Property Fraud – What is it and how can you reduce your risk?

You may have heard in the news that there is an increase in property fraud.  Given that a person’s property is most likely to be their biggest asset, people do relatively little to prevent property fraud, it is little wonder criminals are targeting property owners. So, what is it?  Property fraud takes a number of forms.  Criminals can make the most from posing as the owner of a property and then pocketing the sale proceeds.  Usually by the time the fraud is discovered the criminal has done a runner and the buyer is left out of pocket. Criminals can also try to intercept proceeds by sending fraudulent emails informing you that your conveyancer’s bank details have changed.  This is most common where email is used as a primary means of contact. Who is at risk? All property owners are at risk, however, it is often more prevalent with high value properties, empty properties, tenanted properties, mortgage free properties and unregistered properties.  Occasionally, it is actually the tenants that pose as the Landlord! How do you minimise risk? There are a number of steps you can take.  If you used to occupy the property you are now letting out it is essential that you get your mail redirected.  Financial mail, if intercepted, can give a criminal plenty of information to start the fraud. The Land Registry offers a property alert service (https://propertyalert.landregistry.gov.uk/).  You can monitor up to ten properties at a time for free and you do not have to be the registered owner.  This could be useful where a relative’s property may be vacant for a period of time owing to illness, death or an extended vacation. Registering for an alert will not stop a property sale but you will get notice that things are happening and so you will be able to take steps to resolve the situation quicker. If you are still concerned (perhaps you are a landlord of a high worth property without a mortgage) then you may wish to consider registering a restriction against the property.  This would mean that a property sale could not go through without your consent. You may have to pay a fee to register the restriction to the Land Registry depending on the circumstances.  Unless you are confident doing these things yourself you may also have to pay legal fees (although you may find your solicitor is willing to add the restriction to the application paperwork when you purchase the property). Should you have any questions about the steps you may be able to take it is important that you discuss them with your conveyancer so that you can ensure you have taken sufficient steps for your situation. Should I...

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Our Leading Lady

Our very own leading lady, Charlotte Lilley, was in March’s edition of Dorset Magazine as one of Dorset’s influential business women. Charlotte Lilley is our Commercial Solicitor, she has worked in house at Hall & Woodhouse and in High Street firms and has the experience to help you with the legal aspects of your business. We are proud that she is one of Dorset’s leading...

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Catharine Morrison is running the London Marathon – find out why

Catharine Morrison is running the iconic London Marathon on the 23rd of April to raise money for the charity Sense. This fantastic charity helps support people who are deafblind, have sensory impairments or complex needs, to enjoy more independent lives. Catharine has been training hard for the upcoming 26.2 miles and is looking forward to the finish line and a break from the endless hours of running! If you want to donate and help Catharine raise more money for Sense click here...

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Huge increase in probate court fees – an indirect death tax?

A current hot topic in the news is the increase in probate Court fees which are due to come into effect from May 2017. Currently, a £215 flat fee applies if probate is applied for by friends or family, or £155 if a solicitor completes the process. Probate is a process which is sometimes necessary when a person has died, to enable the estate to be distributed to the beneficiaries. However, this flat rate system will be replaced by a sliding scale based on the value of an estate. Estates below £50,000 will pay nothing at all but all estates worth more than £50,000 will be forced to pay the increased Court fees as follows: £50k-£300k                 £300 £300k-£500k               £1,000 £500k-£1m                  £4,000 £1m-£1.6m                 £8,000 £1.6m-£2m                 £12,000 Over £2m                    £20,000 The Ministry of Justice confirmed the changes, despite nearly total opposition registered in a public consultation process. They argue that the increase is necessary in order to support the Court Service, and are committed to a modern, world-leading justice system that is proportionate and accessible. An estimate given by them states that they believe that 90% of estates will pay £1,000 or less. Although an argument for a tiered system can be made, the new Court fees are indeed a significant departure from those currently levied. In some cases there will be a huge 1,203% increase in Court fees paid. Critics argue that it is not the responsibility of the beneficiaries of an estate (normally close friends and family of the deceased or charities) to subsidise the entire Court system. Court fees should reflect the time and the expertise needed to carry the administrative task involved in processing a Grant application. The value of an estate is an irrelevance in the process. If more money is needed by the Government to improve facilities such as the Court system and they wish to achieve this by taxing inheritance then should they be open in doing so by raising Inheritance Tax instead of introducing a ‘stealth tax’? To muddy the waters further, recent reports have confirmed that the Joint Select Committee on Statutory Instruments (made up of peers and MPs) is “doubtful” whether the Lord Chancellor actually has “the power to impose charges of the magnitude proposed”. As any form of taxation requires the consent of Parliament this could derail the planned increases, although the Ministry of Justice’s current plans remain unchanged. Should you wish to discuss these Court fee increases and how they may affect you or your family please contact a member of the Private Client team at Rutters...

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IIott v Mitson: Freedom to Choose Beneficiaries

The long standing saga of Ilott v Mitson began in 2007, following which it has continued to develop interest amongst legal advisors and the public alike due to its impact on the principle of testamentary freedom (i.e. whom people can decide to leave their estates to on their death). Recently, the case came before the Supreme Court and was the first time the highest UK Court has been asked to consider the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This piece of legislation is potentially available to those financial or moral dependents who believe that they have not received a reasonable financial provision under a deceased persons Will. By way of a brief summary, Mrs Jackson provided instructions for a Will that disinherited her daughter Heather Ilott and left her estate to three charities. The Will was completed correctly (and a Letter of Wishes had been drafted) to ensure that Mrs IIott did not receive any benefit from the estate. Mrs Jackson’s reasons for doing so were varied, with the predominate drivers being that she had both been estranged from Mrs IIott for many years and had provided no financial support to her daughter during her adult lifetime. Following the death of Mrs Jackson, her daughter made a claim on the estate under the above Act on the basis that she and her family lived on state benefits that reflected the fact that the family had a very low income. This claim was challenged by the three charity beneficiaries named in the will.  At this initial stage, Mrs IIott managed to argue successfully for a financial award of £50,000 (from an estate worth £486,000) which was later overturned by the charities on appeal. Using her further right of appeal, in July 2015 her award was increased to £163,000. The Court of Appeal overturned the first decision of £50,000 on particular grounds, in general that the District Judge in the original case had restricted the award to Mrs IIott on the basis that she had both limited means/living expenses and that the impact of the award on her benefits entitlement was not correctly taken into account. The Supreme Court was therefore asked to decide in Ilott v The Blue Cross and others [2017 UKSC 17] which application of the rules should have been followed. Decision The Supreme Court set aside the increased award by the Court of Appeal and restored the original £50,000 award. The Supreme Court decided the District Judge in the first case had in fact correctly assessed the situation, by both considering the nature of the relationship between the parties and addressing correctly the impact on Mrs IIott’s benefits and living situation. The judgment goes on to state that ‘the...

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Rutters Solicitors 180 years old and still going strong…

180 years ago Queen Victoria took the throne and Shaftesbury printer John Rutter founded Rutters Solicitors. Since then Rutters has been providing legal advice to individuals and businesses locally and further afield and are proud to be North Dorset’s longest standing firm of solicitors. The firm is run by two partners, Duncan Weir and James Wood, supported by Derek Rowntree who is now a consultant, after 34 years of Partnership at the firm. The firm currently employs over 20 staff over their two offices in Shaftesbury and Gillingham. Rutters provide a range of legal services including residential and commercial conveyancing; wills; trusts and inheritance tax advice; Lasting Powers of Attorney and Court of Protection work; commercial services; divorce and separation; and Civil Ligation and dispute resolution including employment disputes. Duncan Weir said “There is no secret formula to the firm’s longstanding success. It is simply down to providing excellent legal advice that is reasonably priced. This ethos dates back to the very beginning when Quaker and founder John Rutter was fighting for the ordinary man.” James Wood said “Our longevity is a huge achievement and testament to our commitment to providing an excellent service to our clients. We would like to thank our clients and staff for enabling us to reach such a...

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BE HEARD AND UNDERSTOOD