Commenting on the latest changes to divorce law Jane Barclay, Senior Associate at The Wilkes Partnership, says:

“With these changes it may be a concern that divorce will be made easier but as there is a proposed minimum time frame of six months from petition until final divorce there will be a “meaningful period of reflection” to access relationship counselling if appropriate,  or to attend mediation in order to reach agreement with regard to financial or children arrangements. This should stop the concerns of ‘knee jerk’ divorces.

“The hope is that taking out the need for blame will have a less damaging effect on children and with this one major area of conflict removed there will be a more positive impact on all parties. In these situations of high stress, it is often the safety of vulnerable individuals that are of most concern. This can be children, but it can also be those in an abusive relationship where one party has been able to contest a divorce in order to continue to exercise their coercive and controlling behaviour over the other. 

“However, there could still be a wait for legislation to be passed as this will be only be introduced when Parliamentary time becomes available. Given the current situation it is impossible to predict when this will happen.”

For help on advice on a family law related matter please contact Jane Barclay on 0121 710 5963 or jbarclay@wilkes.co.uk.

Birmingham Trainee Solicitors Society (BTSS), the 174 year old offshoot of the Birmingham Law Society, has named its new chair as first year trainee from The Wilkes Partnership, Matthew Hartas.

The organisation, which is made up of more the 300 trainee solicitors, paralegals, newly qualified solicitors and post-graduate law students across Birmingham and the West Midlands, ran elections in March, with many members voting.   Matthew was named as the new chair after voting finished on 15th March.

In his manifesto, Matthew promised to continue the charity fundraising work – currently Free@Last – which aims to improve the lives of children and young people in Nechells. Matthew also set plans to continue to deliver important social and networking events that have established the BTSS as one of the leading young legal organisations in the UK.

Matthew Hartas, new chair of the BTSS and trainee solicitor at Wilkes, says, “I’m really looking forward to getting started as chair. Since starting at Wilkes I have always been encouraged to get involved in BTSS activities and I could immediately see why. It is such an active organisation and it not only helps build relationships within the next generation of lawyers in Birmingham, it also raises money for good causes.”

In his first year at The Wilkes Partnership, having joined in September 2018 ,Matthew is currently working in our Corporate Team after spending the previous six months with the our Real Estate Team.

Matthew continues, “The senior teams at Wilkes have always been supportive about the work with BTSS and have helped me through my career development so far. Having learned a lot in my time at Wilkes so far I’m looking forward to continuing to progress.

“I feel that this new role will help me continue to grow both professionally and personally. After being involved in organisations while at university, namely as vice chair of the law society, I wanted to get involved again. It also helps that this has given me the experience of organising big events, so I have a good idea of what to expect – but it’s going to be a challenge living up to the great events that were arranged by the last leadership.”

Kate Hackett, Partner at Wilkes, said: “We’re really pleased for Matt. We think it’s so important to get involved in the social side of the legal community right from the start, and being part of the BTSS is a brilliant way to do that. Seeing Matt going one step further and dedicating time to making the organisation a success is brilliant.

“Aside from the BTSS, Matt has also been working hard since he joined our trainee programme, and we’re looking forward to helping him progress his legal career. We’re sure he has a bright future ahead of him in the legal profession.”

If you would like to apply for training contracts commencing in 2021 please click here. The closing date for applications is 31st July 2019.

The Government has published a consultation paper on extending legal protection for pregnant women and new parents. This will include protection from redundancy for women during pregnancy, women who have returned to work after maternity leave, and new parents.

Alongside this, the consultation will also seek views on whether this protection should be extended to others taking similar leave, such as adoption leave and shared parental leave.

This follows the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices and a 2016 report by the Women and Equalities Select Committee (WESC) which stated that pregnant women and new mothers continue to feel forced out of work.

Sarah Begley of The Wilkes Partnership considers the possible outcome and the impact this could have on future Pregnancy and Maternity rights.

Under current regulations, in a redundancy situation, employers have an obligation to offer women on maternity a “suitable alternative vacancy” where one is available, giving women on maternity priority over others who are also at risk of redundancy. Failing to comply with this obligation will be an automatically unfair dismissal. However, this provision ends when an individual returns to work.

The consultation paper seeks views on whether protection should be extended throughout pregnancy giving an enhanced period of protection to six months following a return to work. The rationale behind this is that it would allow sufficient time for an employee to re-establish themselves in the workplace following their maternity leave. The government is also consulting over whether this same protection should be offered to those returning to work from other similar forms of leave (for example, adoption leave and shared parental leave) and whether more guidance is required on the rights of pregnant women and new mothers.

The deadline for responses is 5 April 2019.

Sarah Begley explains that “The proposals made are simply to extend rights so that they begin when a woman informs her employer that she is pregnant and continues to apply for six months after her return. If and when brought into force, this would not stop an employer from making an employee redundant when she was pregnant, on maternity leave, or recently returned. It would simply mean that if the employer did so, and had suitable alternative work available, then they would be obliged to offer her that alternative work. 

With consultation due to close in April 2019 and no date for the implementation of any change, employers are not faced with an immediate change to the current system. However, polices should be reviewed in due course and at the very least employers need to be mindful that they are complying with the current rules.

For any further guidance on this issue or any other employment related matter, please contact a member of the Employment Team at The Wilkes Partnership LLP. Alternatively email us at employmentlaw@wilkes.co.uk.

A YouGov Poll for Age UK confirms that two fifths of the nation’s grandparents over the age of 50, some five million people, provide regular childcare for their grandchildren.

Sian Kenkre, Associate Solicitor in our Solihull Family team  considers how grandparents can be over looked in cases of family separation and divorce.

There is a lovely African proverb: ‘It takes a village to raise a child’.  African culture recognises that parenting is a shared responsibility, not just the concern of parents but of the extended family. Grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins can all be involved and have a part to play.

Figures show that rising numbers of grandparents are going to court to seek the right to see their grandchildren. Statistics from the Ministry of Justice show that 2000 applications for child arrangements orders, which give family members the right to see a child, were made by grandparents in 2016. A rise of 24% since 2014.

The law presently states that grandparents must seek the court’s permission before they can make an application to the court. If permission is granted by the court then an application can proceed for the court to consider whether grandparents can spend time with their grandchildren.

Last year, some MPs called upon the government to enshrine in law the right for grandparents to see their grandchildren after a divorce. They want an amendment to the Children Act  which would include a child’s right to have a close relationship with members of their extended family. The proposed change would also cover aunts and uncles seeing nieces and nephews.

When the issue was debated in Parliament MPs shared some heart rending experiences of their constituents with some grandparents calling it a kind of living bereavement to be excluded from the lives of their grandchildren following difficult divorces between parents.

The present situation is, for a huge number of families, unsatisfactory. Litigation can be stressful and inflame a difficult situation. Relations between the separating parents can already be tense and keeping the lines of communication open with grandparents is usually a low priority meaning that issues all too frequently become lost in translation.

Seeking early advice from a family law specialist is essential. Going to court is not necessarily the answer and should be very carefully considered. Family mediation is a pre-requisite to a court application and if a family are willing to engage can be a really useful way to help families think about what is best for the children in the long run and to make wider family relationships work.

If you have any questions in relation to the above, or any other family related matter The Wilkes Partnership has a team of specialist family law solicitors who can help.

You can contact Sian on 0121 733 8000 or skenkre@wilkes.co.uk.

Sophie Fenn, Associate Solicitor in our Private Client Team is backing a call from The Solicitors for the Elderly Group to urge people to check their eligibility for a lasting power of attorney (LPA) fee refund, after almost two million people were overcharged by the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) between 2013 and 2017.

Claimants can expect to receive a refund of up to £54, with any accrued interested since the registration was made.

So far, only 200,000 of the 1.8million people owed have claimed their refund, meaning that there’s £77million still owed to customers.

To apply for a refund visit: http://gov.uk/power-of-attorney-refund. The exact amount will depend on when the registration was made, and claims must be made by 1st February 2021.

An LPA is an important document that gives a loved one the power to make decisions on your behalf when you can no longer do so. There are two types of LPA: a health and welfare LPA, and a property and financial affairs LPA.

Recent research from SFE found that there are only 7% of LPAs in place across the UK, meaning that millions of people are currently unprepared for later life. SFE urges anyone planning for their future to consider setting up an LPA and seek advice from a specialist lawyer.

Sophie Fenn said:

“It takes about ten minutes to claim online. You’ll need the donor’s bank details and a copy of the LPA, if you have it. If you need help or more information about making a claim, there’s a Refunds Helpline you can contact, either via telephone on 0300 456 0300 or email poarefunds@justice.gsi.gov.uk.”

If you do not have a LPA but are interested in preparing one please contact Sophie Fenn, Associate Solicitor at The Wilkes Partnership, Solihull on 0121 733 8000 or sfenn@wilkes.co.uk

Gareth O’Hara, Managing Partner at The Wilkes Partnership and motor industry specialist, provides a guide on what to look for when buying a new dealership for Motor Finance Magazine

When expanding a business through acquisition, it is vital to understand the full facts surrounding the business being purchased. The car acquisitions market for car dealerships is no different.  Having conducted more than 40 deals in this sector, we have a keen insight into the way that businesses are bought and sold.

Before even starting a buying process, having a thorough understanding of the market and assessing the factors impacting it, is vital to deciding whether it is the right time to do a deal. In this rapidly fluctuating industry – which can be susceptible to factors including labour costs, property costs and the revolution of electric and hybrid vehicles – it takes research and a keen business mind to succeed.

In fact, some fantastic deals have been conducted in a down market and many of today’s largest dealerships formed, established and thrived through the recession. So, regardless of whether we’re worried about recession or Brexit uncertainty, there are always opportunities. What really matters comes down to grasping opportunity and making the best deal for the right price and reacting to the market, rather than fearing it. To make the best choice, regardless of economic climate, here is a useful checklist to follow dealing with major issues that need to be covered in the legal documentation.

Business

  1. Ensure the customer database is transferred and live on completion. Sometimes data can be transferred or held by the data supplier on behalf of the buyer before the deal is complete and held ready to release
  2. Are employee terms and benefits consistent with what you expect, have employees been properly consulted and notified in accordance with relevant legislation?
  3. Do any family members that are no longer active or want to be active in the business post sale need to resign?
  4. Are you happy with the quality and age of the vehicle stock and particularly the parts stock that you are paying for? Have you checked it thoroughly?

Property

  1. Does the title plan match the property itself? Are there any unexpected rights of way or shared occupation issues?
  2. Do you actually want everything on the site? Many dealerships have shared facilities with other neighbouring sites. A survey and valuation may be required particularly if finance is involved from a third party.
  3. Do you need to keep the business separate from the property using a property holding company?

Legal

  1. Have you agreed the terms of any new franchise agreement?
  2. Are you buying the telephone numbers and domain names of the business? This will be crucial if it is a shared site, or the number is for another dealership on the same site
  3. Are there any assets included that shouldn’t be part of the business? Can these be bought out by the sellers pre deal?
  4. Has all litigation or disputes with customers been settled? If not, make sure appropriate indemnities are included in the contract. How will you deal with these going forward?
  5. Are all the cars you are buying with the franchise as described? Have you checked them all? Do you understand the finance position on any vehicles? Does any finance need repaying on completion?
  6. Has a principle been agreed for any remedial works to vehicles that have been sold and subsequently come back with complaints? An hourly rate and a cost for parts will need to be agreed, this is usually at a discounted rate for carrying out the work
  7. Ensure that a procedure is in place for sharing any profit on vehicles ordered but not yet delivered

The Sale

  1. On completion, will someone from your team be on site to collect property keys, alarm codes, laptops and mobile phones and be able to check that everything agreed in the sale is on the premises?
  2. Is new insurance in place on the business and its assets?
  3. If it is an asset purchase, are all charges released? If it’s a share purchase, are relevant charges in place and are they in line with existing facilities?
  4. What promises have been made to customers? For example, servicing and free MOTs or any warranties provided that could be called on in the future. How are you dealing with this?
  5. Ensure someone from your existing business is on hand for the first few weeks to deal with any issues that may arise.

To get the best deal for both the buyer and the seller all aspects need to run smoothly to ensure every eventuality is prepared for. Understanding and dealing with the issues makes for a smoother acquisition for all parties, and more importantly a seamless service for existing customers.

The right legal expertise assists in the process and more importantly ensures that all of the issues are dealt with properly in advance of completion. This means that the buyer can concentrate on the business going forward and the seller knows that he has disclosed any issues that could result in a claim against him.

For more information about how The Wilkes Partnership can help you with your business please contact Gareth O’Hara on 0121 710 5904 or email gohara@wilkes.co.uk. To find out more about our Corporate Team click here.

Amanda Holden, Partner in our Residential Conveyancing team warns that conscientious homeowners wanting to reduce their carbon footprint by installing solar panels could encounter unforeseen difficulties when they come to sell their house.

In addition buyers need to be aware it might be difficult to get a mortgage on a property they have set their heart on with solar panels on the roof.

When solar power government incentives were introduced in 2010, start- up companies cashing in on these generous feed- in tariffs offered homeowners free installation and low energy bills in return for a 25-year lease of the air space above their roof. These companies then received the feed- in tariffs themselves for the period of the lease after which the ownership of the panels and roof returned to the homeowner who would then receive the feed- in tariffs themselves.

In 2013 the Council of Mortgage Lenders and the Building Societies Association introduced a contract for solar panel companies to enter into with stringent rules put in place to ensure that any damage to the property would be repaired. However anyone having solar panels installed in this way in those interim three years are not protected by this contract and may find it difficult to sell their home.

Installation costs have now gone down dramatically and so have the feed- in tariffs.  These will in fact be abolished altogether for solar panels installed after 31 March this year. If you are hoping to get in quick with plans to meet this deadline then be careful that you are fully aware of what you are entering into.  The 25-year leases are registered against the title to the property regardless of who owns it and you will have to find a buyer willing to take on the remaining years of any existing lease. Even if your buyer is happy their proposed mortgage lender may have additional requirements in this respect.

If you are determined to do your bit for the planet in this way then be sure to familiarize yourself with all of the implications. Your solar panel provider will need to obtain permission from your mortgage company to grant consent for the lease of the air space above your roof .

Even if you own your home outright then you should still seek legal advice before agreeing to such a lease otherwise you could be compromising your ability to sell.

If you would like to discuss any conveyancing matter in more detail please contact Amanda Holden on 0121 733 8000 or aholden@wilkes.co.uk.

You can find out more about our conveyancing team here.

The Wilkes Partnership and Coley & Tilley, have announced a merger creating a 185 person strong firm with a turnover of £12 million a year.

This expansion will significantly enhance our offering for corporate clients and expand our expertise in a range of areas including, commercial property, dispute resolution, corporate & commercial, employment, family, residential conveyancing and probate law. The personal injury team will stay under the Coley & Tilley brand as a recognised market leader in the Midlands.

Nigel Wood, Senior Partner at The Wilkes Partnership, says: “This merger continues the long term growth plans that we have for the firm and by joining with Coley & Tilley we have added considerable legal experience in a range of practice areas. We want to provide the best quality legal services to clients and through this merger we are doing that.

We set out with an ambition to continue growing and delivering expertise that is recognised both regionally and nationally. This merger is a huge step in the right direction of realising those ambitions.”

In 2013, The Wilkes Partnership merged with Solihull-based Williamson & Soden, and continued its growth with several promotions in 2018, as well as expanding its senior team by appointing a HR & Compliance Director, Head of Contentious Probate and two new Managing Partners.

James Leo, Managing Partner at Coley & Tilley, added:  “Through discussions with Nigel and other board members at Wilkes we quickly realised that bringing the two firms together would both complement and enhance our offering to clients. We have similar ambitions to deliver quality work that is industry leading and we have taken care that our clients will see a seamless transition to the new firm with their original points of contact.

“This is the start of a new chapter for both Wilkes and Coley & Tilley and one that provides fresh opportunities to expand and grow together.”

For more information please contact rreid@wilkes.co.uk

Kevin Lynch, Partner in our Contentious Probate department advises that it is vital to consider your options where the validity of a will is doubted or the person intending to take out a grant of probate in a deceased person’s estate is unsuitable.

It may be appropriate to file a Caveat to prevent the grant of probate from being extracted so that you can consider instructing solicitors to investigate the matter further. The problem facing most people is knowing whether it is appropriate to file a Caveat.

A caveat is used to prevent a grant of probate in a deceased person’s estate being extracted. Naturally, this will prevent the estate administration and stop the appointed executor from administering the estate. A caveat is a particularly useful tool when investigating the circumstances surrounding the preparation and execution of a Will if you think that it may be invalid. Preventing the grant may also be useful if you believe that the appointed executor should not be dealing with the estate for any reason i.e. they are unsuitable to take out the grant and administer the estate because they have had their ‘hands in the till’.

Filing a Caveat is relatively simple and can be done so with the Probate Registry along with the appropriate fee (currently £20). Once filed and sealed by the Probate Registry, the Caveat will remain in place for six months. It can then be extended for a further six months (provided that this is done at least a month before its expiry) for as long as necessary. If the Caveat is not renewed, it automatically expires.

This may sound simple enough. However, Caveats can become very difficult to deal with if you do not have proper grounds to enter it, or it is opposed. In order to lodge a Caveat, the Caveator must have a contrary interest in the estate i.e. you are a child of the deceased who has been disinherited. A Caveat is not a tool to be used in the event that you are a third party without an interest (and never has) in the estate.

If the Caveator receives a Warning from a party opposing the Caveat, the matter can become very complicated. It is at this stage that the Caveator must consider entering an Appearance (to solidify the Caveat and lock it into place) or allow it to fall away. Entering an Appearance can have serious costs consequences in the event that litigation ensues and the Caveat has been unduly or incorrectly entered.

Even if you believe that there are reasonable grounds for entering a Caveat, it may be the case that your concerns are misplaced or you have not understood the rules in relation to entering a Caveat correctly. It is always prudent to seek independent legal advice when considering potential challenges to a Will or if you have been notified of a Caveat against an estate to which you are an executor or personal representative. Dealing with these issues is not easy and, if done incorrectly, can lead to serious costs consequences.

The Contentious Probate Team at The Wilkes Partnership advises those disputing the validity of a Will and the suitably of the intended executors/administrators.  If you wish to discuss any aspect of these issues, please get in touch with Kevin Lynch on 0121 233 4333 or via email on klynch@wilkes.co.uk.

We are delighted to have launched our new website, fresh for 2019, that will allow visitors and clients to interact with Wilkes in a smoother and more efficient manner across all devices.

Our new website has been designed to offer the ultimate user-friendly experience with improved navigation and functionality whilst allowing visitors to find out about the full range of services here at Wilkes, and the skilled teams that deliver them.

The site’s new and improved news section will provide visitors with an up-to-date, reliable source of legal news for both businesses and individuals.

We will also be maintaining our German website and are in the process of working towards a site wide translation tool that should be available from the Spring.

We would love to hear your thoughts on our new website. Please get in touch on Twitter @WilkesLaw or email us on marketing@wilkes.co.uk with your comments and feedback.