Friday, 30 September 2011

Waffling bankers

It’s grim on the High Street too.

In May this year, I approached bankers to set-up a trustee account.  We had secured a large sum of money for a client and created a special needs trust to legitimately preserve his means-tested benefits.

My co-trustee and I told the bank what we wanted and they gave us a form.  We filled it in and we made an appointment as required to present the form and for my co-trustee to deliver his identification documents.

The manager could do no more than to explain that it was the wrong form and how many times she was going to kick her colleague’s backside.

To cut a long story short, we were given the correct form which was then completed and delivered.  My assistant telephoned and visited the branch many times in the coming weeks to find out when we would receive confirmation of the new account, cheque book etc.

After various reassurances that it was being chased up, we have been told that the forms cannot be located.  They had been lost somewhere on the way to or from the processing department, wherever that is.

The branch explains that they did not photocopy the original form before despatch because they do not have the resources. 


The former chief executive’s daily pension of nearly £2,000 would buy at least half a dozen adequate photocopiers.

Subsequently I have approached a different bank to see what they can do.  They are being helpful.

But the answer to my question who is best able to deal at local level is that it depends on what day we want to go and see them.

As I have explained, the greater value is in having somebody who knows what they are doing, even if they are only available one day a week.  I will arrange everything else accordingly.

It’s of no value to me at all to pick my day and then have the cleaner deal with it because nobody else is available.

Not sure yet whether that’s what’s bound to happen anyway...

Monday, 19 September 2011

Technology and destruction court

Evidence of yet further advances in the use of technology by HM Courts and Tribunal Service now emerges.

One of my local courts has removed and/or destroyed its fax machine.  We now have notepaper (because the court still insists on using the post for everything) that has a line through the space where the fax number used to appear.

It’s not all bad because we are exhorted to use e-mail, instead of the fax but it seems the court isn’t quite so committed to the concept as to display the e-mail address on its notepaper.

But we know it, and we use it, because we are all for it. Post is unnecessarily slow and environmentally unfriendly.

So, we send an e-mail and we get an automated response: -

“Thank you for your e-mail.  This e-mail box is accessed daily.  In accordance with HMCS [sic] policy, your e-mail will be dealt with or responded to within ten working days following the date of receipt.”

“Daily?!”  Wow - did somebody find a posse of staff who had nothing to do, suddenly providing the resource to check the e-mail as often as once a day?

“Within ten working days.”  That’s some sort of standard, is it?  Objectively, I suppose that the answer to that question is “yes”.  Let’s be more specific and say, yes, it is a standard but a poor one.

I have never understood - and I have heard and read it for donkeys’ years now - why court offices in particular are so often able to work consistently two or three weeks behind the pace.  If one can do that consistently then, subject to one big drive to clear whatever backlog exists, one can consistently work up-to-date.

It’s the philosophy that we just don’t aim to achieve things in any lesser timescale.  It’s ingrained.

I suppose this is better than the South Devon court which has not only pulled the plug on the fax machine but insists that one may only use the e-mail for the most life-threatening matters.  Why is this?

The simple answer is that if you block off the fax and ignore the e-mail, communications demanding attention don’t reach you as soon as they otherwise would, so you don’t have to deal with them as soon as you otherwise would. 

They may by then have become more (objectively) urgent and have generated a great deal more anxiety and other (subjective) pressures.

Or they may just have gone away – so you don’t have to deal with them at all.

Does Haringey have a county court?

Friday, 16 September 2011

Tax craven

On a personal level it’s hard to complain about the recent notification from HM Revenue & Customs.

Headed “We are writing to apologize for the late issue of your self-assessment statement”, it told me that I now have until the end of September to pay any tax due and that I won’t be charged interest as long as I meet that deadline.

Quite generous, I have to say where the essence of “self-assessment” is that I know - or to be more precise my accountant knows - how much tax is payable and that, as in every year, it is due by 31 July.  Furthermore, we all know we get charged interest if the payment is late.

But no - the Revenue say that we don’t (or rather didn’t) have to pay by the end of July - that we can have until the end of September - interest free.

Why this generosity?  Well, HMRC are feeling guilty, explaining that “because we had to send out more statements than we expected this year, we were unable to issue your statement at the usual time”.

I hope someone, somewhere - who has the ability to put things straight - understands that this is a euphemism for “because we are so under-resourced and/or incompetent the nation will have to continue paying interest on a sum equivalent to however much tax is paid two months late, and not recover any of it from  taxpayers who have had the benefit of the money for an extra two months”.

How can we ever expect to climb out of our pit of debt?  

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The "expense" of counsel..

I’m reading - not for the first time - reported disapproval from the judiciary about the instruction of counsel in particular circumstances.

It doesn’t really matter from the point of view of what I have to say but this particular article arises from an old chestnut of infant settlement hearings.

In passing, there is a separate observation about that.  The court rules very properly require additional work from lawyers to safeguard the interests of children even in “small claims”.

I should be interested to know how many school kids, even in this day and age, think that £1,000 (or just under) isn’t a lot of money.  Nevertheless, the expectation of the courts seems to be that the additional work will be done for virtually nothing.

In this and other situations, judges complain about the “unnecessary use of counsel” and the like.  What in heaven’s name is the problem?

By and large, junior counsel attend many relatively straightforward hearings unaccompanied by solicitors, often travelling significant distance, and doing it all at unbelievably modest cost.  So many times it works out cheaper than sending any less qualified person from the office, or from another firm as an agent.

Encouraged by defendants’ representatives who, in the case of liability insurers, will generally run even the most tenuous arguments to try and have costs disallowed, our courts seem blinded by the reference to ‘counsel’.

So often they seem to overlook the obvious point that there has to be some expense and they should ask the obvious question - how much would that expense have been in any event?

So often the answer will be - a lot more than it was to “use counsel”.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Insurance matters... the title of a visually attractive “free professional indemnity insurance guide from The Law Society” that reached me today, 2 September 2011.

The trigger for this fifteen-page feature is obviously the approaching single renewal date as it is known for solicitors’ professional indemnity insurance cover - 1 October 2011.

I flicked through to see typical warnings from brokers about, amongst other things, “timely proposal forms”.  One article I glanced through was a little thin on guidance but clear enough that sending a form in within four weeks of the renewal date (i.e. later than, 2 September) wouldn’t be good enough.

There might be lots of good stuff in this publication which I shall want to read, notwithstanding that I sent off my proposals to brokers last month.  To the extent, though, that this is trying to get the message across to solicitors to crack on with it well ahead of 1 October, why does it land on the mat as late as 2 September?

Further scrutiny reveals only that this is “Issue No 6, August 2011”.  The well-wishing forward from the Chief Executive, Desmond Hudson, informs that “a dedicated PII Helpline will be open from 23 August 2011”.

So what is the explanation?  Has it only just been printed - or was it just sitting around in a post room?  My copy didn’t look as if it had been places on the way.