England’s biggest regional divorce centre hit by record delays

Delays at the England’s biggest regional divorce centre reached unprecedented levels in 2018.

Figures obtained by the Law Gazette found the average waiting times for each stage of the divorce process at Bury St Edmunds increased significantly last year, confirming many lawyers’ concerns about the centre’s ability to cope.

Bury St Edmunds is the main centre for divorces from London and the south-east. However, since opening as one of 11 regional centres in 2015, it has been a constant source of antagonism for divorcing couples and their lawyers.

According to the Law Gazette, figures provided by HM Courts & Tribunals Service, in response to a freedom of information request, reveal it took 373 days on average from the issue of petition to decree absolute in 2018 (up to the end of September). This was a 9% increase from 2017.

The eight-day wait for issuing the petition has more than doubled in a year, while the average time from issuing of petition to decree nisi has increased 17% to an average of 195 days.

HMCTS told the Law Gazette, “More broadly, we have increased the number of sitting days available in family courts in order to meet demand, while our online divorce service is speeding up the application process significantly.”

Free legal helpline launched to simplify conveyancing process

The legal side of property transactions can be a lengthy and complicated process.

A recent study found that the average conveyancing case involved 130 documents, as well as 300 emails between clients and agents or lawyers.

In light of this, UNU Group has launched a free legal helpline, designed to offer help and support.

The helpline was founded by a group of industry experts, designed to offer impartial advice to customers to put them at ease during the conveyancing process.

UNU Group Director said, “We don’t think people should be kept in the dark about something as important as the buying and selling of their property, just because they may not understand legal jargon.

“The UNU Group helpline is designed to provide friendly and helpful advice to guide you through the conveyancing process. We wanted to offer this without there being a cost implication, so that anyone can access our services.”

The 24-hour helpline can be reached on 0800 085 8512.



No-Fault Divorce To Become Law

Justice Secretary David Gauke announced that no-fault divorces are to become law in the UK.

At present, a couple must be married for a year and a day before they can apply for divorce. If after this time they choose to divorce, either partner can file for it, but only if certain conditions are met. Either the marriage must be past repair due to adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion or having lived separately for two or more years – if both parties agree – or the couple must agree to live apart for more than five years.

This has been the law in England and Wales since 1973.

There have been several calls to modernise divorce law in England and Wales.

No-fault divorce was first introduced by the Family Law Act 1996, but its provisions were later deemed unworkable and it was repealed. It has been widely supported by prominent members of the judiciary, lawyers and relationship charities.

The legislative update means partners will no longer be able to refuse a divorce by not consenting to the two-year separation clause effectively ending occurrences of people being trapped in loveless marriages.



Consultation Launched on Extra 1% Stamp Duty for non-UK Residents

A new property tax is being considered for people buying property in parts of the UK who are non-UK residents as part of the government’s effort to help control the rise of house prices.

The Treasury has launched a consultation into proposals to add 1% onto the stamp duty paid when buying a home in England and Northern Ireland, payable by those who are not British residents

Mel Stride, Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster, said,

“The UK is and will remain an open and dynamic economy, but some evidence shows that non-UK resident buyers of UK property could be inflating house prices.

“A 1% surcharge could help more people own their own homes in the future, and its proceeds will go towards tackling rough sleeping, boosting our plan to halve the numbers of rough sleepers by 2022.”

The consultation will cover all aspects of the charge, including how non-residents will be defined and how it applies to companies.

The charge will apply to any person who is non-resident in the UK, including certain UK resident companies which are controlled by overseas shareholders.

No-fault divorce to become law

No-fault divorces are to be introduced into law.

Justice Secretary, David Gauke, confirmed he will bring in legislation enacting the reform in the next session of parliament, removing the need for separating couples to wait for years or allocate blame for the collapse of their relationship.

Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 in England and Wales, anyone seeking a divorce must either prove their partner is at fault through adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour, or if both sides agree, they can part after two years of separation. In the absence of consent or evidence of fault, applicants must wait until they have been living apart for five years.

Following a consultation last year on reforming the law, widespread support was shown for the initiative. The Justice Secretary told the Times the responses to the consultation were “overwhelmingly in support, which is why I remain as convinced as I have been for the need to reform this particular area”.


Buying house in UK city at least affordable level since 2007

A new report suggests city living is at its least affordable levels for home buyers since 2007.

The study by Lloyds Bank found that the average house price in a UK city in 2018 equated to 7.2 times average annual earnings. This makes the cost of buying a home the least affordable since 2007.

The average home in a city cost £248,233 while average full-time earnings stood at £34,366.

Oxford was found to be the least affordable city in the study, with average house prices standing at more than 12-and-a-half times earnings in the city.

Londonderry in Northern Ireland and Stirling in Scotland were found to be the most affordable cities, with properties standing at just under four-and-a-half times average earnings.

Andrew Mason, mortgage products director, Lloyds Bank, said, “Buying a home in UK cities remains challenging, as average house prices are outpacing wage growth. Home owners are still attracted to cities across the UK, in spite of rising costs.”

Plan to simplify UK’s 1,100 pages of immigration rules

The Law Commission are proposing a shakeup of immigration rules in order to make them easier to understand.

The aim is to simplify the current 1,100 pages of regulations.

The proposals include an audit of overlapping rules and a limit to the number of times a year the rules are changed.

The Law Commission believes simpler rules would increase transparency for applicants and lead to quicker decision-making by Home Office caseworkers.

Since their introduction in 1973, the rules have grown from 40 pages to 1,100.

The law commissioner for public law, Nicholas Paines QC, said, “As the immigration rules have become longer, more detailed and more specific, they’ve also become more complicated and harder to follow for applicants.

“The Home Office has asked us to help put things right. Our proposals would introduce clearer language, and improve the presentation of the rules so they’re easier to understand and follow.

“We seek the public’s views on how to make the immigration rules simpler and more accessible.”




Government working on new house sale agreement aimed at speeding up buying process

The government is working on a new house sale agreement aimed at speeding up the buying process which will be trialled later this year, according to Housing Minister Heather Wheeler.

Wheeler said the aim is to develop a standard reservation agreement and officials are working with the industry led Home Buying and Selling Group. Furthermore, there could be compensation for those who lose money as a result of a failed sale.

Wheeler said, “Too many people are walking on a tightrope from the moment they put in that offer. Things can happen over 19 weeks that can genuinely scupper a move and I wouldn’t want to force anyone to move if they don’t want to.

“But I also don’t want people pulling out without consequences, just because they’ve now decided they don’t like the avocado bathroom suite. When this happens, it can take a whole chain down.

“We want to increase people’s commitment by ensuring that they’ve got some skin in the game. While an agreement can’t compensate the emotional stress of a failed transaction, people should be able to recover their costs.”

Wheeler added that Government research shows that 50% of buyers and 70% of sellers would have been prepared to enter into a legal agreement, if they had known it existed.

“We’re commissioning behavioural insight research to help us design an agreement that’s supported by consumers and industry alike, and we’ll be running a field trial later this year.”

Wheeler also wrote to local authorities last year to set out expectations that they will turn around property searches within 10 working days. She said that now more than 80% of local authorities are hitting this target with the quickest doing so in under a day.

“We still have a way to go to speed things up, especially where leaseholds are concerned. Having a leasehold property in the chain can add at least an extra week, due to difficulties getting information from freeholders and managing agents.

“As it stands, there aren’t any guidelines around the provision of this information, leaving leaseholders at the mercy of freeholders, who can charge whatever they like and take as long as they like.

“We’re changing this, setting out a timetable and fees for providing this information. This will also include a fee to update this information, as I know conveyancers begin to get nervous when data starts getting old.”