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Last year saw a number of dramatic changes for landlords and the rental market. Recently, there have been changes to buy-to-let mortgage tax relief, affordability tests and stamp duty which have transformed the rental landscape. However there will be more rules and regulations to come. Here are 6 changes coming up which landlords should be aware of.

1) Energy efficiency

The Government has Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) in place, and from April 2018 all new tenancies must adhere to these standards. This will mean that properties with an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of F and G cannot be leased out. This puts an emphasis on landlords improving their EPC ratings as a property must meet the MEES on 1st April 2018 if they intend to grant a new lease to a tenant.

2) Longer tenancies

The Autumn Budget saw the Government plan a consultation on how to incentivise landlords to offer longer-term tenancies. There are suggestions that tax relief for long leases and quicker evictions could encourage landlords in this direction.

By renting out a room in their property, a homeowner could earn up to £7,500 a year before they have to pay Income Tax.

3) Credit history

The Rent Recognition Challenge was set up by the Government to see if technology firms can find ways to record tenants’ rent payment histories in their credit scores. This will not only help renters get approval for a mortgage but will also allow landlords to see whether a prospective tenant has paid their rent on time in the past or whether they are likely to default.

However this not only applies to tenants. A database of rogue landlords is set to be launched in April. This will only be accessible to local and central governments and will contain details of landlords with criminal convictions, as well as landlords and letting agents who have received banning orders for housing offences.

4) Letting agent fees

Another Government proposal is to ban letting agents from charging fees to tenants. This was part of a draft bill published last year, but could lead to agents passing these fees to landlords instead. This could lead to an overall increase in fees as more and more landlords decide against using a letting agent at all.

5) Landlord regulation

The buy-to-let market is largely unregulated, and so the Government has announced the creation of an ombudsman scheme that landlords will be legally required to be a part of. This will replace four current schemes and aims to improve dispute resolution.

6) Tax relief reduction

The mortgage interest tax relief restrictions will continue to take effect, with it being restricted to 50% in April 2018, before being reduced to 25% the following year. By 2020, this will be removed entirely.

All of these changes will be big news for landlords, so it is important that those renting property understand exactly what it means for them. Ask a lawyer for further information.

The post 6 changes that landlords should be aware of in 2018 appeared first on Rocket Lawyer UK.

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Getting your property back from your tenant can be tricky if don’t follow the correct procedure.  You can either serve a Section 8 notice or a Section 21 notice depending on the situation, but make sure to follow the correct steps. Read our latest blog to make sure that you can get your property quickly and legally!

The more common notice is the section 21 notice. This is a no fault possession eviction notice. This means that you don’t need to give any reason for wanting the property back. New regulations prevent you from serving a section 21 notice if the legal requirements haven’t been complied with. Many landlords make common mistakes and serve an invalid notice which means they can’t regain possession of the property. Here are 4 tips to make sure you avoid serving an invalid notice.

4 tips for landlords 1) Protect the tenant’s deposit

This is the main mistake landlords fall foul of. Under the law, a tenant’s deposit must be protected in a government approved tenancy deposit scheme (TDS).

If you take a deposit from the tenant, it must be protected and the tenant must be given the prescribed information within 30 days of the deposit being taken. You cannot serve a section 21 notice if this requirement isn’t met. An unprotected deposit will make the notice invalid.

The only way of being able to regain possession of the property is if you return the deposit first. Whilst this is not ideal, this is the only way to evict the tenant if the deposit wasn’t protected in time or the prescribed information wasn’t given.

Check: When you take a deposit from the tenant, ensure the deposit is put in one of the three schemes and the prescribed information is served on the tenant within 30 days.

Solution: If the tenant’s deposit isn’t protected, then you should return the deposit to the tenant before serving a section 21 notice.

2) Make sure the tenant’s and landlord’s name is correct

This can be an issue where the landlord is a company but the tenancy is in the name of an individual director of the company or the landlord has someone acting on their behalf and the landlord is named as the person acting instead (eg if a letting agent is used).

Check: If you have instructed an agent to act on your behalf, the agents should make sure that the details of any tenancy agreement are correct and that service of a section 21 notice states the person or company acting on your behalf. Landlords should also make sure that any information given to a letting agent is accurate and up-to-date.

Solution: If the name on the notice or tenancy agreement is wrong, you will need to serve the tenant with a Section 48 notice. This notice notifies the tenant of the correct address of the landlord. You will then have to serve a new section 21 notice.

3) Provide the tenant with the How to rent guide, Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) or gas safety certificate

For any AST that started after 1 October 2015, it is a legal requirement that the landlord provides the tenant with the government ‘How to Rent’ guide, a current gas safety certificate and a current Energy Performance Certificate. The landlord cannot serve a section 21 notice if these weren’t supplied.

Check: Ensure that the ‘How to Rent’ checklist, gas safety certificate and EPC are supplied to the tenant at the start of the tenancy.

Solution: If you haven’t provided the correct information, you will need to give them to the tenant as soon as possible before serving the section 21 notice. However, a recent court case held that failure to provide a copy of the gas safety certificate at the start of the tenancy did invalidate a section 21 notice and therefore dismissed the claim for possession. This is subject to change as it was a non-binding decision by a County Court.

4) Check if you need to obtain selective or additional licences

In some areas, the local council has introduced selective or additional licensing for private rented accommodation. This means that landlords may have to apply to the local council for a licence in order to legally rent out property. Without a licence, the landlord cannot serve a section 21 notice. For further information read Selective licensing.

Check: You should check with your local council to see whether there is a requirement to have a selective licence. As each local council can set their own rules and requirements, these can change from time to time.

Solution: If the property requires a selective licence but doesn’t have one, you need to apply for a licence immediately before serving the section 21 notice.

Make your Section 21 notice and Make it legal today. Ask a lawyer if you need further advice. For further information read Repossessing property – section 21 notices.

The post 4 tips for landlords to avoid invalid section 21 notices appeared first on Rocket Lawyer UK.

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Not many landlords would typically associate themselves with consumer law. Most landlords would normally refer to themselves as investors, however they are providing a service (a home) to consumers (their tenants). Therefore, consumer law does apply to landlords in some form or another. This is also true for letting agents who provide a service to landlords.

The fairness of consumer rights

There are specific acts and regulations in place that regulate the service industry, including the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. These Acts set out how landlords and tenants interact and help to regulate the rental sector.

They also ensure that tenancy agreements are fair and clear, any advertising is not misleading and that any agreements to repair or improve any aspects of the property prior to a tenancy agreement are fulfilled.

There are consequences if either the landlord or letting agents are found to have been unfair or have committed bad practice. A tenant can end their tenancy if it’s found that the tenancy agreement was entered into following unfair practice. The tenant has to give a notice of at least 90 days to the landlord or letting agent. If the tenant provided notice within the initial 30 days of the tenancy they can also reclaim all of the money that they have paid to date.

Following the correct procedures

Where laws and agreements are concerned, it’s essential to ensure that you follow all of the correct procedures and complete all of the relevant paperwork properly. For landlords that trade through a limited company, it is important for you to include the company name, address, number and place of registration wherever necessary, such as within emails.

If you are an agent, it is also important to remember to inform landlords of their cancellation rights. This is the case if the landlord and letting agent make an agreement at a distance, and not in person (eg over the phone or through emails). For further information, read Online business regulations. If this is not done the landlord can cancel their contract at any time until you do provide them with the cancellation information. This would again lead to any paid fees being returned to the landlord.

Landlords, take note…

In order to exercise your rights in relation to your letting agent, you would have to be trading as an individual person. This is because any activity or transactions done through a company would be considered a business transaction or B2B. You would not be considered a consumer which means that the consumer rights wouldn’t apply to you.

For further information read Consumer rights and Doing business with consumers.

The post Does consumer law apply to landlords? appeared first on Rocket Lawyer UK.

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On Thursday 25th January 2018, 25 of Rocket Lawyer’s On Call lawyers gathered at our UK offices for a workshop on ‘How to attract & convert clients’.

Since Rocket Lawyer UK launched 5 years ago, we’ve worked with over 15 law firms to help answer legal questions and ensure that our customers get the legal help they need. The firms who decide to partner with us are innovative and embrace technology. They understand that the legal industry is changing and that customers expect a different way of working.

So what happened?

We invited Michelle Peters, The Business Instructor, to present and talk to our lawyers about attracting and converting. Michelle is a former solicitor from a Magic Circle law firm, who now helps solicitors (and other professionals) get more clients and increase their profits without working more hours.

How did Michelle help?

Michelle provided an interactive presentation enabling our lawyers to discuss why the initial lawyer-client consultation might not be bringing in many new clients and discover where they could improve and maximise their potential. Michelle gave our lawyers a successful practice model which involved Attracting, Converting and Maximising.

As Michelle said, “Attracting, Converting and Maximising are always key to a successful business. No matter how good one of these areas area, they can act like brakes and stop the success of your business.”

It’s about the client

One of the key messages that our lawyers took away from the event was that the key to conversion was to prioritise the client’s needs above all else. It can be easy to forget that the legal services industry is predominantly a service industry and that in order to ‘sell’, lawyers must remember to put the client first.

Why did we host this event?

We’ve built excellent relationships with our partner law firms and want them to succeed and build successful relationships with the customers we refer.

We wanted to host an event for our On Call panel as a way to show our appreciation for them. The success of this event and the feedback we received showed that our lawyers enjoyed it and saw the value in it for them and their business.

Rocket Lawyer is always looking to collaborate and work with more law firms and lawyers who also believe in technology and the change in the legal services industry.

The post How to attract & convert clients: A Rocket Lawyer event appeared first on Rocket Lawyer UK.

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Excellent opportunity for a DevOps Engineer, Mobile Developer or Software Engineer to join a thriving legal technology company based in Shoreditch.

Apply today!

About Rocket Lawyer

We believe everyone deserves access to simple and affordable legal services.

Founded in 2008, Rocket Lawyer is the largest and most widely used online legal service platform in the world. With offices in North America and Europe, Rocket Lawyer has helped over 20 million people create over 3 million legal documents, and answer over 30,000 legal questions.
We are in a unique position to enhance and expand the Rocket Lawyer platform to a scale never seen before in the company’s history, to capture audiences worldwide. We are expanding our team to take on this challenge!
Apply for the DevOps Engineer position Apply for the Mobile Developer position  Apply for the Software Engineer position 

The post We’re hiring! Mobile Developer, DevOps & Software FE Engineer appeared first on Rocket Lawyer UK.

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Excellent opportunity for a Senior Product Designer to join a thriving legal technology company based in Shoreditch.

Apply today!

About Rocket Lawyer

We believe everyone deserves access to simple and affordable legal services.

 Founded in 2008, Rocket Lawyer is the largest and most widely used online legal service platform in the world. With offices in North America and Europe, Rocket Lawyer has helped over 20 million people create over 3 million legal documents, and answer over 30,000 legal questions.
We are in a unique position to enhance and expand the Rocket Lawyer platform to a scale never seen before in the company’s history, to capture audiences worldwide. We are expanding our team to take on this challenge!
About the Role

Come be a member of our international, multi-disciplinary design team where you will be responsible for crafting the future of our products. Our passionate design team values collaboration, sharing ideas, and championing user-centered experiences across the organization. Product Designers at Rocket Lawyer take projects from the whiteboard to final visual specifications. We believe in innovative hybrid-designers who have strong leadership skills and are fully capable of owning each stage of product design.

Ours is a design-lead organization that takes pride in shipping functional and engaging products. This is an opportunity to develop and define how small businesses and consumers get legal solutions anywhere, anytime. We are looking for a mobile-first designer who has the UX chops to turn complicated processes into simple and effective experiences.

The post We’re hiring! Senior Product Designer at Rocket Lawyer UK appeared first on Rocket Lawyer UK.

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With the new GDPR regulations set to be introduced in May 2018, companies have less than half a year left to ensure that they are fully compliant. Failure to comply will see businesses face penalties, including huge financial ones. With the official date set for the 25th May 2018, your business should plan for the regulations and make the relevant changes.

What is the GDPR?

The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) is set to replace the Data Protection Act and relates to the way in which a business will handle the personal data that they use, such as names, age, addresses and more. The GDPR is similar to the Data Protection Act, although it is more up to date with current society, containing information such as IP addresses and biometric data (eg fingerprints and face recognition). The GDPR is being introduced as a way to improve the systems within businesses and provide more protection to customers in terms of their personal data.

What should I consider before the introduction of the GDPR?

Before the introduction of the GDPR in May 2018, it’s important that a number of procedures are planned and implemented within your business, in order to show that your business is fully compliant. Here are some tips to consider for any business which will help with compliance.

Comprehensive systems to locate information

A good quality management system is needed to ensure that you have full ability to locate all relevant information whenever necessary. Regardless of whether your system is paper based or electronic, your business requires a good system.

Without a quality system, businesses may spend hours looking for information when they should really be able to find it quickly. This is even more important when individuals exercise their right to ask the business to remove their personal data. When an individual does request this, all of their data should be located and confidentially destroyed, something that can’t be done efficiently without a good system in place.

Securely destroying confidential information

When individuals request for their information to be destroyed, it’s important that this process is completed quickly and professionally. Without a proper procedure in place there is the possibility that the documents aren’t fully destroyed, which could lead to heavy penalties.

The privacy of documents

The GDPR is set to focus heavily on the privacy of documents and the information that they contain. Considering the privacy of your documents is essential under the new rules, as well as your overall handling of the documents. Using a paper based system has a number of potential risks, such as losing the documents. Transporting documents can also be a difficult and potentially dangerous task; with misplaced documents a very real issue when using paper based systems. Using a complete document scanning service where the documents are in a digital form can allow for easy storage.

Managing retention periods

Retention periods are designed to protect important documents, particularly in industries where information cannot be destroyed until a certain amount of time has passed or where the information is needed at some point in the future (eg legal documents). Correctly managing the retention periods of business documents is vital and can also save the business time and money.

GDPR penalties

The GDPR introduces a number of penalties given to businesses that aren’t fully compliant with the new rules. Businesses would be subject to consequences and penalties when breaching rules, such as not providing access to information, incorrectly transferring data, breaching the rights of individuals and many more. Penalties include fines of up to 20 million Euros or 4% of a company’s turnover for the most serious issues and up to 10 million Euros or 2% of a company’s turnover for less serious issues.

For further information read Getting ready for the GDPR. Ask a lawyer if you have further questions.

The post GDPR – How can you prepare for the GDPR? appeared first on Rocket Lawyer UK.

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It’s inevitable that there will be one Christmas where you unwrap a disappointing gift. Whether it’s a jumper that isn’t your style, or some cooking utensils you’ll never use, you can’t help but say ‘No really, it’s perfect’, whilst thinking ‘Can I return it?’. Luckily, you will have read this blog first.

Can I return unwanted Christmas gifts?

Most people assume that you can return items simply because you don’t like them or don’t want them. Surprisingly, retailers and shops do not have to accept returned goods under the law. Consumers do not have guaranteed rights to return an unwanted item if it is in full working order.

However many shops have their own ‘goodwill’ returns policies, offering an exchange, refund or credit note if you change your mind. It’s important to remember that if the store does have a ‘goodwill’ returns policy that it is voluntary and offered at their discretion. It’s not a legal right.

Check the returns policy

You can only return non-faulty goods if the retailer has a returns policy. These are usually displayed on receipts, signs in-store or online.

Typically, stores will impose time limits for returning non-faulty products (for example, 28 days), but many extend their returns policies around Christmas time. For example, gifts bought from John Lewis between 20 October 2017 and 24 December 2017 can be returned up until 28 January 2018. Marks & Spencer’s returns period runs until 13 January 2018.

What do I need when I return my unwanted gift?

Usually shops and retailers require a few key things:

  • A valid receipt – It’s important to keep all receipts as proof of purchase. If you can’t provide a valid receipt, the store is under no obligation to refund you.
  • The correct debit or credit card – You’ll need the card you paid with if you want to return the item. This is important as the money is usually credited to the card that was used to pay for the item.
  • The original packaging – Retailers usually want to be able to resell the product after you’ve returned it, so it makes sense that they want the original packaging. Some stores may even impose a requirement that it be unopened or unused.
What about if the item was bought online?

If you want to return an item that was ordered online, over the phone or by mail order, you have extended rights under the Consumer Contracts Regulations. Under these regulations, you can cancel the order as soon as it was placed and you have 14 days from the day the goods arrived to change your mind. You will be entitled to a ‘no-questions-asked’ full refund, even if the goods are not faulty. However, this 14 day period begins from when the purchaser received the goods. So if you didn’t buy the goods, you will need to find out when the ‘gift-giver’ received the item.

If the item is not faulty and you don’t want it, the online retailer is under no obligation to pay the returns postage costs. You may have to pay for the postage.

If the item was bought from an auction site, such as eBay, the right to return will depend on the individual seller and their returns policy.

What about digital content purchased online?

Some goods may be purchased as ‘digital content’. This could be in the form of a song from iTunes, a film downloaded directly onto your computer, or a computer game. The law states that if you buy digital content and want to download it within the 14-day cancellation period (also known as the ‘cooling-off’ period), you’ll have to agree to waive your cancellation rights. This is to stop you from changing your mind after you have downloaded the content. For further information read Consumer rights when purchasing digital content.

Are there any items I can’t return?

Most stores have policies in place where you can’t return:

  • DVDs, music and computer software if the seal or packaging has been broken
  • Earrings, makeup and toiletries for hygiene reasons, which may be extended to underwear and swimwear
  • Perishable items such as food and flowers
  • Bespoke or tailor-made items such as made-to-measure clothes or monogrammed items
What if the gift is faulty?

If the gift was faulty, then you have consumer rights. All goods you buy must meet the following requirements:

  • satisfactory quality
  • as described
  • fit for purpose

If they don’t meet the above requirements, you have a 30-day right to reject the goods and ask for a full refund. For further information read Consumer rights.

The post Returning unwanted Christmas gifts appeared first on Rocket Lawyer UK.

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Digital signage is a form of technology which allows you to present great content in an effective manner. It’s up to you to provide the great content and it’s important to do so in a legal and ethical manner. With that in mind, let’s go over the basics of copyright law.

If you create the content you own it unless you assign it to someone else

In UK law, the person who creates the content owns it unless they either create it under a contract of service (i.e. in the course of their duties as an employee) rather than under a “contract for services” (i.e. as a freelancer). This means that if you commission content from a freelancer, it is strongly recommended to specify in the contract that copyright is assigned to you the purchaser.

Copyright is automatic – the copyright symbol is just a polite reminder

If you’re relying on the presence or absence of a copyright symbol to determine which works are under copyright and which aren’t, then you’re setting yourself up for trouble. Many copyrighted works do use the copyright symbol as a polite reminder, but it’s entirely voluntary.

“Open source” content may have strings attached

Public domain content can be used as you like but “creative commons” content, of the sort which is often found on “free content” sites, often comes with restrictions attached, for example it may only be free for personal use or it may require a credit back to the creator or it may only permit you to size an image within certain limits or use it for a certain period of time (or all of the above). Because of this, if you’re going to use creative commons content, you really need to read the licensing details carefully.

Copyright does expire, but this can be more complicated than it sounds

The story of Cinderella was created long before copyright and hence people are free to use it as they wish. In 1950, Disney created its famous cartoon version of the story and was able to exercise legal protection over the original aspects of that story. The copyright protection on that version of the story will expire soon (unless Disney can find a legal way to extend it), but the copyright on the 2015 remake will be in force for many years to come as it is a separate version of the story and hence has its own protection. Outside of Disney there are many examples of different versions of what might, at first glance, appear to be the same work, some of which might be in copyright and some out of it.

For commercial purposes, it can be best to subscribe to royalty-free content banks

The complexities of copyright and its challenges for small businesses in particular have led to the development of royalty-free content banks. This basically means that you pay once for the content and then it is yours to use as often as you want. These are a legally-safe way to supplement content created for your company.

The post Digital signage and copyright appeared first on Rocket Lawyer UK.

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When a couple separates, the toughest discussions usually centre around the children. Whilst we hear a lot about mother’s rights, it’s sometimes less clear what fathers are entitled to and what they can do.

When a relationship breaks down any joint assets are divided, but the arrangements for any children involved are far more difficult. It’s common for the child to remain with the mother and arrangements are then made for them to see their father.

If the relationship between the couple remains amicable, then settling these matters can be easy. However, if relations are less than good, it can leave fathers in a difficult position. Making sensible arrangements can prove almost impossible if the couple is not able to deal with each other in a civil manner and so it’s vital that fathers know exactly what their rights are.

Fathers’ legal rights

The legal rights of a father largely depend on whether he has parental responsibility (PR) for his child. This is not an automatic privilege for a father; it is only the case if the father is married to the mother. For unmarried couples, the father can acquire PR by being named on the child’s birth certificate, obtaining a court order or entering into a PR agreement with the mother.

Parental responsibility is an important factor as it provides greater rights for a father. With PR, the father can have a say in important matters relating to their child such as which school they go to, what religion they follow, and what medical treatment they can have. If more than one person has PR then these things should become joint decisions. For any person with PR but without a residence order who wishes to take a child abroad they will need the permission of anyone else with parental responsibility, in order for it not to be considered a criminal abduction.

Child Arrangements Orders (CAOs)

Parental responsibility does not just give you the chance to make decisions regarding your child, it also allows a father to apply for a Child Arrangements Order through the courts if an agreement cannot be reached with the mother.

If a father does not have parental responsibility it does not stop these things happening, but it can make it a longer process, and PR may be granted as part of the Child Arrangements Order.

A court order is the only legal way to force a mother to allow contact between a child and their father. The father first needs to look at taking part in mediation, and allowing the mediator to contact the mother. If the mother agrees to mediate then a joint mediation session will take place. However, if she is unwilling or the mediator determines that the situation is unsuitable, the mediator will complete the relevant section of the court application form and the father can lodge this with the court. A solicitor should ensure that all of the relevant documentation is in order before it is sent to the court.

There are usually three court hearings which take place before a final order is made. When being considered by the courts, it is the child’s interests which are the main concern rather than the fathers rights. However as long as it is considered to be in the child’s best interests to continue a relationship with their father, the court is likely to order this.

If a father is not happy with the level of contact he has with his child, he can apply for joint custody or sole residence. A shared residence arrangement is usually best agreed with the mother rather than the court. If the father feels that leaving the child to live with their mother is not the best outcome he can ask the court to transfer the residence of the child.

As a father, you have rights to see your child if it is in their best interests. Whatever relationship you now have with the mother, there are ways to provide you with the direct contact with your child. If you need further assistance, Ask a lawyer.

The post What rights do fathers have following separation? appeared first on Rocket Lawyer UK.

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