weaknesses or areas that are not meeting the required standards. Objective reviewing of your working practices, policies and procedures can help to highlight areas that require work. These can include anything from general risk prevention to making sure that you and others in your team or legal firm are meeting compliance requirements at all times.

Without an internal audit for a while a lot of risks and weaknesses could easily pass you by and make future problems worse. By identifying them internally as well, it allows you to resolve them before this happens and any current or future clients hear about such problems, potentially turning them away from using your legal expertise. This will help to maintain your reputation

Internal audits can help highlight and address issues such as billing fraud, inefficiencies, poor case management and more. These can all increase the legal fees you or your firm charge in the long run, causing real losses, which is why regular internal audits are essential in the legal business.

Does the divorce system need updating?

On 17 May, the Supreme Court heard its first case on divorce itself (Owens v Owens [UKSC 2017/0077]). The case has reignited the debate over the current divorce system in England and Wales which has been in place since 1973. In this case, the husband successfully defended his wife’s divorce petition on the grounds that the marriage had not, in actual fact, broken down irretrievably and that the allegations made were not true.

The Judges found that the wife’s allegations were not sufficient enough to justify the claim that it was unreasonable for her to remain being married to her husband. As a result, the wife was unable to procure a divorce and under the current law, she must remain married to her husband until they have been separated long enough for her to issue unilateral proceedings on the grounds of five years’ separation. This is a particularly rare outcome that has attracted a significant amount of media attention. The judgment shows that the law, as it stands, does not adequately allow an individual the means to promptly leave the marriage in the event that their spouse is not at material fault.

A recent study into defended divorce cases shows that less than 1% of divorces are defended and of those cases, less than 18% were defended on the basis that the marriage had not irrevocably broken down, with the majority being disputed on the basis that the accused party was not at fault. This suggests that the current fault based system is responsible for over 80% of divorce disputes.

This has spurred the debate of whether we should rethink the current law and introduce a “no-fault” divorce. Advocates of this change claim that it would lessen the financial and emotional impact of the already fraught divorce process. In 2015, 60% of English and Welsh divorces were granted on grounds of adultery or behaviour. In Scotland, figures where a divorce can be obtained by neither party admitting fault after one year (with consent) was 6%. In cases where neither party has committed any act or acts that can be considered unreasonable, the law forces the parties to either fabricate misdeeds or wait a minimum period of two years to formally divorce. It is rare that these cases proceed as far as Owens v Owens did, as the majority are settled out of Court; however eliminating the need to point blame or find reason, could lead to a more expeditious, less costly process.

The Owens case has certainly flagged up the importance of modernising the somewhat outdated and potentially prejudicial system and it will be interesting to see the long-term effects of this case and whether, following the controversy and media attention, a no-fault divorce system will be introduced.

To speak to the Family team at Meadows Ryan about a divorce or family matter, contact Christian Abletshauser.

The importance of representation in the administration of an estate

The responsibilities of personal representatives in the administration of an estate are a burden easily taken for granted, simply conferred by a will and happily taken on by a well-intentioned friend or family member of the deceased. In rare cases, however, the obligation can have dire consequences. A recent case involving Inheritance Tax liability (Harris v HMRC (2018) has illustrated the pitfalls of acting as a personal representative for an estate. In Harris the personal representative of an estate transferred a substantial sum of money from the estate to a beneficiary on the basis that the beneficiary would pay the Inheritance Tax burden on that sum.

The beneficiary then left the country for Barbados without paying any of the tax due. The Courts have found that the personal representative is responsible for paying the tax despite not receiving any of the estate himself.

This is a good example of the dangers of taking on a legal obligation and should serve as a cautionary tale, however rare a result of this scale may be. It is far more common for a personal representative to be held responsible for minor infractions as a result of careless filings, such as in Usher & Anor v HMRC (2016). In this case two unrepresented executors incurred a £5,000 fine from the HMRC by mistakenly failing to disclose income on an estate. Despite having no malicious intention, the two representatives were held liable for both the fine and the tax on the undeclared income.

Both of these cases, among many others, show that the obligations that come with administering an estate are not to be taken lightly. In any case, however minor, proper legal advice and representation should be procured to ensure that the process can move forward with minimal risk and provide peace of mind that you will not find yourself liable for costs that you did not anticipate. Probate professionals have the benefit of indemnity insurance, and a wealth of knowledge to avoid getting into situations such as the ones above, and this provides a level of protection that could prove invaluable at a very important time.

For queries or information on how the Private Client team at Meadows Ryan can assist you with your duties as a personal representative, please contact Jag Shah.

The rise of “grey divorce” in 2018 – why it’s happening and how to cope

Over the past 20 years, there has been a marked and steady rise in the number of older people who seek to get divorced – “grey divorce”. The trend continues in 2018 and here we examine the reasons for this and what those concerned can do to help them cope with the prospect effectively.

Why grey divorce is on the rise

There are several reasons why grey divorce is on the rise. In the first instance, grey divorce is now deemed acceptable by society and has little or no stigma attached to it. In days gone by, it was the case that many married couples who were experiencing difficulties would enter into an “Irish” divorce and this meant separating but not going through with the legal proceeding.

Life expectancy is also playing a role in the rise of the grey divorce. People are living longer, which means couples can be together longer and thus statistically more likely to end up parting company.

The third main reason why grey divorce is on the rise is that subsequent marriages, that is to say a second or third marriage tends not to last as long and to end up in divorce.

Here is a look at the statistics:

“In England and Wales, divorce is in decline – our most recent 10 years of data show a 28% fall in the number of divorces between 2005 and 2015. But older people are bucking the trend. In the same period, the number of men divorcing aged 65 and over went up by 23% and the number of women of the same age divorcing increased by 38%.” Office of National Statistics

How to cope

What may act as some kind of comfort for those who are experiencing grey divorce is that there is now more support and advice around than ever before to help them cope with the procedure. For instance, legal experts like Withers Worldwide offer a range of services such as legal mediation or help navigating complex cases that may involve post-nuptial agreements or factors such as overseas trusts.

Other forms of support come in the form of forums or services like the ones offered by divorce support groups. Talking through the experience and the surrounding factors is one of the best ways of coping with the related stresses, strains and processes. This coupled with a healthy lifestyle and plenty of rest will help those going through a grey divorce to understand what is happening and how to deal with it.

10 things to consider when choosing a conveyancing solicitor

Picking the right conveyancing solicitor can be like picking a needle out of the haystack. Do you rely on recommendations from family or friends or pave your own way and select one yourself? Do you go for the cheapest fees? Or do you find the one with the best rating on yelp?

Our 10 things to consider when picking a conveyancing solicitor will give you all of the information you need to make the best choice.

Are they on your mortgage lender’s panel?

Picking a solicitor that is not on your mortgage lender’s approved panel of solicitors can lead to unnecessary complications or even a refusal to lend. Make sure that your appointed solicitor is on the panel of the bank or building society you’re using for your mortgage. If they’re not ask them to register with that lender. Registration can take time and, in a time dependent market this can cause issues.

Fees

Solicitors will all charge fees, these can be wide ranging, depending on location and reputation. Ordinarily a house purchase will be a trying time on your finances so make sure that you budget for your conveyancing costs. The cheapest conveyancer is not often the best solicitor so be cautious if the price is significantly lower than you expected.

Recommendations

A great way of evaluating a solicitor is to check what the previous clients have to say about them as a conveyancer. If a conveyancer has outstanding reviews from people that they have taken through the process you’re likely to be in safe hands. To find out more about how solicitors help during the house buying process you can get additional information here: https://righttobuy.gov.uk/apply/whathappensnext.

Ask your family and friends

At some point they our friends and family are likely to have been through the house buying process. Having a family recommended solicitor gives you a good idea of what expectations you should have. Likewise, if they have had a poor experience you know you can discount them from your list.

Check their credentials

Experienced solicitors are likely to be far better equipped to handle your conveyancing than a practice that is made up of legal juniors. Don’t be afraid to ask your solicitor what experience they have and what qualifications they hold. Woodgrange Solicitors advise that a good legal practice will always be able to demonstrate their capability to handle your conveyancing.

Don’t take an estate agent’s recommendation

Estate agencies currently face a vast number of financial challenges, one way they negate this is by having an agreement with solicitors. Often times an estate agent will recommend a conveyancer. This is normally because they have a financial agreement for every client they pass over. This can lead to you receiving a poorer service than if you had sought out your own conveyancer or solicitor.

Local knowledge could play a role

While you may be tempted to hire a conveyancer in a different location because they offer attractive rates, this may also have repercussions. Hiring a conveyancer from your local area puts them at an advantage because they specialise in that location. A local conveyancer will be abreast of local developments and news that could potentially impact your property purchase. Hiring a local solicitor could significantly speed up the completion process.

Find out your solicitors fee structure

Tying back to the original fee point, you should find out how your conveyancer’s fee structure operates and whether they charge a fixed fee or if they charge a percentage of the property value. Some conveyancers like estate agents will charge a percentage of the value of the property you’re purchasing which could drive up fees compared to traditional fixed fee conveyancers.

Make sure they provide a full breakdown of their fees

A reputable conveyancer should always provide a full breakdown of costs so you’re in no two minds about the services you’re paying for. Approaching a solicitor to manage your property sale or purchase should be transparent and clear from the very beginning.

Communication

The property buying process can be convoluted and confusing, especially if you’re a first-time buyer. A conveyancer that communicates with you as the process unfolds is definitely one you should seek out. Chasing solicitors as well as all of the other hassles that come along with buying a property is additional and unneeded stress. Good conveyancers hold your hand every step of the way. To find out more about the conveyancing process this article by money supermarket gives a clear and concise breakdown: https://www.moneysupermarket.com/mortgages/first-time-buyers/guide-to-conveyancing.

Choosing the right solicitor could be the single most important thing you do along the house buying journey. A well-qualified, communicative and informed solicitor can relieve you of any additional stress and allow you to concentrate on other things like choosing a removals service and getting set up in your new house.

 

Benefits reforms subject of Finders International event

Finders International is running another of its popular deputyship development days for the public sector in June.

The development days give people from different organisations and industries the chance to get together and exchange ideas. The fourth such event will take place at the Hippodrome in Thorp Street, Birmingham, on 14 June.

Delegates will discuss the forthcoming benefit reforms and the implications for their clients.

Changes to welfare benefits in the last few years have had a profound effect on individuals, especially those who have been on long-term disability benefits. Council officers have already reported an increase in time spent supporting their clients at benefit reviews and tribunals.

Implementing Universal Credit also raises serious issues for local authorities managing the finances of vulnerable adults. Challenges officers and those applying for universal credit experience include the need for a separate email address, the time spent waiting for claims to be processed, and that payments are made with no National Insurance number quoted.

Delegates at the June event will get tips and advice on how to complete assessment forms successfully. Tackling reconsiderations and appeals regarding the Employment and Support Allowance will also be discussed so that officers can ensure they get the right decision and what steps to take to challenge a decision they disagree with.

Those at the event will also hear about how to get advice and ensure that they get expert advice at the earliest opportunity. Other subjects covered on the day will be the process of making gifts for a person who has a Court of Protection order in place and issues around tenancies and the loss of capacity.

Feedback from previous events says council employees are aware that deputyship is an unusual, specialist job. The value, therefore, of the deputyship development days is that it brings together people in the same boat.

David Lockwood, a former local authority deputy and Finders International’s public sector development manager, said: “The event is open to all local authorities where staff act as a deputy under the Court of Protection. It’s also for people in the private sector who act as deputies too. We offer a unique opportunity to bring all those who deal with deputyship under one roof, providing a supportive and collaborative environment for those workers.

“Many councils have had to cut the support and advice they give in respect of benefits. For many council officials, accessing expert advice is difficult to find and we are trying to ensure that we point them in the right direction. Hopefully, many local authorities and businesses in the Midlands will be able to send delegates along.”

If you would like to come along to our event, you can register on the Finders International website here.