News Archive for February, 2012

Stamp Duty Holiday Ending

Currently, first time buyers are exempt from paying Stamp Duty on house purchases up to £250,000. However, from March 25th, all home buyers will face a one per cent tax on house purchases between £125,000 and £250,000, and a three per cent tax on purchases over £250,000. But the exemption is coming to an end, and first time buyers have until midnight on March 24th to complete the purchase of their new home and avoid paying any Stamp Duty.

First time home buyers need to get a move on if they want to avoid paying stamp duty, or so says Caesar Adere, a conveyancing solicitor at DPA Law. “Buyers have now only a limited amount of time left.

The stamp duty holiday allows any first time buyer buying a home worth up to £250,000 to pay no tax on the purchase.” 

The exemption was introduced in March 2010 by the Labour government to try to generate some life into the property market at the bottom end.
Caesar comments: “Considerable sums of money are at stake. It seems senseless to miss out on the saving. So, we are urging buyers to get their act together now, and complete their purchase by 24 March. Bear in mind that 24 March is a Saturday, so practically everything needs to be tied up by the Friday.”

If you feel you may need advice, call Caesar 01554 749144 for further information, or contact him directly by e-mail at: [email protected] .

Posted by Peter Nicholas on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 at 03:11 PM

Unfair Dismissal Changes Coming into Force

Employers and potential employees need to take note of a change in the qualifying period required for unfair dismissal laws to apply. New unfair dismissal laws, which mean employees cannot qualify for the right until completing two years’ service, come into effect on 6 April 2012.

The new regulations will not be applied retrospectively, so employees starting work before 6 April 2012 will continue to be able to claim unfair dismissal after only one year's service.

This could mean employers delaying recruiting new employees until after 6 April.

Christian Houston, of DPA Law’s business and employment law department says: “The extended qualifying period has been brought in to kick-start the UK’s employment markets, in the hope that it will lift the red tape burden faced by employers.” 

Announcing the doubling of the qualifying period in October, Business Secretary Vince Cable said that businesses have told the government that unfair dismissal rules are a major barrier to taking on more people.

Christian comments: “The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills claims the aim of the policy is to encourage recruitment and it does not believe that it is appropriate or necessary to apply it to those already in work.”

If you feel you may need advice, DPA’s business and employment department can help you on the latest law in this field. Call Christian Houston or Mike Davey on 01554 749144 for further information, or contact Christian by e-mail at [email protected] .

Posted by Peter Nicholas on Thursday, February 09, 2012 at 03:39 PM

Homeowner Protection Against Squatters To Be Extended

Under proposals outlined in a consultation paper, the Government is proposing to make squatting in residential properties a criminal offence. The offence would be committed where a person:

• Was in the building as a trespasser having entered as such;
• Knew or ought to have known that he or she was a trespasser; and
• Was living or intending to live in the building.

Currently home owners only have partial protection, or so says Debbie Jenkins, of DPA Law’s landlord services department.

"The Criminal Law Act 1977 already makes it a criminal offence for a trespasser to fail to leave residential premises when required to do so by or on behalf of a ‘displaced residential occupier’ or a ‘protected intending occupier’. While this allows those who are effectively made homeless by squatters to take action, it does not protect landlords or owners of second homes.”

At present, the Government is not planning to criminalise squatting in commercial premises. Part of the reason for this is to prevent the occupation of buildings during protest activities from being caught by the new legislation.

The Government claims that stopping short of criminalising squatting in non-residential buildings represents a balanced compromise. Neither will students who occupy academic buildings or workers who stage sit-ins to protest against an employer be caught by the offence.

Debbie comments: “Squatters who occupy genuinely abandoned or dilapidated non-residential buildings will not be committing the new offence, although their actions will rightly continue to be treated as a civil wrong and they can still be prosecuted for offences such as criminal damage or burglary.”

The legislation will not apply in situations where the property has previously been occupied legitimately, such as where tenants fall behind with their rent payments.

If you feel you may need advice, DPA can advise you on the latest law in this field. Call Debbie Jenkins on 01554 749144 for further information, or contact her by e-mail at [email protected]

The consultation paper, entitled ‘Options for dealing with squatting’ can be viewed here

The Criminal Law Act 1977 can be viewed here

Posted by Peter Nicholas on Thursday, February 09, 2012 at 03:18 PM

Time running out for first-time buyers to avoid Stamp Duty

Buying a home is about to get even more expensive for some first-time buyers, who have less than two months to get on the property ladder, if they want to avoid paying Stamp Duty on their home.

Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) is a tax on property and land purchases and can make a significant difference to the cost of house purchase. In an attempt to make life easier for first-time buyers, a Stamp Duty holiday of two years was announced back in the 2010 Budget. However, the clock is ticking, with that holiday coming to an end on 24 March.

The holiday’s over

The idea was that the Stamp Duty holiday would help first-time buyers get on the property ladder. For years now it has become progressively more difficult for first-time buyers to access the property ladder, with property prices rocketing and lenders requiring ever larger deposits.

Some experts hoped the scheme would be extended beyond the March deadline, but in the autumn statement last November George Osborne announced that the Stamp Duty holiday would end as planned.

After 24 March 2012 the rules will revert to normal, meaning anyone buying a property for more than £125,000 will have to pay Stamp Duty of at least 1%. Crucially the key date is the completion date, so those first-timers currently buying a property will to push to complete the deal by 24 March at the latest.
If you’ve yet to find a property to buy it will be difficult, although not impossible, to take advantage of the Stamp Duty holiday. In theory, property purchases can take just a few weeks but surveys, valuations and slow-moving solicitors mean most transactions take a couple of months.

Stamp Duty rates

The rate of Stamp Duty you pay depends on how much you spend buying the property. For property purchases between £125,001 and £250,000 you pay 1%, then 3% from £250,001 up to £500,000, 4% from £500,001 to £1m and then 5% for properties over £1m.

Unlike income tax, which is “tiered” with different rates kick in at different levels, Stamp Duty is a “slab” tax where you pay the rate on the whole purchase price of the property rather than just the amount above the threshold (as with income tax).

Because of this, Stamp Duty can distort the housing market. For example, a house priced at £250,000 would attract a tax of £2,500, but one of £250,001 would be liable for a £7,500 tax bill (3%). The result is that it can be very difficult to sell at prices just above each threshold.

How much will buyers have to pay?

First-time buyers buying a £250,000 property on or before 24 March will pay zero Stamp Duty, but those buying the same priced property from that date onwards will pay £2,500, an amount which will make a big difference to a property’s affordability.

The good news is that falling house prices mean that in many areas of the country it will be possible to buy a property for less than £125,000, at which the lowest rate kicks in.

What is a first-time buyer?

The Government defines a first time buyer as someone who has "not previously purchased an interest (in a property) or its equivalent anywhere in the world". So if you previously owned then sold to rent and are now getting back on the property ladder, you won’t be categorised as a first-time buyer.

If you’re buying a place with your partner and one of you has previously owned a property then unfortunately you’ll have to pay the tax too.

You also need to be buying a property as your main residence, so the exemption does not apply to investment properties. Finally, if you've inherited, but not bought, a property you will not be classed as a first-time buyer either.

Much like self-assessment tax returns, a buyer will declare whether or not they own another property but HMRC can investigate your affairs – so be warned.

If you require any legal advice in relation to buying or selling a property, please contact us via email [email protected] or by telephone on 01554 749144

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

Posted by Peter Nicholas on Friday, February 03, 2012 at 12:04 PM

Dismissal for Comments on Facebook Unfair

A recent case (Whitham v Club 24 Ltd. t/a Ventura) sheds further light on how an employer should respond if an employee makes derogatory remarks concerning the workplace on a social networking site.

Mrs Whitham worked as a team leader at Club 24 Ltd., which provides customer services for the Volkswagen group. The workforce comprises employees of Club 24 and of Volkswagen.

After a hard day at work, Mrs Whitham posted as her status on Facebook, “I think I work in a nursery and I do not mean working with plants.” There followed an exchange of views, in a similar vein, with a colleague and a former employee of Club 24. At the time, Mrs Whitham had around 50 Facebook friends and only they would have been able to view her comments.

When her line manager found out about the comments, from two of her Facebook ‘friends’ who were also work colleagues, he commenced disciplinary proceedings and Mrs Whitham was subsequently dismissed.

The Company claimed that her comments had put its reputation at risk and could have harmed its relationship with Volkswagen.

The Employment Tribunal (ET) ruled the dismissal unfair. It judged the comments to be relatively mild and held that dismissing the employee fell outside the band of reasonable responses open to the employer in the circumstances.

No mention had been made by Mrs Whitham of Volkswagen, nor was any evidence produced to show that Club 24’s relationship with its important client had been harmed in any way.

The ET also criticised the employer for failing to consider demotion of Mrs Whitham as an alternative to dismissal.

A company social media policy is a must. Employees must be in no doubt as to the terms of the policy and the punishment that will ensue in the event of a breach.

Make it clear what will be regarded as a breach of confidentiality and give clear examples of behaviour that will be regarded as gross misconduct. If an employee has infringed the policy, do not act too hastily.

Investigate thoroughly and weigh up the possible consequences of the employee’s actions. Were they just feeling fed up and merely letting off steam, as the ET found was the case here, or do the comments cause ctual damage to the reputation of your business?

We can assist you in drawing up a social media policy tailored to the needs of your business.

Posted by Peter Nicholas on Wednesday, February 01, 2012 at 04:11 PM

Anti-Hunting Stance Constitutes a Philosophical Belief

When first introduced, the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 prohibited direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, victimization and harassment in the workplace by reason of any ‘religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief’.

The wording was subsequently amended by the Equality Act 2006, which removed the word ‘similar’ so that protection was afforded by reason of ‘any religion, religious or philosophical belief’.

The Equality Act 2010, which came into force on 1 October 2010, retained this definition.

The removal of the need for claimants to prove that a philosophical belief they hold is similar in nature to a religious belief extended protection to those holding a wide range of

Guidance on the criteria for determining whether or not a particular belief is protected was established in Nicholson v Grainger plc, in which the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that belief in climate change did constitute a philosophical belief.

In a further case, Joe Hashman, a vegan animal rights campaigner with a fervent belief  that fox hunting and hare coursing are wrong, brought a claim that he had been unfairly dismissed from his job at a garden centre in 2009 on account of his beliefs.

A pre-hearing review established that a belief in the sanctity of life is a philosophical belief for the purposes of the 2003 legislation and Mr Hashman’s claim could therefore proceed.

The Employment Tribunal (ET) heard that Mr Hashman was employed at the Orchard Park Garden Centre in Dorset, where he cultivated a demonstration vegetable patch to encourage customers to grow their own produce.

The owners of Orchard Park, farmers Sheila and Ron Clarke, are keen supporters of the South and West Wiltshire Hunt. Shortly before Mr Hashman was dismissed, they discovered that he had appeared as a witness in two prosecutions under the Hunting Act 2004.

The dismissal also occurred shortly after the death of the manager of the farm, Andrew Prater, in an accident at a local agricultural show.  Mr Prater was also connected with the Hunt and had recognised Mr Hashman as an anti-hunt demonstrator.

On the day of Mr Prater’s funeral, Mr and Mrs Clarke told Mr Hashman not to return to work as the vegetable patch idea was being shelved.

Mr Hashman claimed that he had been dismissed because of his anti-hunting beliefs.

Mr and Mrs Clarke claimed that his dismissal was because the vegetable patch was not economically viable and that his views on hunting played no part in the decision.

On the facts of the case, the ET upheld Mr Hashman’s claim.  He has accepted an undisclosed sum in settlement, and a public apology for comments made about him in a memo that had been sent to other members of staff.

Contact us for advice on any discrimination matter.

Posted by Peter Nicholas on Wednesday, February 01, 2012 at 01:22 PM

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