About us

Greene & Greene is a long established firm of solicitors based in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Our lawyers advise individuals and businesses based all over the UK.

We regularly attract new clients who have been using firms in London, but now receive a more cost efficient and more personal service from us here in Bury St Edmunds.

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Wednesday
May032017

Land Sale Comes Back to Haunt Trustees 

Helen Hendry, a Solicitor in our Commercial Property team emphasises the importance of obtaining professional advice when it comes to the acquisition or disposal of any property on behalf of a charity or a trust.

In 2010, the Spiritual Association of Great Britain Limited (SAGB) decided to sell its headquarters in one of London’s premium locations, 33 Belgrave Square. SAGB had purchased a long lease in the property back in 1955. The association found the running costs of the property were (in their view) “becoming onerous”. SAGB sold the property in 2010 for £6 Million - significantly less than its market value. The property was then quickly re-sold for £21 Million. The Charity Commission raised an inquiry after media reports arose surrounding the sale, which was found to be slightly complicated by a “particularly restrictive clause” concerning the use of the property. SAGB’s lease stated that the property had to be used as a “non-profit, learned or charitable or cultural association or society use or as an embassy”. However, tenants with leases of more than 40 years, with 25 years already expired, can be brought to the Lands Tribunal to seek modification of such covenants.

The Charity Commission report stated the trustees of SAGB had failed to:

  1. Conduct proper due diligence on the prospective purchaser (a BVI “Brass-Plate” Company);
  2. Obtain specialist and independent advice on how to achieve a maximum return on property disposal; and
  3. Obtain, follow, or take proper account of, appropriate professional advice.

The trustees had been advised about a potential change of use, but they believed that it was too speculative. The buyer acquired the property, secured a change of use and sold it for a £15 Million profit. 

The report stated the sale amounted to “a basic mismanagement by [SAGB’s] trustees.” Whilst no evidence was found that the trustees had received any personal benefit from the sale, as trustees owe fiduciary duties to the charitable trust, this left them open to a claim for SAGB’s losses.

Greene & Greene is able to assist in the acquisition or disposal (which includes letting) of properties on behalf of charities, or trusts. For further advice please contact Helen Hendry by e-mail – helenhendry@greene-greene.com or by phone on 01284 717451.

For more information on the services offered by Greene & Greene Solicitors please visit www.greene-greene.com and follow on Twitter @GreeneGreeneLaw.

Wednesday
Apr192017

The hidden cost of Divorce

If you are separating, issues about tax may not be high on your list of concerns.  Your priority may be whether you can keep your home or, if your home is to be sold, whether you will have enough money to buy somewhere else. However, tax issues could have a significant effect upon your assets and should not be ignored.

Capital Gains Tax

This can be an issue, particularly if you have a number of properties.  We frequently see couples who wish to wait until they have been separated for two years before divorcing.  That can of course be an amicable way of dissolving the marriage, but you need to be aware of potential tax pitfalls.

Transfers between husbands and wives in the tax year of separation can happen on a “no gain no loss” basis, meaning there will be no Capital Gains Tax payable.  This may be difficult to achieve if your separation occurs close to the end of the tax year. 

If transfers of properties, other than the former matrimonial home, do not take place within the tax year of separation then Capital Gains Tax may be payable by the person disposing of their interest to their spouse.  This could lead to a considerable reduction in the assets available to be divided between you.

In relation to the matrimonial home, Main Residence Relief may be available if one party transfers their share to the other, but the disposal must take place within 18 months of the property ceasing to be the other party’s main residence. After that time there are further restrictions if the transfer is to avoid a charge to Capital Gains Tax.

Stamp Duty Land Tax

Once again, there can be issues that you may not have considered, particularly if you intend to wait for a period of time before divorcing.

For example, a couple may separate and the wife may remain living in the matrimonial home, perhaps with the children.  The husband may be in a position to buy his own property and want to do so, rather than paying rent until the time that financial matters are finally resolved.

The husband needs to be aware that he would be acquiring a second property and the purchase of that property is likely to be subject to an additional 3% Stamp Duty Land Tax charge.  On the purchase of a property for £500,000 this would result in Stamp Duty Land Tax of £30,000 rather than £15,000 that would have been payable if the additional charge had not arisen.

It may be possible to reclaim that additional tax payment if that property then becomes the buyer’s main residence within a 3 year period.  However, as can be seen, it will cause a significant increase to the up-front costs involved.

You also need to be aware that a Stamp Duty Land Tax charge applies to owning more than one property whether those properties are located in the UK or worldwide.  Any holiday home owned by you may also cause difficulties.

If you require any further advice regarding divorce or separation please contact Stuart Hughes (stuarthughes@greene-greene.com or call direct on 01284-717493)

The Family Law Department has considerable experience in dealing with cases involving tax issues and are assisted by specialist tax Solicitor Natalie Stoter (nataliestoter@greene-greene.com 01284- 717462)

For more information on the services offered by Greene & Greene Solicitors please visit www.greene-greene.com and follow on Twitter @GreeneGreeneLaw.

Friday
Apr072017

Subject Access Requests: an Employee’s Motive is Irrelevant

In her latest Blog, Angharad Ellis Owen talks about Subject Access Requests in relation to the Data Protection Act 1998.

Under Section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) an individual has the right to ask what personal data is held about them and to ask for a copy of that data.  This is commonly known as a Subject Access Request (SAR).

A SAR must be made in writing and a data controller (e.g. an employer) is obliged to comply with the request promptly and within 40 days of receipt, if it has received the necessary information from the individual.  Where an employer has failed to comply with the SAR provisions, an individual can ask the Information Commissioner to intervene.

There has been a recent trend for employees, or former employees, to use SARs as a means of obtaining evidence from employers to pursue grievances, seeking documents that may assist in litigation or using the process as a means of making life difficult for employers in order to encourage a settlement.

The obligation on employers to comply with SARs can be onerous and time-consuming. An employer will have to search computerised and non-computerised records for personal data. With the increased use of electronic communication, the volume of personal data can be extensive.  Employers also have to take care to protect the personal data of other individuals who may be identified as part of the search.

Historically, the Courts have held that the main purpose of a SAR was to allow an individual to check how their data was being processed and whether it infringed their privacy.  However, the Court of Appeal has recently considered the motives behind SARs and how they interrelate with ongoing litigation.  The Court has confirmed, as a principle, that a SAR may still be valid even if it is made for the collateral purpose of assisting with litigation.  The Courts have recognised that there is a need for proportionality, but it will fall on an employer to demonstrate that the supply of the information would involve a disproportionate effort.

Action

It is important for businesses and organisations to protect themselves with appropriate training and ensure that their IT and electronic communication policies are robust. It is also important to review, monitor and comply with the organisation’s Data Protection policy.

Useful link

The Information Commissioner has published a Code of Practice on dealing with subject access requests https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-data-protection/.

If you have any questions regarding the Data Protection Act 1998 or any other employment law matters please contact Angharad Ellis Owen (aellisowen@greene-greene.com ~ 01284 717453).  For more information on the services offered by Greene & Greene Solicitors please visit www.greene-greene.com and follow on Twitter @GreeneGreeneLaw.

Monday
Mar272017

Land Registration – why delay?

Many readers may be surprised if they were to discover that some or all of their land and property is not registered at the Land Registry. But what exactly does that mean and why could it spell bad news?

Firstly, let’s have a look at some of the background to the system of land registration. Following a series of Registration of Title Orders the whole of England and Wales is now subject to compulsory land registration on certain trigger events such as the completion of a sale or mortgage. Compulsory registration was introduced in a piecemeal fashion across the country and in East Anglia the Orders came into effect on various dates, mostly during the 1970s and 1980s. However, much of Suffolk was not subject to compulsory registration until 1 December 1990.

In excess of 80% of the land in England and Wales is now registered but that still leaves large swathes of unregistered land. If land has not been subject to any disposal or mortgage since the locality became subject to compulsory registration, there is a strong possibility it will remain unregistered. This can be particularly common for farmland where the holding is often passed from generation to generation within a family or has been held in the name of a company or the farming partnership for several decades.

If your land is unregistered that means it is not registered at the Land Registry with a title number and title plan and you will need to be able to produce the original deeds as proof of your ownership. This can be easier said than done on many occasions. Historically, banks often held title deeds but following the disappearance of numerous branches and the merger of various institutions in recent years it can sometimes be difficult to trace the whereabouts of deeds packs. If not held by the bank, deeds may be stored by solicitors or at home but there is always the risk of them being mislaid or destroyed. The consequences of losing the original deeds to unregistered land can be serious, with dealings in the land becoming considerably more costly and time consuming as a consequence.

If your land is unregistered, you can make a voluntary application for First Registration at the Land Registry. Here are just some of the benefits of registration:

  • Registered land has state-backed security of title. 
  • The title register provides a record of ownership, so there is no longer a need to produce the historic title deeds as evidence. Duplicate copies of the title register and plan may be obtained from the Land Registry for a nominal fee which gives peace of mind and ends worry about losing deeds.
  • Costs on future dealings should be reduced because the conveyancing procedure is more straightforward and it can also help speed up transactions.
  • It becomes more difficult for anybody squatting on land to claim ownership by adverse possession.

The Land Registry also currently offers a reduced fee for voluntary First Registrations. Greene & Greene has extensive experience in preparing and submitting such applications for all types of property ranging from small plots or individual houses to entire farms.

At a time of great uncertainty, many of our more progressive farming clients are now taking measures to assess their assets and consider the opportunities available to them moving forward. In addition to the benefits stated above, having a registered title makes it easier to clearly identify the extent and value of your land and this can assist in all manner of circumstances whether preparing a schedule of landholding assets or a new Partnership Agreement.

If you require assistance on a possible First Registration or any proposed transaction please contact Tom Andrews (thomasandrews@greene-greene.com or direct on 01284 717407) For more information on the services offered by Greene & Greene Solicitors please visit www.greene-greene.com and follow on Twitter @GreeneGreeneLaw

Friday
Mar172017

Ilott v Mitson – Testamentary freedom back from the grave?

On 15th March 2017 the Supreme Court handed down a landmark Judgment in the well documented case of Ilott v The Blue Cross and Others (known as Ilott v Mitson).  This is the first case in which the Supreme Court has been tasked with considering the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 (“the 1975 Act”).  The 1975 Act allows certain categories of applicants, such as a surviving spouse or adult child, to challenge a Will on the basis that it fails to make reasonable financial provision.

Ilott concerned a claim by an independent adult daughter who had not been left anything in her Mother’s Will.  The Mother left her Estate entirely to three charities.  Her Estate was worth £486,000.

Astonishingly this case was first heard around 10 years ago.  The Supreme Court’s Judgment has been much anticipated in the hope of clarifying the law governing the circumstances when adult children may be able to successfully challenge a Will of their parents.

It is likely that the dust will need to settle further following this Judgment, however, a number of points at first glance appear to be of great interest in this fascinating area of the law.

Claims for applicants, other than surviving spouses or civil partners, are limited to “maintenance”.  The Supreme Court has attempted to further clarify the meaning of “maintenance” and said: “The concept of maintenance is no doubt broad, but the distinction made by the differing paragraphs of section 1(2) shows that it cannot extend to any or every thing which it would be desirable for the claimant to have.  It must import provision to meet the everyday expenses of living.”

Testamentary freedom, which is the ability for you to decide who you leave your Estate to on your death, is back (sort of).  The Supreme Court underlined the significance of a Will maker’s (Testator) wishes in deciding whether a Will should be varied with the result that beneficiaries lose out or see their “entitlement” reduced or redirected completely.

In relation to claims by adult children, the Supreme Court said that they must establish:

  • a need to be maintained (nothing new here);
  • the relevant relationship to qualify the claimant; and
  • that the testator had a moral obligation to look after the claimant (the resurrection of the, so called, “moral claim” requirement).

However, the Supreme Court said that long estrangements could be an example of where needs are not always enough to justify a claim under the Act.

What does this all mean?

It initially appears that claims by adult children are likely to be more difficult to succeed and the wishes of the Testator may now finally be given more weight in light of this decision.

If you have any questions regarding the contesting of wills, trusts or probate matters please contact Ben Fox (benjaminfox@greene-greene.com ~ 01284 717442).   For more information on the services offered by Greene & Greene Solicitors please visit www.greene-greene.com

Friday
Mar032017

Employment Tribunal Judgments Available Online

It’s been a long time coming, but the Employment Tribunal has finally been dragged into the modern age. The online database of Employment Tribunal Judgments in England, Wales and Scotland is now live.

In the past, access to Employment Tribunal Judgments was restricted to those willing to search the dusty records held in Bury St. Edmunds (for England and Wales) or Glasgow (for Scotland). The new online database provides free and instant access to Judgments. The change is likely to have a significant impact on whether grievances are pursued in the Employment Tribunal, and the way in which employers vet potential employees.

A selection of decisions from 2015, 2016 and 2017 are currently listed on the database, with all future Judgments to be added as soon as they are publicised. It is not yet known whether existing Judgments will be added. It is likely that the number of records involved may make the task almost administratively impossible.

Perhaps the most useful tool on the new database is the ability to carry out a free text search. This means that employers will be able to search for an individual by name. Likewise an employee or other organisation can search to see if the employer has been involved in previous Tribunal proceedings.

From an employee perspective this may be an incentive to attempt to settle the claim before issuing proceedings. Employees are unlikely to want prospective employers to know that they have issued proceedings against their previous employer. However, if that employee’s previous claim was for discrimination they will be protected from victimisation by the new employer. A rejection of the potential employee’s job application because of a previous discrimination claim would be unlawful. 

From an employer’s perspective the publication could affect their reputation. It is also possible that confidential or commercially sensitive information mentioned in evidence is referred to in the Judgment and made readily available online. This in turn may impact the employer’s recruitment and retention of staff. It also remains to be seen whether existing employees use the information to further their own grievances/claims against the employers, particularly in relation to discrimination claims.

It will be interesting to see whether this new initiative will encourage the parties to settle claims earlier to avoid their name appearing on the database.

If you have any questions regarding employment law matters please contact Angharad Ellis Owen (aellisowen@greene-greene.com ~ 01284 717453) or Greg Jones (gregjones@greene-greene.com ~ 01284 717446).   For more information on the services offered by Greene & Greene Solicitors please visit http://www.greene-greene.com and follow on Twitter @GreeneGreeneLaw.

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