Wednesday, 20 May 2015

We need to do more to protect our clients money

The recent report of a significant loss suffered by a client following the interception of an email by a gang of fraudsters has sparked a debate about the suitability or otherwise of communicating with a client via email especially as regards the exchange of financial information. 

Mr and Mrs  Lupton sold a fla for £340,000. Two days before the set completion date of February 27, Mr Lupton’s solicitor, Perry Hay & Co in Richmond, Surrey, emailed him requesting his bank account details for the sale proceeds to be paid into.

Mr Luton replies and unfortunately for all concerned the email was intercepted by fraudsters.

Posing as Mr Lupton, the fraudsters emailed Perry Hay & Co again instructing them to disregard the previous details and send the money to a different account instead.

The sale completed and following the discovery of the fraud the account was frozen and £271,000 was returned to the Luptons but the balance of £62,000 had already  been withdrawn by the fraudsters. 

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Robert Loughlin, executive director at the SRA, said: “We are very concerned about this continuing activity. The fraudsters are highly sophisticated in their approach. All firms should ensure that their own, internal systems for guarding against scams are up-to-date and that staff know how to implement them.”

Unfortunately the SRA dis not seize the opportunity to provide guidance.    There is an element of common sense involved  but this is easy to say in the cold light of the day but less simple to implement faced with the intensity and pressures of a busy day of completions. 

So what can be done to reduce the risk of falling victim to fraud?

Some commentators speak about the need of encrypted email but I question whether this is a practical solution and more to the point one that is really necessary. 

The first and most important step is to make sure there is a very clear and coherent policy prepared on how to deal with the transfer of client funds and to make sure every single member of your business knows the policy and knows it by heart. 

The policy should make sure that any bank details supplied to you by a client should always be verified by calling the client and taking the client through some security questions.  That is questions to which only the client would know the answers.  You should avoid questions such as date of birth, file references and any other information which a determined fraudster may have gleaned. 

I also recommend that you should always ask the client to send through a copy of the bank statement relating to the account into which the money is to be paid.   This can then also be used to verify the bank details.   I know a bank statement can be replicated but if you have asked the client to forward this to when speaking with the client over the phone the chance of a fake statement being sent through is remote. 

I also suggest that significant sums of money should only be retuned to clients after it has been authorised by a director or partner of the firm.  This will add a second layer of security since the director or partner can then check that the policy has been followed. 

We operate in an uncertain world full of people who operate tirelessly to defraud others - we must be more vigilant and careful with  our clients money. 

Interestingly, following the crime, Perry Hay & Co said it did not believe it was at fault and that the Luptons would have to suffer the loss.  I am not sure about that! 

Morgan Jones and Pett are solicitors who provide legal advice and services to clients based in England and Wales and who can be contacted on 01603877000 or via email at davidpett@m-j-p.co.uk

Thursday, 7 May 2015

How will the outcome of the 2015 General Election affect the new build market?

The question of whether we will be living under a red or blue, or a mixture of both, Government will soon be known.  How this will affect the new build market is also unknown and has created some uncertainty.

So what is likely to happen going forward, depending of course, on who lands up as the governing force.

The Conservative Party has committed to build 200,000 starter homes (built for first time buyers aged under 40 with a 20% discount) and 275,000 affordable homes by 2020.  Relatively small numbers and it is no clear whether the latter is in addition to the 200,000 starter homes.  The Labour Party is also looking to build a similar number of starter homes by 2020 and has committed to the establishment of a Future Homes Fund for investment in increasing housing supply.

It has similarities with the Liberal Democrats idea of a Government backed Housing Investment Bank to provide long term capital for major new settlements and to help attract finance. The new home start figure for the Liberal Democrats is set higher at 300,000 each year. They also commit to set in motion at least ten new Garden Cities.

Looking to make it easier for those looking for a home in the area in which they live is high on the priority list for Labour and they have promised to give priority to local first-time buyers in new housing areas.

In an effort to encourage owners of empty properties to sell Labour will be looking to allow local authorities to charge higher council tax on empty house.  The Conservatives have outlined plans to unlock and allow development on certain brownfield sites to enable 400,000 new homes to be built. Again it’s unclear whether this is an addition to the 200,000 new starter homes and 275,000 affordable homes.

This is all well and good and shows a broad acceptance across the parties of the need to build more new houses and to make these affordable to those looking to get on the property ladder.  The numbers proposed are however relatively small and do not meet ( apart from the Liberal Democrats) the 250,000 new homes each year that some commentators consider to the correct number to keep up with demand.  The truth is that we have never come close to this figure and as long as we fall behind with development economic recovery will remain volatile, rents will continue to rise and the cost of buying a property and keeping hold of it will remain an issue for many. People on ordinary incomes should be able to buy or rent a high quality home at a price they can afford today, and have confidence they will be able to afford tomorrow.

The major problem which none of the main political parties have so far fully addressed is the lack of competition in the new build market.  By 2012 70% of new homes were built by large house building concerns.  This is not surprising when land is so expensive and only the larger developers can afford to purchase.  The issue is that they all approach development in the same way, that is to minimise build cost and maximise sale prices by releasing homes slowly.   If there is a downturn in the market they reduce output and this contributes to a deepening of the problem.  So what happens is that output only increases when there is an acceptable level of house price inflation.

So in short land needs to be made available at a price which will enable smaller and less resourced builders to compete and or those smaller builders and developers need access to affordable finance to allow them to build good quality homes at affordable prices.  I will not hold my breath!

MJP Conveyancers are solicitors who provide legal advice and services to clients based in England and Wales and who can be contacted on 01603877000 or via email at davidpett@m-j-p.co.uk