DIY Divorce – does it work?

DIY Divorce – does it work?

DIY divorce has grown in popularity as splitting couples try to keep costs down. However, in some situations a DIY divorce can end up costing a lot more than simply instructing a solicitor in the first place. So, when is it a good idea?

If you and your partner are on the same page

If both people in the relationship want it to be dissolved permanently then a DIY divorce is possible. It’s important that everyone understands that the divorce is the last stage in the process of splitting – if either party is not sure then a trial separation may be a better idea. Where only one partner wants to divorce and the other wants to stay together then a DIY divorce is not a good idea. In this situation relationships can get very acrimonious and you may need to bring lawyers in eventually to resolve disputes.

If you’re confident about the paperwork

A mistake in the paperwork may mean that the court rejects the divorce petition. If that happens then the whole thing needs to be re-drafted and re-served. Whether you use a solicitor or not the court fee of £550 will be payable to issue the divorce petition – if you do make a mistake you’ll need to pay the court fee again.

You have plenty of time

Any divorce proceedings take between four and six months to conclude – at best (there is no magic six week divorce as has recently been quoted in the media). The more straightforward the divorce, the more likely it will fall within this four to six month time period. However, if you’re doing a DIY divorce then there are all sorts of delays that can arise, for example if one party fails to return the paperwork to acknowledge the divorce. If you are pushed for time then a DIY divorce can be difficult to achieve and the pressure can add to an already stressful situation.

You’re agreed on the financials

The biggest issue for anyone planning a DIY divorce is working out the financial settlement. A recent case - Vince v Wyatt – showed just how crucial it is to conclude finances early on in a divorce, as in that case the wife’s financial relief claim went ahead even though the separation had occurred 20 years before. Sometimes the only way to come to a swift agreement on financial matters is when a couple has advice from third parties. It’s also crucial to get advice on the financial implications of a split, for example with respect to future inheritance and children.

Employing students – what to bear in mind

Employing students – what to bear in mind

The new university term is upon us once again and across the country students have returned to their halls and houses, ready to start another year of study. For many, that study will also be accompanied by some time spent doing part time work, whether to help fund a course, or something to look forward to at the end. A 2015 study found that 77% of students now work while studying. Students can be a very positive part of a workforce but, if you’re going to employ them, make sure you know how it should be done.

Avoid advertising for students

Age discrimination applies to adverts too and so advertising exclusively for students (e.g. “students wanted”) can put you at risk of being the subject of a discrimination claim.

Do your students have a right to work?

If they are not British, or from within the European Economic Area, there may be restrictions on the number of hours a student can work while studying. Make sure you have documentary evidence of their right to work and a letter from the institution where they are studying that shows term dates and enrolment.

Zero hours contracts

Zero hours contracts have not had good press recently. However, they are still an attractive prospect to students who are looking to work flexibly. Make sure you understand the point at which employment status and protections change with respect to zero hours workers. Steer clear of clauses that oblige you to provide a certain number of hours and avoid completely those that require a student to work for you exclusively.

Part-time workers have rights too

It’s important when employing students to make sure that they are not being treated any less favourably than full time employees. For example, part-time employees should receive the same rate of pay – pro rata – as a full time employee and you must take care to ensure they have access to benefits such as holiday entitlement and taking national bank holiday days off.

Minimum wage

Part-time workers are as entitled to be paid the Minimum Wage as full time workers. Take care to ensure that, if you are paying Minimum Wage or close to that amount, you adjust this as the employee gets older. There are different bands that kick in at ages 18, 21 and 25.

Pensions auto-enrolment

If you are already auto-enrolling certain workers into a pension scheme then you need to make sure you don’t miss obligations due to part-time workers. This depends a lot on how often they work for you and, ultimately, how much they earn. Someone working a few hours one day a week may not qualify but a lengthy period of employment over a break in term time could trigger this. Remember that even if you don’t auto-enrol a student yourself they may still have the right to opt in to your pension scheme.

To speak to an employment Solicitor in Blackpool call 01253 629300 or click here to contact us.

 

Wills and Tenants in Common - Protect your assets

Wills and Tenants in Common - Protect your assets

When you’re drafting a Will it’s important to make sure that your assets will pass to the people you want to have them after you’re gone. If you own a property and this is part of the Estate that you want to leave behind, then the way that you own that property will have an impact on what happens to it.

Joint Tenants and Tenants in Common

There are two main ways to own property in England – as Joint Tenants or Tenants in Common. A property that is owed by Joint Tenants will not pass under the terms of a Will, no matter what that Will says. Instead, it will pass from the deceased Joint Tenant to the surviving Joint Tenant, regardless of current circumstances.

A property that is owned by Tenants in Common does come under the remit of your Will. With this type of property ownership your entitlement is to a share of the property. That share passes to your beneficiaries after your death.

How do you know which type of ownership you have?

It’s fairly simple to find out whether you own your property as Joint Tenants or Tenants in Common. If your property is registered at the Land Registry then you will be able to access the records that show how the property is owned. If your property isn’t registered at the Land Registry then the information can be found in the title deeds to the property (which you should have been given when you purchased).

Is it possible to switch from Joint Tenant to Tenants in Common?

Yes, you can change the way that you own a property at any time. If you want to switch from being a Joint Tenant to a Tenant in Common so that your share of a property can pass to your descendents then that’s fairly simple to do. You will need to fill in a form to register a ‘form A restriction’ to sever the Joint Tenancy and you may need to provide supporting documents. Many people find it easier to be guided through the process by a solicitor, especially if there is disagreement.

Why go to the trouble of changing your property ownership?

It may be that you and the other Joint Tenant have been in a relationship that has now come to an end. In that case it may be more appropriate to hold the property as Tenants in Common. You may own a property with a friend or relative, but your life circumstances may recently have changed – for example, having children. If you now have people you would like to inherit the property, other than the Joint Tenant, the switch is worth it. Finally, if you are updating your Will and have realised that your share of the property won’t pass on as you had hoped then this is a good time to correct the arrangements.

 

Supporting carers in the workplace

Supporting carers in the workplace

Recent research revealed that around one in six of us regularly has to take time off work to carry out caring responsibilities. For anyone who is working full or part time, the burden of this kind of pressure can be immense. The same research also found that one in eight of us can officially call ourselves a carer, whether that’s looking after children or an elderly relative. That’s a fairly significant figure. Employers can play a big role in making life easier for carers by being aware of the pressures that carer employees face and making a few simple changes to the working environment.

Making flexible working easy

All employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service now have the right to request flexible working, including carers. However, individual employers have the power to make this lifestyle either much easier or harder to achieve. Introducing an informal internal procedure to speed up flexible working requests – in addition to the formal process – can introduce efficiency and clarity. Being receptive to flexible working and recognising the benefit to giving staff that flexibility will not only make life easier for carers but create a more committed workforce too.

Educate line managers

Part of creating a company culture that embraces flexible working is ensuring that line managers respond in the right way to requests and discussion on the topic. It’s a good idea to provide training for line managers so they understand how flexible working can benefit a business and so that it is made clear how important it is to be accommodating. It may also be beneficial to add a specific training module on carers in the workplace. Statistically, many carers tend to be female and there are still challenges when it comes to gender equality at manager level. This could mean that there may not be a natural understanding of who carers are, what they do and why they should be supported – and this needs to be overcome.

A carer policy

It is often most beneficial to put organisation attitudes to carers in black and white. A carer policy can set out the practical arrangements for accommodating those with carer responsibilities. This should tie in with other policies, such as those on flexible working. It’s a good idea to make sure that the policy gets plenty of airtime within the business. This is essential both so that carers working for you understand it’s there and also to educate others about how much the organisation wants carers to be supported.

Flexible leave

Caring responsibilities are not always predictable and having flexible leave arrangements in place can help a carer to take time off to manage a problem that may arise suddenly. All employees are entitled to take reasonable amounts of unpaid leave for dependants. However, employers can make these arrangements more accommodating to carers by, for example, offering paid leave or the opportunity to make up lost time at a later date. Being able to accommodate last minute leave requests is also key to making life easier for carers trying to balance their responsibilities with a working life.

Protecting Yourself With A Cohabitation Agreement

Protecting Yourself With A Cohabitation Agreement

Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of cohabiting couple families in the UK doubled from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million last year. While married or civil partnership families remain the most popular type of family arrangement, these figures show that cohabitation is not just on the rise but swiftly gaining in popularity. It’s important to note that cohabiting couples don’t have the same rights and interests as married couples. For example, the entitlement to claim for maintenance or a share of assets. So what can couples do to protect themselves? The answer lies in the cohabitation agreement.

What is a cohabitation agreement?

It is a document entered into before moving in together that sets out the rights and responsibilities of the two parties to the relationship. It covers three key areas that otherwise would remain unprotected:

Property - the property in which you live together, how it is to be paid for now and what will happen to it if the relationship breaks down. For example, if Partner X moves in to a home owned solely by Partner Y and then 10 years later they split up, Partner X has no right of ownership of the property even if they have contributed directly to the mortgage or contributed in other ways, such as staying at home with the children so Partner Y could go out to work.

Finances - what the financial arrangements will be while you’re living together – and if some day you’re not. This could cover any split in mortgage payments, who pays the credit card bills and who owns the car. In the event that the relationship comes to an end the cohabitation agreement will have set out exactly how all money and assets will be divided, from savings to furniture.

Breaking up - the process that you’ll follow if a split does occur. It may sound pretty unromantic to start thinking about this before you’ve even spent a night in the same bed. However, anyone who has been through a break up knows exactly how bewildering this can be and a set of established steps to follow can be quite a relief. It also reduces the scope for arguments – e.g. who gets the dog – and ensures that there is certainty if there are children involved.

Is a cohabitation agreement worth having?

There are many reasons why a cohabitation agreement is a beneficial option for couples who want to live together.

Reducing property ownership disputes

You’ll know exactly who owns the property, and in what shares. Recording both party’s legal and beneficial interest in the property means you can avoid one of the biggest areas of dispute for separating couples.

Protecting loaned cash

This is the kind of money that has come from family members to a grown up child who is one partner in the relationship e.g. the deposit for a home. A cohabitation agreement ensures that, if there is a split, the investment remains with that child.

Providing for children

The cohabitation agreement can cover arrangements for children if a relationship breaks down. In particular, it is often used to set out arrangements for financial support.

Keeping control

Certainty is not something that most relationships have – at any time, but especially during a break up. With a cohabitation agreement there is financial certainty and the parties have control over what happens to their individual property and assets.

Dealing with neighbour disputes

Dealing with neighbour disputes

We live in increasingly close proximity to one another and, inevitably, that can lead to tensions rising over the behavior of your neighbours. There are many different levels of disputes, from a neighbour playing music at full volume throughout the night, to those who move fences and park where they shouldn’t. If you’re facing a dispute with someone you live close to then here are a few tips on how to deal with it.

Neighbours changing their property

Not all changes to a property require planning permission but many do, so if your neighbour is planning – or already making – changes, the first place to start is with your local authority. Speak to your local planning department to make sure that your neighbour has the planning permission in place for the changes that they want to make. Even if they have already completed the project you can still take action – changes that wouldn’t receive planning permission if it had been applied for may need to be undone.

Trees and hedges

This is one of the most common sources of problems between neighbours, from those who don’t take proper care of what is growing on their land, to disputes over blocked light or roots that are causing an obstacle. The first step is always to check with the local authority whether any trees that you have an issue with are protected. If they are subject to a Tree Preservation Order then it’s illegal to willfully damage, uproot, cut down or even cut the roots of that tree without a written consent order from the local planning authority. If trees or hedges aren’t protected then branches etc that overhang into a neighbouring property can be cut down by a neighbour. If you feel the tree is dangerous e.g. it presents a risk to you or your property, then you can get the local planning authority involved in the dispute.

Noise

Another very common issue between neighbours is noise, from barking dogs through to DIY. It’s important to start out trying to be tolerant as we all make noise that disturbs our neighbours, even if we don’t realise it. However, some noise is intolerable – for example building work that starts at 6am and continues late into the night for a long period of time or neighbours who are constantly having parties at all hours. These may constitute noise pollution for which you can take action. The best first step is always to give the neighbour the chance to stop what they’re doing by letting them know it’s disturbing you. If they don’t stop then keep a noise diary, try to record noise levels and take photos or videos that show dates and times of problems. Police and local authorities can deal with noise troublemakers so take your evidence to them.

If you get involved in a dispute…

Try first to find an amicable resolution to the problem. Sit down with your neighbour and look for some common ground – with a third party present if necessary. If that doesn’t work, or it’s not an option, then you may need to consider a property lawyer. There are certain situations in which this is particularly appropriate, for example if you’re dealing with boundaries or plans for building works that may involve complex planning regulations.

To speak to a dispute Solicitor in Blackpool call 01253 629300 or click here to contact us.

What does the employer duty of care entail?

What does the employer duty of care entail?

All employers have a basic responsibility to make sure that their employees are safe while they are at work. This is known as a ‘duty of care’ and is something that the courts in the UK take very seriously if employers breach it. There are lots of different elements to the duty of care, but some of the principal areas of concern include making sure that staff have been properly trained (and training is updated on an ongoing basis), providing the right equipment for the role, and creating a safe working environment. If these are not met, and an accident or incident occurs at work, an employee may be able to make a claim against an employer.

A varying duty

The nature and extent of a duty of care will depend a lot on the job in question and the industry involved. For example, if an employee is operating heavy machinery or working with toxic substances their employer will need to pay far more attention to safety procedures and preparation than where employees are working at a computer all day. However, even in an office environment employers are still required to take all steps that are reasonably possible to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of employees.

Examples of an employer duty of care

The list of what constitutes an employer duty of care is long and broad but these are some examples of how the duty works.

A safe working environment. There is no set formula for what constitutes a safe working environment but many factors have a role to play here. In particular, lighting is crucial to avoiding accidents and injuries such as eye strain. Employees who suffer an injury because of a trip or fall in an area that wasn’t adequately lit may well have a cause for action against an employer who didn’t make sure that the working environment was safe. Safe equipment that is suitable for the job is another important element in a safe working environment.

A clearly defined job. Employees should understand what employers require from them in order to successfully fulfill their role, as this helps to avoid confusion and accidents. It’s important that employees aren’t asked to do something that is outside of a job description. For example, the 1992 Manual Handling Operations Regulations require employers to automate to avoid hazardous manual handling operations wherever possible. Where this isn’t possible, employers must try to do what they can to avoid injury to employees as a result of manual handling – if this is not done, and an employee suffers an injury, there may be a breach of the duty of care.

Avoiding relaxing health and safety laws ‘one time.’ It’s not acceptable for employers to ask employees to go outside their job description, or health and safety law, to do something ‘just this once.’ For example, an employer who asks an HR professional to carry a heavy box down the stairs could well in breach of their duty of care.

Other employees. If an employee is injured at work by another employee who was negligent then the law can hold the employer responsible as part of the duty of care. This is called ‘vicarious liability’ – the employer is made responsible via the offending employee – and all employers must have insurance to cover compensation to an injured worker where this arises.

To speak with an employment law Solicitor in Blackpool call 01253 629300 or click here to contact us.

Lasting Power of Attorney - Why Bother?

Lasting Power of Attorney - Why Bother?

When it comes to ensuring that our later years are secure Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) play a crucial role. However, surprisingly, very few Brits are taking advantage of this essential document. According to research, 84% of people want family or friends to be able to make decisions for them if they become too ill, yet only 7% of people have an LPA in place.

What will an LPA enable you to do?

The LPA is basically a document that you can set up to ensure that your affairs are taken care of, whether or not you are able to do this yourself. There are two different types of LPA in the UK:

  • An LPA that covers property and financial affairs e.g. decisions that relate to your bank account, bill payments and managing any property you own or rent.
  • An LPA that covers health and welfare e.g. medical care, care plans and any end of life wishes that you have made or wish to make.

With an LPA in place, it’s possible to ensure that all angles are covered, from where you will live to what happens to your property and other assets.

What happens if you don’t have one?

The alternative can be incredibly costly. There were 6,744 applications made to the Court of Protection to appoint a deputy in 2015. That’s the process that must take place if you no longer have the mental capacity to make your own decisions and you don’t have an LPA. Applications can cost thousands of pounds, and it may take 6+ months to put an arrangement in place. During that time finances and life decisions are frozen.

Can you draft your own LPA?

In theory, yes, but this presents a big risk to the validity of the document – at a time when you may not be able to do much about it. If an LPA is poorly drafted, or not in the correct form, then it may be invalid. The result is that the family of the person involved will not be able to help out with essential decisions such as financial matters, housing and care. Plus an application must still be made to appoint a deputy, requiring more expense and time commitment.

So, whether or not you’re one of the 39% of Brits with a Will, make sure you have provision for your later years with a properly drafted LPA – ideally you should have both.

To set up a Lasting Power of Attorney call 01253 629300 or email info@blackhurstbudd.co.uk

Linking up life and estate planning: digital assets

Linking up life and estate planning: digital assets

As recent statistics have shown, many of us find it difficult enough to engage in estate planning when it comes to our physical assets. According to YouGov research, around two thirds of adult Brits have not made a Will. And even for those who have, few consider the less tangible assets of life. But what happens to the digital lives we inhabit – and the assets we have there – when we pass away?

What counts as a digital asset?

In estate planning terms, property, possessions, cash, investments and bank accounts are easy enough to identify as assets that need to be included in a Will. But what of digital assets? Essentially, anything that is created online could be included in this definition – and it doesn’t necessarily need to be something of traditional ‘value,’ i.e. worth something to someone else. So, for example, cloud storage full of photos could be a digital asset, as much as an online bank account or social media profile. Domain names, gaming accounts, websites, email accounts and any code you have created also count. Digital assets have the potential to last much longer than real life assets. In fact, in theory they could simply go on forever. That is why it is so crucial that you include instructions on how they should be disposed of in your Will.

Passwords

In this age of heightened awareness of the need for digital security, most of us have password protected our accounts. This is the safe and sensible thing to do but also needs to be taken into consideration in estate planning. If you die, do you want your relatives to be unable to shut your Facebook page down, for example? Although in most situations it is simply an inconvenience to have these accounts open, they are more vulnerable to hacking and that could cause problems. Imagine the pain for relatives if a hacker gained access to your social media account and started using it to post after your death. So, ensuring that you leave instructions about passwords is crucial.

How to deal with digital assets in estate planning

Firstly, make sure you keep a record of all your passwords but don’t do this in your Will – after you die your will becomes a document of public record so anyone will be able to access the logins. Instead, keep a record of this in a separate document, perhaps on a memory stick that you can bequeath to one of your relatives. Second, create an inventory of all your digital assets so that it is possible to get an overview of everything in one place – and update it regularly. Make this as detailed as possible – include absolutely every account, site, profile and collaboration even if you are not 100% sure whether it comes within the definition of a digital asset. As the law has proven slow to keep up with tech developments this is still something of a grey area, but being as clear and unambiguous as you can will help to avoid misunderstandings. Finally, bear in mind that you will leave all your digital footprint behind when you die – make sure that the right people have access to the right assets to ensure there is no unnecessary confusion, upset or shock.

To discuss your Will call 01253 629300 or click here to contact us.