Do You Need a Will?

Glenn Tortal (Student)

Often people fail to make a Will to ensure that their family, spouse or civil partner are protected when they die. Some think that it is not necessary, but it is essential, especially if you are not married to your partner.

Why does a person have to make a Will?

  • Death is uncertain – unless you are prepared and the Will is in place and validly created, your loved ones may have difficulties accessing your estate.
  • Faster claims process – If you have a will the administration of the estate can often be quicker.
  • Avoid intestacy rules – English law provides stringent rules of who can inherit an estate when there is no Will. In most cases where someone is in a relationship (not married/civil partners), the significant other will not be entitled to an estate of a person who died automatically. In contrast, even if you are married, your spouse or civil partner will only receive your entire estate if there are no children in the family. If there are children, then they may be entitled to a share of the estate- this depends on the value of any assets. With a Will in place, it ensures that your wishes regarding your estate can be carried out.
  • Inheritance Tax – A will may be able to help you reduce any inheritance tax liability. At the very least a legal advisor will be able to help you deal with your assets in your lifetime to reduce or negate inheritance tax.
  • Gift or donation of an estate to charity – In some circumstances, you may have a charity or church close to your heart that you wish to donate to. To make sure this happens, you must have a valid Will.
  • Protect your partner if not married – As mentioned above, an unmarried couple will not be entitled to your estate under the intestacy rules but a valid Will can allow you to provide them with total protection in the event of your death.

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) provides free legal advice on probate  matters. For enquiries, please do not hesitate to contact:

Email: Sulac@staffs.ac.uk

Telephone: 01782 294800


 

No Fault Divorce

Kerry Moynihan (Student)

The Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 (“The Act”) came into force on 6th of April 2022. The Act is a substantial change to divorce law within England and Wales and is the biggest change to divorce law in 50 years. The Act establishes that divorce applications can be made through a ‘no fault divorce procedure’, instead of the previous need to rely on facts to prove the breakdown of the marriage.

Prior to the Act, you had to prove that the marriage had broken down by relying upon one of five facts: behaviour, adultery, separation for 2 years with consent, desertion or separation for 5 years without the need for consent. This meant that if couples seeking a divorce could not prove one of these facts, they risked having to stay married for a minimum of 2 years even whilst separated. Unreasonable behaviour was most commonly used as it covered many types of behaviour, however, as spouses would need to provide information on the circumstances of the behaviour of their spouse, it was seen to be a ‘blame game’. The former Justice Secretary Rt Hon Robert Buckland stated: “By sparing individuals the need to play the blame game, we are stripping out the needless antagonism this creates so families can better move on with their lives.”

The only two criteria that need to be satisfied under the new act is: the marriage needs to have been for a minimum of one year and that it has irretrievably broken down. If both of the criteria are met the parties would be able to obtain   a no-fault divorce. There is now no need to explain why the marriage has broken down irretrievably, eliminating the need for extra stress in the situation by blaming the other person. The new rules will also allow for divorce proceedings to be made as a joint claim. Under the previous act only one person could make an application, however, the new joint applications will help to allow for amicable divorces. This may benefit many people who agree on the relationship breakdown and want to avoid costly legal fees. Data provided by HM Courts & Tribunal Services suggested that there has been an increase as much as 50% in divorce applications since the no-fault divorce procedure was introduced.

Under the old act there would only be a wait of around 6 weeks between the Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute. Under the new law there will be a minimum 20 week wait between the application being submitted and finalised, this is to give both parties the chance to reflect on whether they want to continue with the divorce or if they would like to cease their application. Moreover, a no-fault divorce cannot be contested, this will help ensure those who are in a toxic relationship are not forced to stay in the marriage. There are only specific circumstances in which a divorce can be contested such as if the courts do not have jurisdiction to deal with the divorce.

Outdated language has also been removed from the divorce procedure, terms such as: ‘Decree Nisi’ will become a ‘Conditional order’, ‘Decree Absolute’ will become a ‘Final order’ and ‘The Petitioner’ will become ‘The Applicant’. This is to help ensure that the language used is easier for litigants in person to understand.

Here at SULAC we offer free legal advice on all family matters including divorce and financial affairs. If you would like an appointment, please call 01782 294800 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

Unfair Dismissal

Joanne Bennett (Student)

In March this year, P&O Ferries sacked more than 800 workers without notice. By making staff ‘redundant’ without notice or consultation, P&O Ferries broke British employment laws. The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 states that employers making 100 or more staff redundant must give the Redundancy Payments Service 45 days notice.

After this widely reported event that caused public outcry, P&O Ferries offered all dismissed staff a redundancy settlement. However, one employee, Mr Lansdown, declined their offer and decided to pursue legal action and bring a claim for unfair dismissal.

In September, the dispute was finally brought to an end, and Mr Lansdown won his case. In an out-of-court settlement, P&O ferries admitted that no consultation took place and accepted that they had dismissed him unfairly.

What is unfair dismissal?

Dismissals can be unfair when the employer does not have a fair reason for dismissing the employee or when the employer does not follow the correct process when dismissing the employee. It is governed by the Employment Rights Act 1996. Unfair dismissal claims must be brought within 3 months from the employee’s dismissal date.

To bring an unfair dismissal claim:

  • They must have been an employee
  • They must have been in continuous employment with the employer for at least 2 years
  • They must have been dismissed

Things to consider when deciding whether a dismissal was unfair:

  • Was the dismissal for a potentially fair reason?
  • Was the dismissal fair in all the circumstances?
  • Was the procedure by which they were dismissed fair?

When you begin the process, you will need to inform ACAS (a government-funded body that helps with workplace disputes) that you want to make a tribunal claim. This will begin a conciliation process where you and the employer will be encouraged to come to a settlement agreement. You must undergo this process before you can apply to the employment tribunal.

If you do go to an employment tribunal, remedies for unfair dismissal include:

  • Re-instatement (You get your job back under all the same terms)
  • Re-engagement (you can go back to work but under new terms)
  • Compensation (a monetary award to compensate for financial losses – this is the most common remedy)

Here at SULAC, we offer free legal advice on all employment matters, including unfair and constructive dismissal. If you would like an appointment, please call 01782 294458 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

Legal Aid for Housing

Hannah Batho (Student)

On the 17th October 2022, the government announced some planned changes to the eligibility for legal aid. These changes would not be activated immediately but would provide support in the future for ‘at risk’ people facing domestic abuse or eviction from their home.

Firstly, the government plan to put aside an extra £10m towards legal aid relating to housing issues. This would enable struggling tenants to receive free legal advice before they made an appearance in court. Additionally, it would allow tenants who are facing repossession notices to also receive advice on welfare benefits and debt. This adaption to the current eligibility is predicted to come into play in August 2023.

The Ministry of Justice has stated that, under new protection orders and notices, domestic abuse victims will be able to access provisions from a number of different professionals to help with their situation. The police will be given the power to issue notices which require the abuser to leave the victim’s home. In addition to this, the courts will be able to issue orders which offer more long term protections to the victims. Finally, doctors will have the ability to submit letters of evidence which will assist in victims’ applications for legal aid. Before this can be implemented, the Ministry of Justice wish to carry out a ‘future pilot’ of the protection notices and orders, therefore there is no set date for the reforms to take place.

Additionally, the Ministry also announced that legal aid would be offered to domestic abuse victims who were applying for indefinite leave to remain, as well as to special guardians when pursuing court proceedings regarding parental control.

Currently, some practitioners are concerned with the rapid decline in civil legal aid providers. The Legal Aid Agency disclosed that they would be carrying out a ‘major review’ of the current situation surrounding civil legal aid, however the Legal Aid Practitioners Group stated their concerns that it was already too late to prevent the legal aid sector from declining further. Whilst there may be the possibility of more people getting legal aid if there are less solicitors undertaking this kind of work, then the problem will not be solved.

Here at SULAC we can offer assistance with housing issues and help clients who are experiencing domestic abuse. If you would like an appointment please call 01782 294800 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk.

Section 21 Eviction notice: Is it staying or is it going?

Izaz Riaz (Student)

In the 2019 general election, part of the conservative party’s manifesto was to abolish Section 21 Eviction notices.

A section 21 eviction notice (or sometimes called notice of possession) is a notice given by a landlord to tenant(s) to leave the property without giving a reason. Section 21 notices are used by landlords as it is a much faster and cheaper process to vacate their properties rather than having to wait until the tenancy ends.If Section 21 notices were to be abolished, landlords would have to use a section 8 notice to evict their tenants and give reasons as to why they are evicting their tenants. This will give greater security to tenants but may make it difficult for landlords to evict problem tenants.

According to the Ministry of Justice, on average it takes around 44 weeks between the initial eviction claim and repossession of the property without a section 21 notice.

There have been 19,790 Section 21 notices given to households in the year 2021/2022 which is a 121% increase from the previous year. There has also been a 53% increase in private renters seeking help with homelessness.

The number of rental properties available have fallen dramatically [HT1] The lack of rental properties available has caused rent prices to increase 12.3% year-on-year, fuelling homelessness.

The Government’s plan back in 2019 to abolish the Section 21 Notice was to “provide greater certainty for tenants,” however, with the current situation of the lack of housing and landlords arguing that keeping Section 21 notices will help promote buy-to-let properties increasing supply, the plans to scrap Section 21 notices have gone into turmoil and it is uncertain if the Government will stick to their promise, particularly in light of recent events.

Matt Downie, Chief Executive of housing charity Crisis, commented abandoning the plan would be “shameful” and that cutting off help in the middle of a cost of living crisis would result in a great number of families into homelessness.

Here at SULAC we can help if you have a housing issue. If you would like an appointment please call 01782 294800 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.u

Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act 2020

Rabab Ali (Student)

The Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 comes into force on 6 April 2022. The Act, which received Royal Assent in June 2020 aims to introduce significant changes to divorce law and move towards a “no fault divorce”.

The new act allows either party to allege  an irreversible breakdown of the marriage without establishing a fault or separation fact. By eliminating the need for one party to “blame” the other, the court might determine that it would be unreasonable to expect the parties to continue married.

Because a declaration of irretrievable breakdown is irrefutable proof that the marriage has ended, the court must now grant a divorce. This is significant as it puts a stop to one spouse contesting a divorce even when the other wants it. It also allows spouses to divorce even if they cannot provide a reason why.

 Former Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP has said: ‘These new laws will stop separating couples having to make needless allegations against one another, and instead help them focus on resolving their issues amicably.’

Importantly, the new law permits some separated spouses to file a joint divorce petition. Joint divorce petitions are already permitted in other jurisdictions but not in England & Wales.

The new law also extends the time it takes for a Conditional Divorce Order (formerly known as Decree Nisi) to be granted to 20 weeks, giving spouses more time to make practical arrangements. While this is a major expansion of the present six week and one day term, many divorces do not end in that time owing to ongoing financial issues.

Amongst many other things, the language used is set to change, with Decree Nisi becoming “Conditional Divorce Order” and Decree Absolute becoming “Final Divorce Order”. By using more user-friendly terminology, it is hoped that people would better understand the two stages of divorce proceedings, and that the removal of the ‘fault’ facts will encourage amicable proceedings.

Here at SULAC we offer free legal advice on all family matters including divorce and financial affairs. If you would like an appointment, please call 01782294458 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

Legal Clinics Move into Hospitals

Jack Marshall (Student)

The need for free legal advice centers is continually growing, especially in light of cuts in legal aid. Many people cannot afford to instruct a solicitor, so these centers are often a lifeline for the general public. They give specialist advice to members of their community on issues such as debt, housing, family law, employment and education. These clinics use their knowledge to help people to save their homes, keep their jobs and protect their families. This is classed as Social Welfare Law.

In 2019 the Minister of Justice committed to pilot early legal advice as part of its Legal Support Action Plan in hospitals. The Justice Minister Lord Wolfson of Tredegar confirmed that the preparation work for this has commenced, such as registration for early legal advice for debt, housing and welfare benefits which will commence later this year. The pilot will be launched in Manchester and Middlesbrough.

When questioned on why there is a need for a pilot Lord Bird Lord Wolfson responded by saying “you need a test to ensure that what you are doing is the most useful thing you can do, we are looking at putting legal advice in Hospitals as we know that people who have legal problems often have other social welfare problems as well”. He also went on to say that “it is often the case that you cannot resolve all your problems through the law you need a holistic approach”. He also said that we need to see hard evidence about this and that the pilot will help in this area. Getting clinics into the NHS will not be easy as in April 2017 the Department of Health issued a ban on personal injury firms advertising in hospitals . The Chief Executive of NHS England  quoted that the Health Service wanted “Lawyers out of Hospitals and Doctors out of court”.

Also in the debate there was cause for the Government to restore Legal Aid funding as Labour’s Lord Watts said that “the Government got it really badly wrong when they cut millions of pounds from this area” he also expanded further by saying “would it not be better to restore these cuts and then do a proper review and make sure that, this time, it covers people and gives them some rights?”. Lord Wilson commented that he has no intention of going back to the pre Legal Aid cuts  position.

SULAC saw the need for clinics in hospitals when it first launched its service in 2019. Before the pandemic SULAC provided clinics at Shrewsbury hospital, Stafford and Royal Stoke. These clinics were very successful. Following the pandemic SULAC now operates online, and we interview clients on Microsoft Teams. If you have any issues on housing, debt, employment or family and would like an appointment please call 01782 294458 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

 

Domestic abuse rises sharply as cause of homelessness in England

Lauren Foster (Student)

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, in England the number of households left with no home because of domestic abuse has risen by more than 1/3. The following statistics illustrate the vast vulnerability of homelessness households, causes by domestic violence. 

6,310 households were acknowledged as homeless according to the local council due to domestic abuse between July and September 2021. In comparison in July and September 2020, there was 5,550 homeless households reported. This was a clear increase of 13.7% Domestic abuse victims accounted for 17.3% of the households that were made homeless during this period.

There was a total of 9,730 homeless families with children. This was 26.7% of the overall homeless households. Again, there was a 15.1% increase from 2020, and an increase of 8.6% from 2019. It has been stated by the chief executive of Shelter that they urgently require the support of the public, so that they can provide free, and expert help to the people in need.

These figures are likely to increase in the future especially with the cost of living increasing and previous protection from eviction introduced during the pandemic having been removed.

All councils have a responsibility to try and prevent people becoming homeless in the first place. Families with children should be housed by the councils if it is found to be the best way to help.

Being homeless is a terrifying time for anyone, more increasingly so if there are children involved. If they did not already have a history of mental health problems, then they would most likely acquire mental health conditions. This would be caused from the desperation, stress, and uncertainty. From the 67,820 homeless or at risk of homelessness households, 51.1% had at least one extra support need. It was found a quarter of the homelessness statistics had a history of mental health problems. 16.5% had a support need relating to physical health or disability, and 21.1% had experienced or were at risk of domestic abuse.

Here at SULAC we can help with housing needs. If you would like an appointment please telephone 01782 294800 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

Woman’s Distress After Landlord Admits Harassment

Jorjoh Touray (Student)

A tenant in County Down, Northern Ireland has been harassed by her landlord to such an extent that criminal proceedings were brought.

Zyndzie Akimodo rented a property from Matthew Betty in Bangor, County Down.

On 24 February, Betty, 41, pleaded guilty to harassment under the 1978 NI Rent Order and was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for two years.

Ms Akimodo said on one occasion men, allegedly posing as paramilitaries, were sent to the house to intimidate her and her daughter. Whilst it could not be proved that Mr Batty was directly involved it was found that he facilitated the visit.

On another occasion a representative from NI Water turned up at the property to disconnect the water supply. He told Ms Akimodo that the landlord told him that the property was vacant.

Ms Akimodo said “Our homes are meant to be a safe and secure place and because of the actions of the landlord, she had no peace at home.”

In England it is illegal for your landlord to harass you or try to force you out of a property without using the proper procedures. You could claim damages through the courts if they try and do so.

What constitutes as harassment?

This can be anything a landlord does or fails to do that would make you feel unsafe in the property or forces you to leave. This can include stopping services like electricity, refusing to carry out repairs, anti-social behaviour by a landlord’s agent or the landlord directly.

Your landlord also cannot evict you without a court order and he/ she would be guilty of illegal eviction if they did so. Even if your landlord’s property is repossessed by their mortgage lender, the lender must give you notice so you can find other accommodation.

What can I do?

If you think you’re being harassed or threatened with illegal eviction, or the property you rent is being repossessed, talk to your local council. It may have someone specialising in tenant harassment issues.

Local councils can also start legal proceedings if they think there’s enough evidence of harassment or illegal eviction.

You could also contact a legal adviser, a Citizens Advice office or Shelter’s housing advice helpline. Your local area may also have other housing or legal advice organisations – your local council or library should have details.

If physical violence is involved, contact the police.

For further advice, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has a detailed guide for tenants facing harassment and illegal eviction.

Here at SULAC we can offer advice on all housing issues. If you would like an appointment, please call 01782 294800 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

 

 

Applying for unfair dismissal within the right amount of time

Erin Dean (Student)

When claiming for unfair dismissal, a claim must be brought in the Employment Tribunal within 3 months of the date of dismissal. If the claim is made after this, then the Employment tribunal wont hear the claim and the chances of the employee receiving any compensation is very low. The fact that the employee did not know about this time limit will not be any defence.

This happened to Miss S Dillon who was a solicitor claiming unfair dismissal against the Crown Prosecution Service. She applied five months after the date of the dismissal but was told her claim was too late. The law on unfair dismissal comes from section 94 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. Miss Dillon’s argument for the late claim was that it was not reasonably practicable for her to present her claim any sooner and she also thought that she had 3 years to bring the claim which is the limitation period for personal injury.

The judge dismissed her application as he stated given her experience and contacts as a solicitor, she should have checked the time limit. Judge Woffenden decided that Dillon was not trying to avoid litigation by looking into different remedies but had just not even considered going to court. The facts were that she had brought her claim too late and that it was dismissed.

It is important that in unfair dismissal claims, the judge uses and applies employment law correctly so that neither the employee nor employer are wrongfully accused. A lot of the information on unfair dismissal and grievance process can be found on the ACAS website.

Here at SULAC we can advise on all aspects of employment law. If you would like an appointment please telephone 01782 294800 or email Sulac@staffs.ac.uk