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Sepsis the Hidden Killer

 

Jonathan Wellington, Head of Clinical Negligence, at Watkins & Gunn, reports on the importance of being alert for the symptoms of Sepsis.

 

There has been much press coverage in recent weeks and days of a condition of Sepsis. Sepsis is a rare but serious complication of an infection which can lead to multiple organ failure and death.

 

In children under 5, then the symptoms are the child looks mottled, blueish or pale; can be very lethargic or difficult to wake. They are often cold to the touch, fast breathing and a rash that doesn’t fade. It may be accompanied by a fit or convulsion.

 

In older people then symptoms include a high temperature, fever and a lower body temperature; chills and shivering; a fast heartbeat and fast breathing. More severe sepsis or sepsis shock can also lead to confusion or disorientation; nausea or vomiting; severe muscle pain and slurred speech.

 

If identified and treated quickly then sepsis can be treated relatively easily with the use of antibiotics. However severe sepsis and septic shock require immediate admission to hospital and severe sepsis can prove fatal.

 

The TV presenter, Fern Britton was reported this week as being “resigned to dying” when she suffered sepsis. In her case she suffered sepsis after a routine hysterectomy when symptoms went undiagnosed. She was in agony following the operation, but was told to wait and see before being admitted to hospital. Fortunately the sepsis was caught just in time and she is on the road to recovery.

 

Another case that attracted attention was that of Stephen Jackson aged 37 of Essex who died after doctors missed his sepsis condition three times. He suffered with epiglottitis, which are symptoms of a sore throat. When he attended A & E he was told to purchase over the counter medication. An ambulance was later called and a paramedic examined him and diagnosed a virus. A matter of hours later an ambulance was again called but unfortunately he suffered a cardiac arrest and died. He was found to be suffering with epiglottitis which had led to severe sepsis.

 

Sepsis is a condition which affects 150,000 people or so in Britain each year and can be a hidden killer as it results in 44,000 deaths. However, if spotted quickly it can be treated relatively simply, however there have been a number of cases where symptoms have been missed and severe sepsis has developed leading to death or complications.

 

It is important therefore to be alert for the symptoms of sepsis and to seek urgent medical treatment and keep questioning medical experts if there are concerns regarding the diagnosis given.

 

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Our medical negligence lawyers can help can you make a claim if you’ve suffered because of errors by health professionals.

 

 

 

Sound as a Pound - The New Pound Coin

 

Pound Coin1

 

There are thought to be more than 30 million fake £1 coins in circulation. There is estimated to be a one in 30 chance that any pound in your pocket is a fake. So the Royal Mint designed what they consider to be “the most secure circulating coin in the world”, made from two types of metal with a host of security features.

The old round £1 coin has been in circulation since April 21, 1983 and will continue to be legal tender only until October 15, 2017. The new, "unforgeable", 12-sided £1 coin was introduced at the end of March 2017 and are now in circulation in banks and shops across the country. 

It has caused significant issues with Supermarket trolleys, Pay-and-display machines, vending machines and train ticket machines.  These machines will all need to be modified to accept the new coin by the 15th October.

So if you have got a collection of old-style £1 coins in a piggy bank or down the side of your sofa - then either spend them or pay them into the bank before the October cut-off date. Otherwise, you could be left out of pocket.

 

THE NEW £1 COIN'S FEATURES

 

12-sided

Its distinctive shape makes it instantly recognisable, even by touch.

 

Dimensions

The new £1 coin’s dimensions are different from the current round £1 coin. It is 2.8mm thick, making it thinner than the 3.15mm round £1 coin. It weighs 8.75g, down from 9.5g, and its diameter measures 23.43mm making it slightly larger than the round £1 coin, the maximum diameter (point to point) is 23.43mm.

 

Bimetallic

The new pound coin is made of two metals. The outer ring is gold coloured (nickel-brass) and the inner ring is silver coloured (nickel-plated alloy).

 

Latent image

The new coin features an image like a hologram that changes from a ‘£’ symbol to the number '1' when the coin is seen from different angles.

 

Micro-lettering

The new £1 contains tiny lettering on the lower inside rim on both sides of the coin. One pound on the “heads” side, known as the obverse side, and the year of production is engraved on the reverse “tails” side.

 

Milled edges

The coin has grooves on alternate sides.

 

Hidden high-security feature

A secret security feature is built into the new pound coin to protect it from counterfeiting in the future.

 

 

 

 

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. For more information contact Watkins & Gunn Solicitors on 01633 262122 or visit to our website www.watkinsandgunn.co.uk

 

 

 

Help Fathers Use Their Rights at Work

 

 

Lisa Guscott, Partner and employment specialist at Watkins & Gunn, looks at the impact of fathers’ increased rights at work.

 

Despite the introduction of shared parental leave, fathers have been slow to take up their new rights at work.

 

The focus of the original legislation aimed at improving employment rights in this area was firmly fixed on improving the lot of working mothers. Paternity leave and pay weren’t introduced in the UK until 2003 and whilst parental leave has been available since 1999 for both mothers and fathers, this is unpaid.

 

In April 2015 shared parental leave and shared parental pay were introduced. Mothers must still take the initial two weeks after birth and fathers will still be entitled to two weeks of paid paternity leave. However, then both parents then have a flexible choice of how to split up the rest of the leave entitlement - of up to 50 weeks. Shared parental pay (currently £140.98 a week or 90% of an employee's average weekly earnings whichever is lower) is only given for 37 weeks and the remaining 13 weeks of leave entitlement, if taken, is unpaid.

 

Example - If a mother ends her maternity leave after the 12 weeks following the child's birth, that leaves 40 weeks of leave. She could split this remaining leave and take 30 weeks and her partner can take the other 10 weeks. Alternatively, the couple may choose to take 20 weeks of leave at the same time or at different times.

 

It was the Government’s intention that the introduction of shared parental leave would help encourage more working fathers to take more time off after the birth of a child and encourage mothers to return to work. However, statistics show that the take-up of shared parental leave is only approximately and 1% and 40% of companies report that not a single father has taken shared parental leave it was introduced.

 

There are numerous possible explanations behind the poor uptake of shared parental leave.  However, one of the key reasons is financial. Whilst mothers often have their maternity pay topped up by their employer, employers are much less likely to top up shared parental pay – working families will therefore very often be worse off if the mother shares her leave with the father. It could be argues that this is discriminatory against men, but no cases have yet been brought to date. In addition, statistics show that 50% of fathers thought that taking shared parental leave would be perceived negatively by their employer and may harm their career prospects.

 

So what can employers do to help? Educating employees to raise awareness about the options available to them and combating negative perceptions would help. Also, they could enhance paternity pay and/or shared parental pay to match what is offered to mothers - but not all employers can afford to do it. A less costly alternative would be to offer more flexible working opportunities, such as working different patterns of hours or job-sharing. According to the TUC, the majority of employed fathers with young children (over 90%) work full-time, but the Working Families study showed that fathers want more flexibility in the workplace. So alternatives to the traditional fixed hours structure may appeal to many working fathers. Flexible working not only helps well-being at work but can also often lead to increased productivity for businesses.

 

Employers should consider actively supporting working fathers as well as working mothers. Although there may be cost implications in the short-term, these should be weighed against the potential long-term benefits of attracting and keeping the best workers and having a happy and productive workforce.

 

Fathers’ rights at work include the right to -

  • make a flexible working request;
  • paid shared parental leave;
  • paid paternity leave;
  • take unpaid parental leave;
  • take emergency unpaid leave to look after a dependant; and
  • take unpaid leave to attend antenatal appointments

 

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. For more information contact Watkins & Gunn Solicitors on 01633 262122 or visit to our website www.watkinsandgunn.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Whiplash reforms are an own goal

 

Clive Thomas, Managing Partner of Watkins and Gunn, considers the Government’s plan to  reform whiplash claims.

 

Prior to the announcement of the general election, Government announced Part one of their response to reforming the whiplash claims process. They intend raising the small claims limit for road traffic accident injury cases from £1,000 to £5,000 and raising it to £2,000 for all other types of injury claim, including accidents at work.

 

In addition they intend -

•              introducing fixed tariffs to cap the amount of damages for compensation claims.

•              Banning on offers to settle claims without providing medical evidence.

 

It does represent a slight retreat from the original proposal to increase the small claims limit to £5,000 for all types of injury claim.

 

The stated intention of the reforms is to get a "grip" on compensation claims and reduce insurance premiums for motorists, by what they hope will be £40 per year - even though the reforms made to date have produced no such savings. However, many believe that their reforms are a missed opportunity and an own goal.

 

The Government appear to have fixated on the amount of damages an accident victim can claim, and have failed to introduce a ban on cold calling or texting, which is so prevalent in the claims industry, or to plan to properly regulate claims management companies. Solicitors are, rightly, banned from making cold calls and sending nuisance text messages but claims management companies are not. The Small Claims Court is designed for consumer disputes and for people to represent themselves and, as a result, only very limited legal costs can be awarded. However, the proposed increase creates such an inequality of arms, between an accident victim and a large insurance company and their skilled lawyers that many people will simply not want, or be capable of, dealing with a claim without assistance. Claims management companies see this as a real opportunity to get even more involved. As a result it is feared that far from getting a "grip" they may in fact have fuelled the claims industry. They have also failed to address expensive motor repairs and repeated hikes in insurance premium tax, which are both major factors in the cost of motor insurance premiums.

 

APIL (the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers) predict that there will be an "explosion" in unsolicited calls and texts from claims management companies encouraging people to make claims - even potentially fraudulent ones.

 

Added to that is that the fixed tariff system of compensation will result in innocent accident victims being squeezed on both sides. On one hand being under compensated for their claims and then, to add insult to their injuries, having to pay a percentage of their already reduced compensation to a claims management company, if they are tempted to use one (or a lawyer if they decide to seek professional assistance).

 

The reforms will require primary legislation as well as secondary. The Government had intended to implement the changes as early as 1st October 2018 as part of the Prisons and Courts Bill, however, this was shelved following the election announcement. It was confirmed in the Queen’s Speech that the reforms will re- emerge as part of the Civil Liability Bill, to “help reduce motor insurance premiums”, with no indication of how this will be enforced and still no commitment to banning cold calling or texting. According to the Government, the benefits of the new Bill include tackling the continuing high number and cost of whiplash claims, and ensuring that full and fair compensation is paid to genuinely injured claimants. However; there is considerable concern that they will, in fact, result in an “own goal”, as the changes may actually increase claims and insurance premiums, whilst reducing the rights and compensation for genuine accident victims.

 

 If you require any advice or assistance in relation to accident claims, contact our specialist Personal Injury team.

 

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. For more information contact Watkins & Gunn Solicitors on 01633 262122 or visit to our website www.watkinsandgunn.co.uk

 

 

 

 

COMMUNITY CARE LAW IN WALES

 

 

Historically, the Community Care system was legally complex, the legislation was piecemeal.  The Law Commission recommended one statute with details contained in regulations and/or a code of practice.

 

The Welsh Government passed the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014.  The bulk of the Act came into force in April 2016.  In England, the Welsh Act applies to children as well as adults.

 

The Act introduced “the Wellbeing duty”.  This promotes physical, mental health and emotional wellbeing.  A Local Authority has a duty to promote the wellbeing of people “in need” (and their carers).

 

Under Section 19 the Local Authority has a duty to assess when an adult appears to need care and support.  This is irrespective of the Authority’s view of the individual’s need for care and support and the level of the adult’s financial resources.  Similarly, an assessment must be made of a child’s needs, where a child appears to have some need for care and support.  The child’s finances, or those of its parents, should not be taken into account.  There is a presumption that disabled children will need additional care and support.

 

There is also a separate duty to assess a carer’s ability and willingness to carry out care.

 

The care need for an adult (regulation 3) will arise from their physical or mental ill  health, age, disability, dependence on drugs or alcohol, or other similar circumstances.  It is similar for a child (regulation 4).  For a carer (regulation 5) the need arises as a result of providing care for an adult in need or a disabled child.  The regulations give examples of the standard tasks that a person with a care need would find difficult for example, ability to carry out self care or domestic routines (self care includes; eating or drinking, maintaining personal hygiene, keeping their room clean, safe etc).

 

The Local Authority must meet the needs of an adult where he (or she) is ordinarily resident in the area and;

  1. The needs meet the eligibility criteria, or
  2. The Authority considers it necessary to prevent abuse and neglect.  Similarly, the Authority has a duty to meet the needs of a child in their area.  If those needs meet the eligibility criteria or where it is necessary to protect the child.

 

Conclusion

 

Community Care law in Wales is now found primarily in one Act (albeit with various explanatory regulations and guidance).  It applies to adults and children.  One only needs to appear to have a need to start the process and a person’s financial means are not relevant at the outset.  If in doubt, approach the Local Authority, ask for an assessment to be made and carefully examine that assessment (by cross reference with the regulations).

 

Michael Imperato
Partner - Public Law

 

 

 

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. For more information contact Watkins & Gunn Solicitors on 01633 262122 or visit to our website www.watkinsandgunn.co.uk

 

 

 

Challenging Hospital Closures The NHS in England – Structure

Save Our Hospital

 

Michael Imperato of Watkins & Gunn Solicitors considers the complex structure of the health service in England. This is particularly important for people seeking to challenge the Health service. Michael has experience in acting for communities challenging hospital closures and for individuals with clinical negligence claims.   

 

In England, the NHS is structured along the lines of an internal market. This means there is a separation between the purchaser and the provider of care, and business or market practices are part of how NHS organisations work. Control was to be devolved from the Secretary of State and NHS managers, to professionals and patients.

Major reforms to the structure of the health service in England were introduced by the Health and Social Care Act 2012, with many provisions under the Act coming into force on 1 April 2013.

 

The Secretary of State for Health

 

The Secretary of State has overall responsibility for the work of the Department of Health (DH). He/she has responsibility:

 

  • for the business and policies of the department, including financial control
  • oversight of all NHS delivery and performance

 

He/she also leads on all aspects of mental health and championing patient safety.

 

The Department of Health                                             

The DH is responsible for strategic leadership and funding for both health and social care in England. The DH is a ministerial department, supported by a number of agencies and public bodies. It creates national policy and legislation. It (and the Secretary of State) is accountable to Parliament. The work of this department is mostly scrutinised by the House of Commons’ Health Committee.

 

Public Health England                                                                               

PHE is an executive agency of the Department of Health, and a distinct delivery organisation with operational autonomy to advise and support government, local authorities and the NHS in a professionally independent manner. Its role is to protect and improve the nation's health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities.

 

PHE are responsible for:

 

  • making the public healthier by encouraging discussions, advising government and supporting action by local government, the NHS and other people and organisations
  • supporting the public so they can protect and improve their own health
  • protecting the nation’s health through the national health protection service, and preparing for public health emergencies
  • sharing our information and expertise with local authorities, industry and the NHS, to help them make improvements in the public’s health
  • researching, collecting and analyzing data to improve our understanding of health and come up with answers to public health problems
  • reporting on improvements in the public’s health so everyone can understand the challenge and the next steps
  • helping local authorities and the NHS to develop the public health system and its specialist workforce

 

NHS England                                                                                                                                                                         

NHS England is an independent body, at arm’s length to the government. Its main role is to set the priorities and direction of the NHS and to improve health and care outcomes for people in England. NHS England manages around £100 billion of the overall NHS budget and ensures that organisations are spending the allocated funds effectively.

 

NHS England is the commissioner for primary care services such as GPs, pharmacists and dentists, including military health services and some specialised services. It also supports local health services that are led by groups of GPs called Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). NHS England allocates funding to the 200+ CCGs, and holds CCGs to account. NHS England also commissions some services itself including specialised services, primary care, offender healthcare and some services for the armed forces. CCGs in turn, commission NHS Trusts, NHS Foundation Trusts and primary care providers.

 

The NHS England Board consists of a Chair and eight non-executive directors and four voting executive directors.

 

Four regional teams regions cover healthcare commissioning and delivery in their area and provide professional leadership on finance, nursing, medical, specialised commissioning, patients and information, human resources, organisational development, assurance and delivery. Regional teams work closely with organisations such as CCGs, local authorities, health and wellbeing boards as well as GP practices.

 

            North of England regional team

            Midlands and East of England regional team

            London regional team

            South of England regional team

 

 

Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs)                                

CCGs replaced primary care trusts (PCTs) on April 1 2013. CCGs are clinically led statutory NHS bodies responsible for the planning and commissioning of healthcare services for their local area. CCG members include GPs and other clinicians, such as nurses and consultants. They are responsible for about 60% of the NHS budget, commission most secondary care services, and play a part in the commissioning of GP services. The secondary care services commissioned by CCGs are:

 

  • planned hospital care 
  • rehabilitative care
  • urgent and emergency care (including out-of-hours and NHS 111)
  • most community health services
  • mental health services and learning disability services

CCGs can commission any service provider that meets NHS standards and costs. These can be NHS hospitals, social enterprises, charities or private sector providers. However, they must be assured of the quality of services they commission, taking into account both National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines and the Care Quality Commission's (CQC) data about service providers.

 

Both NHS England and CCGs have a duty to involve their patients, carers and the public in decisions about the services they commission. Commissioning is about getting the best possible health outcomes for the local population, by assessing local needs, deciding priorities and strategies, and then buying services on behalf of the population from providers such as hospitals, clinics, community health bodies, etc. It is an ongoing process, and CCGs must constantly respond and adapt to changing local circumstances. CCGs are responsible for the health of their entire population, and are measured by how much they improve outcomes.

 

CCGs are Membership bodies, with local GP practices as the members; they are led by an elected Governing Body made up of GPs, other clinicians including a nurse and a secondary care consultant, and lay members. CCG’s are independent, and accountable to the Secretary of State for Health through NHS England. They are responsible for the health of populations ranging from under 100,000 to 900,000, although the average population covered by a CCG is about a quarter of a million people.

 

Health and wellbeing boards                                                             

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 establishes health and wellbeing boards as a forum where key leaders from the health and care system work together to improve the health and wellbeing of their local population and reduce health inequalities. Health and wellbeing board members will collaborate to understand their local community's needs, agree priorities and encourage commissioners to work in a more joined-up way.

 

They have a statutory duty, with CCGs, to produce a joint strategic needs assessment and a joint health and wellbeing strategy for their local population.

 

The boards have very limited formal powers. They are constituted as a partnership forum rather than an executive decision-making body.

In most cases, health and wellbeing boards are chaired by a senior local authority elected member. The board must include a representative of each relevant CCG and local Healthwatch, as well as local authority representatives.

In principle, the areas of local CCGs should not normally cross those of local authorities without good reason.

The principal responsibilities of HWBs are:

  • Producing joint strategic needs assessments (JSNAs): JSNAs are assessments of the current and future health and social care needs of the whole of the local population. HWBs must consult with the local community when producing the JSNA and should take into account a broad range of issues, including demographics, the particular needs of disadvantaged or vulnerable groups and wider social, environmental and economic factors which might impact on health and wellbeing. The JSNA must be taken into account by local authorities, CCGs and NHS England when preparing or revising commissioning plans.
  • Producing joint health and wellbeing strategies (JHWS): JHWSs are strategies for meeting the local health needs identified in the JSNA. Like JSNAs, JHWSs must be taken into account by local authorities, CCGs and NHS England when preparing or revising commissioning plans.
  • Oversight of CCG commissioning plans: CCGs must liaise with the HWB when preparing or making significant revisions to their commissioning plans, and provide the HWB with a draft plan. The HWB opinion on the final plan must be published with the commissioning plan. The HWB can refer the plan to NHS England if it thinks the JHWS is not being taken account of properly and must be consulted by NHS England when the annual performance of each CCG is drawn up.

 

Hospital Trusts                                                                        

 

In 2013 the NHS underwent a fundamental restructure system there was a wide range of NHS trusts – such as acute trusts, ambulance trusts, and mental health trusts – that managed NHS hospital care in England, including community care and mental health services.

 

Today most of these services are provided through NHS foundation trusts and NHS trusts providing ambulance services, emergency care services, or mental health services.

 

Most hospitals in England are now managed by NHS foundation trusts. First introduced in April 2004, they differ from other existing NHS trusts. They are independent legal entities and have unique governance arrangements. They are also accountable to local people, who can become members and governors.

 

Each NHS foundation trust has a duty to consult and involve a board of governors – including patients, staff, members of the public, and partner organisations – in the strategic planning of the organisation. They are set free from central government control and are no longer performance-managed by health authorities. As self-standing, self-governing organisations, NHS foundation trusts are free to determine their own future. They have financial freedom and can raise capital from both the public and private sectors within borrowing limits, determined by projected cash flows, and are therefore based on affordability. They can retain financial surpluses to invest in the delivery of new NHS services. Foundation trusts are overseen by NHS Improvement.

 

Some hospitals in England are managed by acute trusts, some of which have also gained foundation trust status.  Acute trusts ensure that hospitals provide high-quality healthcare. They also decide how a hospital will develop so services improve.  Some acute trusts are regional or national centres for more specialised care, while others are attached to universities and help train health professionals. Acute trusts can also provide services in the community – for example, through health centres, clinics, or in people's homes.

 

Improvement                                                                                 

 

Founded in 2016, NHS Improvement is an umbrella organisation bringing together Monitor, the NHS Trust Development Authority, Patient Safety, the National Reporting and Learning System, the Advancing Change Team, and the Intensive Support Teams. It oversees and supports NHS foundation trusts, NHS trusts and independent providers delivering NHS-funded care. If necessary, it holds them to account – for example, putting trusts on special measures

  

Healthwatch England                                                          

 

Healthwatch England was established as an effective, independent consumer champion for health and social care. It also provides a leadership and support role for the local Healthwatch network.

 

GPs and the NHS                                                                                 

 

GP practices are run effectively as small businesses, which are contracted by NHS England. Contracts are held by the practice rather than individual GPs. The funding formula for individual practices is extremely complex.

 

Regulation – safeguarding people’s interests    

                    

Responsibility for regulating particular aspects of care is now shared across a number of different bodies, such as:

 

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. For more information contact Watkins & Gunn Solicitors on 02921 154313 or visit to our website www.watkinsandgunn.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tougher new penalties for drivers using mobile phones

 

 

Amy Thomas, of Watkins & Gunn Solicitors, considers the new increased penalties for using a mobile phone while driving. 

 

From 1st March 2017 penalties for using a mobile phone while driving will double. In more serious cases, police can also prosecute drivers for careless or dangerous driving.

 

Since 1 December 2003, it has been illegal to use a hand held phone or similar device whilst driving a motor vehicle or riding a motor cycle. However, despite this, the chances are that at some stage, we will all have seen another motorist using their mobile phone when queuing in traffic or driving. This has understandably led to growing concerns that this offence is not being taken sufficiently seriously and the current penalties are not a sufficient deterrent. It is hoped that harsher penalties will create a shift in attitude, similar to that seen with drink driving and the use of seatbelts.

 

 

Previously motorists would face a penalty of three points and a £100 fine but, as of 1 March 2017, the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (Penalty Points) Amendment Order 2016 will come into force in England, Scotland and Wales. Any motorist then caught using their mobile phone whilst driving will automatically receive six points and a £200 fine.

 

 

In the first two years of holding a licence, new drivers can only receive a maximum of six points, therefore these changes mean new drivers run the risk of immediately losing their licence. Repeat offenders may also have to appear in Court if they are caught a second time. In addition, they could face a fine of £1,000 and receive a six month driving ban.

 

 

The definition of use, is not limited to just answering a call, it also extends to sending a text message, following a map or scrolling through social media on your mobile phone. 

 

Over recent years, there have been an increasing number of severe and fatal accidents caused by motorists using their mobile phones. As a result, the Government has announced that the penalties are to be increased. Motorists will no longer be offered the opportunity to go on a driver awareness course once the new legislation comes into force.

 

If you require any advice or assistance in relation to motoring offences, please do not hesitate to contact our Road Traffic Law Department on 01495 768921.

 

 

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. For more information contact Watkins & Gunn Solicitors on 01633 262122 or visit to our website www.watkinsandgunn.co.uk

 

 

 

Ban on Letting Agents Fees

 

Caitlin Tew of Watkins & Gunn Solicitors reports on the Government’s plans to impose a ban on excessive letting agent fees.

 

During the Autumn Statement in 2016, the Chancellor announced plans to ban letting agent fees. It is hoped that a consultation will soon take place in order to impose a ban.

 

Many letting agents simply charge tenants the cost of items such as checking references, but other, more unscrupulous agents, impose extra charges on the checks that they carry out, and for administrative work in preparing contracts and inventories. It is these additional charges that will be targeted by the Government with the aim of reducing the amount of fees paid by tenants to the agents.

 

Agents have been accused of taking advantage of the housing crisis to squeeze extra money from people desperate to secure accommodation. Citizens Advice Bureau figures, based on a survey of tenants,  suggest the average letting agent fee has risen by 60% over the last 5 years with some asked to pay up to £700.

 

A clampdown of such excessive fees will serve as a welcome relief for many in private rented accommodation. However, there is a danger that imposing such a ban may lead to rent prices increasing as agents may shift their fees on to landlords, who, in turn, may then increase the price of rent for the tenant.

 

The ban has already been imposed in Scotland, but there is no confirmed date for the ban in England and Wales yet, but Chancellor Hammond said it would be introduced "as soon as possible". So we await further news as they work towards implementing a ban.

 

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. For more information contact Watkins & Gunn Solicitors on 01633 262122 or visit to our website www.watkinsandgunn.co.uk

 

 

Government’s whiplash reforms are an own goal

 

 

Clive Thomas, Managing Partner of Watkins and Gunn, comments on the Government’s recent announcement on whiplash claims.

 

The Government has announced Part one of their response to reforming the whiplash claims process. They intend raising the small claims limit for road traffic accident injury cases from £1,000 to £5,000 and raising it to £2,000 for all other types of injury claim. It hopes to introduce these reforms as soon as October 2018.

 

In addition they intend -

•              introducing fixed tariffs to cap the amount of damages for compensation claims.

•              Banning on offers to settle claims without providing medical evidence.

 

It does represent a slight retreat from the original proposal to increase the small claims limit to £5,000 for all types of injury claim.

 

The stated intention of the reforms is to get a "grip" on compensation claims and reduce insurance premiums for motorists, by what they hope will be £40 per year - even though the reforms made to date have produced no such savings. However, many believe that their reforms are a missed opportunity and an own goal.

 

The Government appear to have fixated on the amount of damages an accident victim can claim, and have failed to introduce a ban on cold calling or texting, which is so prevalent in the claims industry, or to plan to properly regulate claims management companies. Solicitors are, rightly, banned from making cold calls and sending nuisance text messages but claims management companies are not. The Small Claims Court is designed for consumer disputes and for people to represent themselves and, as a result, only very limited legal costs can be awarded. However, the proposed increase creates such an inequality of arms, between an accident victim and a large insurance company and their skilled lawyers that many people will simply not want, or be capable of, dealing with a claim without assistance. Claims management companies see this as a real opportunity to get even more involved. As a result it is feared that far from getting a "grip" they may in fact have fuelled the claims industry. They have also failed to address expensive motor repairs and repeated hikes in insurance premium tax, which are both major factors in the cost of motor insurance premiums.

 

APIL (the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers) predict that there will be an "explosion" in unsolicited calls and texts from claims management companies encouraging people to make claims - even potentially fraudulent ones.

 

Added to that is that the fixed tariff system of compensation will result in innocent accident victims being squeezed on both sides. On one hand being under compensated for their claims and then, to add insult to their injuries, having to pay a percentage of their already reduced compensation to a claims management company, if they are tempted to use one (or a lawyer if they decide to seek professional assistance).

 

So there is considerable concern that the changes may actually increase claims and insurance premiums, whilst reducing the rights and compensation for innocent accident victims. The reforms will require primary legislation as well as secondary. The Government intend it will form part of the Prisons and Courts Bill and they hope to implement the changes as from 1st October 2018.

 

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. For more information contact Watkins & Gunn Solicitors on 01633 262122 or visit to our website www.watkinsandgunn.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

"The Archers" highlights the issue of Domestic Abuse

 

The media has been abuzz with the fictional trial of Helen Titchener on the popular radio programme "The Archers". For those who have not followed it, she has been on trial for stabbing her husband Rob, and was found not guilty of both attempted murder or wounding with intent. The jury finally concluded that, after years of undergoing coercion, control, rape and assault at the hands of her husband, she believed her actions were justified in preventing further harm to herself and her young son, Henry.

 

The storyline has highlighted the very real problems that many people face in their relationships, where often they face not only actual violence but also threatening and controlling behaviour resulting in psychological and emotional abuse that stops short of physical violence. 

 

Too many victims suffer in silence, because of  the degree of control that is exerted over them. Last year new legislation created an offence where there is evidence of repeated 'controlling or coercive behaviour' in domestic abuse cases.  The penalty  is up to five years in prison. Controlling or coercive behaviour can include a pattern of threats, humiliation and intimidation.  It can also include stopping the victim wearing what they like, socialising with who they wish to, tracking them through their phone or internet use and controlling what they do or say on Facebook and other social media accounts.

 

The first step for any victim is recognising that they are a victim of domestic abuse and the next is to seek help. Victims often struggle with this  because they believe they are to blame for the things they are suffering which is part of the control.

 

No-one should have to live in a household where they feel threatened or are being hurt. Many victims cannot safely look for this information online. However, there are a number of places to turn for help, information and support: a GP or Health Visitor, the police, and organisations such as Refuge and Women’s Aid and other such fantastic organisations who do so much. Expert legal advice is also critical and victims should consider speaking to a solicitor who specialises in domestic violence cases (see www.resolution.org.uk for details of such solicitors near you). 

 

 

 

 

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