Solicitor struck off for overcharging by thousands on probate matters

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has struck off a solicitor who was found to have ‘deliberately and excessively’ overcharged clients.

According to the Law Gazette, Keith Smart, was working as a sole practitioner at south Wales firm Keith Smart & Co when he misused client funds.

Smart has admitted to eight counts of dishonesty.

 

The Law Gazette reported that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) told the tribunal that Smart failed to have properly written up books of accounts, made or permitted round sum transfers of at least £128,000 on account of the firm’s costs, and caused or allowed debit balances to exist on client accounts.

The SRA also alleged that Smart overcharged several of his clients, in one instance by a minimum of £70,765, and tried to mislead investigators looking into his conduct.

The tribunal judgment said: ‘[Smart] had admitted eight counts of dishonesty. His misconduct was assessed as very serious. He had deliberately and excessively overcharged clients. He also deliberately misled the [SRA] both during his interview and in writing.

‘The tribunal considered that given the serious nature of the allegations admitted, the only appropriate and proportionate sanction was to strike the respondent from the roll.’

Smart was ordered to pay costs of £20,151.64.

Landlord is handed £6k bill for flouting vital court orders

A landlord who breached health and safety regulations and regularly flouted court summons has been ordered to pay more than £6,700.

Following a trial at Colchester Magistrates’ Court, Colin Smith was found guilty of contravening a health and safety notice requiring a “suitable and sufficient” assessment.

Victoria Jempson, prosecuting, said, “A Colchester Council health and safety officer had been part of a team taking part in a campaign around the town centre.

“In April 2017 the officer made inquiries and various failed attempts to meet Smith who had made promises to provide the assessments.

“He was issued with an enforcement notice in September 2017 that required him to under take a reassessment.

“He requested an extension to the end of October 2017 but what was provided by Smith to the council was not suitable or sufficient to protect the safety of employees.”

He was taken to court by Colchester Council, but failed to turn up for several hearings before finally being found guilty by magistrates.

 

 

 

 

Home Office investigated over English test cheating claims

A government watchdog has launched an investigation into the Home Office’s decision to accuse about 34,000 international students of cheating in English language tests.

Over 1,000 students have been removed from the UK as a result of the accusation and hundreds have spent time in detention.

A large numbers of students say they were wrongly accused.

Over 300 cases are pending in the court of appeal as hundreds attempt to clear their names.

The National Audit Office (NAO) has been making preliminary inquiries into the government’s handling of the issue since the beginning of the year, and has now announced that it will proceed with a formal investigation. The body is expected to report its findings in late May or June.

A Home Office spokesperson said, “We have been supporting the National Audit Office in its work on this investigation since the start of the year. We will consider the findings of the report once it is published.”

Visa extension to boost numbers of overseas students in UK after Brexit

International students are to be given visa extensions of up to a year to look for work in the UK as part of a package of government measures to increase numbers of overseas students after Brexit.

The move represents a break with current policy, where students are allowed to stay for just four months after graduation.

Announcing the strategy, the Department for Education (DfE) said, “There is no limit on the number of international students that can study in the UK, and to ensure the UK continues to attract and welcome them, the post-study leave period will be extended to six months for undergraduate and master’s students, and a year for doctoral students.”

The announcement said the government would also consider “how the visa process could be improved for applicants and supporting student employment”, hinting at another possible change in policy.

Home Office to amend registration rules for vulnerable EU citizens

The Home Office reached an out-of-court settlement with the charity The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) who had threatened a judicial review over the registration system for EU citizens.

JCWI agreed to drop its application for a judicial review after Sajid Javid’s department made changes to its guidance to caseworkers in relation to vulnerable citizens.

The Public Law Project, acting on behalf of the JCWI, said, “Following key concessions to the claim by the home secretary, JCWI have today withdrawn their claim.”

It said the agreement would have implications for hundreds of thousands of citizens nervous about their status because they were elderly, a carer, a stay-at-home parent, mentally ill, a student, homeless or out of work through no fault of their own.

As part of the settlement, the government has unequivocally confirmed it will not refuse settled status to anyone who is “economically inactive”, works part-time or lacks private health insurance.

The government has also amended rules that would have allowed Home Office caseworkers to refuse settled status to EU citizens who had previously been served with a removal notice.

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.”

 

 

 

Woman found guilty of benefit fraud

A woman has been found guilty of dishonestly claiming almost £10,000.

Jane Prentice, 50, who claimed to be a single parent on a low income, with three children, was prosecuted after falsely claiming Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support from Swale council between August 2016 and December 2017.

However, an investigation by the Department for Work and Pensions found she was living with a man and had been overpaid £9,194.68.

Prentice pleaded guilty at Maidstone Magistrates’ Court and was ordered to pay £220 in costs and victim payments.

Prentice will also have to pay back the benefits she was not entitled to and will undergo a year-long community order, 15-day rehabilitation course and complete 140 hours of unpaid work.

Woman who dishonestly claimed more than £18,000 avoids jail

A woman who dishonestly claimed more than £18,000 of employment support allowance has avoided jail.

Sharron Ensor from Rawmarsh admitted fraud by false representation and was sentenced at Sheffield Crown Court.

Ensor claimed she was single and received £18,462 in employment support allowance from Barnsley Benefit Centre.

Judge Robert Kelson sentenced Ensor to three months in prison suspended for two years and she was also ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work.

Carer forced to sell home or face jail to repay benefits

A man who is a carer for his 37-year-old son is being forced to sell his home or face jail because he wrongly received benefits that cost the taxpayer less than £110.

George Henderson, 59, has cared all his life without payment for his son who has mental health problems and is addicted to heroin.

In August 2010, a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) official visited to ensure his son was getting the right benefits.

George then asked whether he could claim carer’s allowance.

Subsequently, the Department for Work and Pensions failed to notice that George was paying tax on his earnings and had received £19,500 carer’s allowance for more than six years.

However, he was prosecuted for fraud over a mistake that cost just 30p a week. George, who pleaded not guilty, said,

“As far as I was concerned, I never done anything wrong. I don’t owe the DWP a penny. They took it off my son, gave it to me, who gave it back to my son as caring for him.

“So the money that came off my son is the same amount of money as the DWP are actually trying to take back off me.”

At his trial at Preston Crown Court, George was found guilty of fraud and was fined, given a 32-week suspended sentence and electronically tagged.

Last month, the DWP used the Proceeds of Crime Act to force George to sell his home and pay back all £20,900 of overpaid carer’s allowance plus fines.

 

 

Man denies £33k disability benefits fraud

A man has been charged of fraudulently claiming more than £33,000 in disability benefits over nearly six years.

Lorenzo Armas, 51, denies knowingly failing to notify benefit bosses of a change to his entitlement for disability living allowance between February 15 2012 and January 2 this year.

Armas is alleged to have claimed a total of £33,860.25 fraudulently.

Armas failed to inform the Department for Work and Pensions of the cash and about improvements to his physical condition.

A trial date has been set at Dundee Sheriff Court for February 22, 2019.