Consumer watchdog fires warning shot at online sellers

As the Christmas shopping period approaches, online retailers are given a timely warning to put their websites and procedures in order.
As the retail sector hots up for the Christmas selling season, a warning shot has been fired at online sellers, telling them to match up to consumer protection regulations or face action.
A report by the UK’s consumer watchdog, the Office for Fair Trading (OFT) has highlighted areas where online retailers need to get their act together in the run up to Christmas.
Earlier this year the OFT carried out checks on the websites of 156 major online retailers, to see whether they were complying with consumer protection regulations.
The OFT has now published the results of that survey, which has resulted in written notices to 62 of the retailers, pointing out where they are falling short.
The most common examples of non-compliance are:
• Imposing limitations on customers’ rights to a refund if they cancel the order
• Unreasonable limitations on customers’ right to inspect and assess the goods and to return them if defective
• Failing to provide full contact details including an e mail contact address
• Unexpected charges imposed at the time of checking out – what’s known as drip selling
Said Corporate Law expert Brendan O’Brien of Breeze & Wyles Solicitors LLP : “This report by the OFT is hitting retailers in the run-up to the frantic Christmas shopping period, and sets out a tough reminder to put their house in order as quickly as possible.
“It’s not just about the major retailers who have been identified, as any online seller who doesn’t match up is going to be in line for penalties in future, and non compliance is bad for business because it damages reputation as well as leading to tough penalties.”
He added: “Every business selling online needs to examine their online trading terms and procedures to make sure they do not fall foul of the rules.”

ENDS

Web site content note:

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.


Easily accessible online Employment Documents from Breeze & Wyles Solicitors LLP

Today Breeze and Wyles has launched its new easy access online employment documents to compliment its successful HR Together employment solution for Businesses. These documents can be found here: https://www.clientspace.org/index.asp?firm=891A41B9&id=2
Now providing cost efficiently priced documents (some of which are free), insurance to protect clients from claims by employees relating to their employment, a free telephone advice line and low cost consultancy this makes for a desirable suite of services that any employer should concsider particularly in the current economic environment.
If you are interested contact either maria.koureas-jones@breezeandwyles.co.uk or elspet.edmunds@breezeandwyles.co.uk on 01992 558411.

Ruling opens way to six year time limit for equal pay claims

Supreme Court ruling opens the gates for worker’s compensation claims to be made through the courts after the industrial tribunal time limits have elapsed.
A flood of equal pay claims is expected following a Supreme Court ruling allowing workers who miss the six-month deadline for claiming compensation through the employment tribunal to take their claim to the normal courts, where a six-year time limit applies.
The Supreme Court yesterday (24th October) published its judgment in the case of Birmingham City Council v Abdulla and others, which involved equal pay claims by workers at the Council. The vast majority of the claimants were women who had worked as cleaners, home helps and in similar jobs, with basic pay of between £10000 and £15000. Men in equivalent male-dominated jobs such as refuse collectors, street cleaners and grave diggers earned similar basic wages but were able to earn bonuses of up to £15,000 per year which were not available to those in traditionally female-dominated jobs.
In 2007 and 2008 many female Council employees brought claims, arguing that the Council’s policy of not offering bonuses to women contravened equal pay rules. The employees won and were awarded thousands of pounds in compensation.
But this was of no help to workers who had left the Council more than six months before, because the time limit for making a claim in the employment tribunal is six months from the date the employment ended.
The group now known as ‘Abdulla’ was formed, taking its name from the first named woman on the list, and the women took their claim to the High Court, where a time limit of six years applies.
Birmingham Council’s argument was that, unless the workers could show a very good reason why they did not make their claim within six months, their claim should be dismissed because there would be no purpose in providing a strict time table for employment tribunal claims if those who do not comply can simply take their claim to the courts.
The five Supreme Court judges were split on the question. Two of them felt that allowing employment claims to proceed in the civil courts when the tribunal time limit has expired was to frustrate the policy underlying the time limit provisions of the Equal Pay Act 1970. But the other three judges considered that the reason why the Equal Pay Act made no provision for extending the six-month time limit must be that Parliament recognised that an alternative claim in the civil courts was available. So the workers won by a narrow majority.
Said Brendan O’Brien Corporate Law specialist: “We have had equal pay legislation for 50 years, but there are still many discrepancies, and this case opens the door for employees who only realise that they might have a claim against their former employers after they had left the job.
“The claim of the Abdulla group was under the Equal Pay Act 1970, where employment tribunals have no power to extend the time limit – even by minutes - and so this case marks a major shift in attitude from the courts towards late claims from employees. It remains to be seen whether the case has wider implications for other types of employment claim.”
ENDS
Web site content note:
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

The Financial Black Hole!!!

Are you spending good money to chase bad?

It is a fact that there is little point chasing a “man of straw”. The difficulty is not normally accepting this as a fact but identifying whether a particular debtor is indeed a man or company of straw.
There are steps you can take to help make your assessment before incurring the costs associated with issuing County Court proceedings:
 Make enquiries with staff that have been out to your debtor’s premises to identify possible assets that the debtor may have. What assets were at the premises? Stock? Computer Equipment? Vehicles? Machinery? If there are assets of value at the premises, once a County Court Judgment (“CCJ”) is obtained, you can instruct a High Court Enforcement Officer to repossess these assets which will then be sold and the money paid to you in settlement of the debt.
 Make pre-litigation enquiries regarding the debtor. How? We can help you with this:
Run a financial “health check” on your debtor
We charge £10.00 plus VAT for this search and report. This search is extremely cost effective when considering the potential wasted costs for pursuing a debtor that is a man / company of straw.
The report, which will be sent to you, will look at:
 The debtor’s “health rating”; whether the debtor is considered to be “high risk” in terms of their financial position.
 Whether there are any CCJ’s against the debtor and whether these have been paid.
 The debtor’s last filed accounts including balance sheet (and any assets identified on the same) / profit and loss accounts / cashflow and turnover (where such information has been filed with Companies House).
 Whether any petitions have been filed for the winding up of the debtor.
 The debtor’s trading address.
 The details of the debtor’s directors and shareholders (if a Limited Company).
The report will enable you to identify a) whether it is financially worth pursuing the debtor at all; and b) what the best enforcement method will be to increase your chances of a successful recovery (e.g. an application for a Charge over your debtor’s property).
If your initial investigations lead you to believe that your debtor is not a company or man of straw, it is important to ensure that it is cost effective to pursue your debtor and that any legal fees you incur are proportionate to the debt owed.
Breeze and Wyles offer a low cost debt recovery service with our fees for chasing your debtor starting at £2.00 plus VAT for a Letter Before Action and depending on the amount of the debt, between £65.00 plus VAT and £170.00 plus VAT for issuing proceedings. Our fees are fixed allowing you the comfort of knowing the true cost of pursuing your debtor through the Courts.
If you would like further information regarding our debt recovery service, please contact our Rita Wright at rita.wright@breezeandwyles.co.uk or 01992 558411.


Time to get Jaws on your side.....

A sharp set of teeth with bite is what’s needed to protect confidential business information when employees move on to work for the competition.
Employers worried about losing commercially sensitive information when employees move on are being told to tighten up employment contracts if they want to protect themselves and have the courts on their side.
The outcome of a recent case brought by Churchill Retirement Living Limited has shown how important it is to specify exactly what actions are prohibited to an ex-employee if companies want to protect confidential information.
The former employee of Churchill Retirement had copied a list of contacts and information about two potential retirement development site purchases onto a memory stick before he left to join a competitor.
When they found out, Churchill applied to the courts for an order prohibiting the employee from using the list of contacts and from contacting anyone whose name appeared on the list of contacts. They also asked for an order to stop the new employer from making a move on either of the potential sites they had ear-marked.
At first Churchill thought that the judgement would go their way, when the judge agreed that taking the list of contacts and the site information could amount to a breach of contract or breach of confidence, and granted an order prohibiting the ex-employee and the new employer from ‘using’ the list of contacts. But the judge refused to go so far as ordering that they must not make contact with the persons on the contact list, because the situation had not been covered by Churchill’s contract of employment.
And when it came to the site purchases, Churchill ran up against the same problem, despite them arguing it was highly confidential information because the properties were not for sale on the open market and the proposed sale was not publicly known.
Again the judge would not grant an order to stop the new employer pursuing the sites. Instead he ordered that the new employer must not use any information relating to Churchill’s profit-margin on any site. The judge went on to say that, if Churchill suffered a loss on the sites as a result of the breach of confidence, that loss would be purely financial and easy to calculate, so a claim for compensation would be straightforward.
Corporate law specialist Brendan O'Brien commented: “This case shows how important it is to include specifics in contracts where staff have access to confidential information. The contract should specifically prohibit actions such as copying and removing confidential information.
“In certain cases the contract should also prohibit any contact with clients or other connections of the employer for a specified period after the employment has come to an end.”
He added: “If it’s really clear that an action is in breach of contract, then it’s much more likely the court will grant orders with teeth in them, that should prevent the breach of confidence happening.”
ENDS
Web site content note:
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.
Churchill Retirement Living Limited v Luard and others [2012 EWHC 1479] demonstrates


Divorce settlements set for seismic shift

Experts predicting a ‘run on the bank’ as divorce payouts look set for reform
The trend for massive divorce settlements is set for seismic change if new recommendations go ahead, and experts are predicting a rush to the courts for unhappy spouses looking to capture a big pay-out before changes are introduced.
At present the law gives judges almost absolute power to order redistribution of property between couples on divorce or on the ending of a civil partnership, but it does not give judges guidelines or objectives. The result is uncertainty and the result of the uncertainty is that couples are more likely to go to court because they cannot tell in advance what the judge might order.
Until 2000 and the landmark case of White v White, it was commonly believed that in the case of a couple where one was the wealth creator, the other should be awarded enough to maintain a decent standard of living, but not much more. But in White v White it was decided that there was no reason why the award for the financially weaker party should be limited in this way and this opened the door to escalating awards and London becoming known as the divorce capital of the world.
But now The Law Commission, whose job it is to research and make recommendations for non-political law reforms, wants to put an end to this. The Law Commission has now announced a consultation on what needs should be provided for in divorce settlements and how non matrimonial property such as an inheritance should be treated on divorce.
Family law expert Olive McCarthy of Breeze & Wyles Solicitors LLP commented : “Divorce judges have been compared with a bus driver who, after being told in detail how to drive the bus, is ordered to drive off without being given a route to follow. The Law Commission wants to recommend reforms that will give judges and the public greater clarity as to the route the courts will take.”
This follows on the heels of their consultation last year over pre-nuptial agreements, where couples agree in advance how their property is to be divided in the event of divorce. These agreements have previously been unenforceable in England because an agreement in contemplation of divorce was thought to be contrary to public policy.
She added: “The fact that the Law Commission is widening its terms of reference suggests that it’s likely to make recommendations for sweeping reforms. The signs are that prenuptial agreements will be given the green light and that the needs that should be provided for on divorce will no longer extend to a nine bedroom mansion and a £1.65 million pension pot, as happened in the case of Grubb v Grubb last year.
“The issues are controversial. Regarding prenuptial agreements as contrary to public policy may be thought old fashioned, but there is a danger that they will put the financially weaker party in a disadvantaged position.
“We have all been surprised at the generosity of some recent awards, but there’s a risk of a bouncing to the other extreme if we see the needs of a spouse treated too restrictively. This could lead to a situation for example where a woman might be given no credit for giving up her career, raising a family and providing the background support that enabled her husband to build a successful business.”
She added: “In the meantime, we’re expecting a rush to court from those contemplating divorce who stand to benefit under the current regime, which could be an unfortunate by-product of the changes.”
ENDS
Web site content note:
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.