News

Stamp duty in the news

4th December 2017

Solicitor Philip Horlock from Gilbert Stephens’ Okehampton branch specialises in conveyancing and property law. He explains what Philip Hammond’s Budget announcement will mean for first-time buyers.

In his Budget speech, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the immediate introduction of tax relief for first-time buyers.  With immediate effect, first-time buyers paying £300,000 or less for a residential property will pay no Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT).  First-time buyers paying between £300,000 and £500,000 will pay SDLT at 5% on the amount in excess of £300,000.

Before the Budget, first-time buyers would have paid SDLT at the current standard rates of 2% on the portion of the purchase price over £125,000 and up to £250,000, and then 5% on the portion of the purchase price over £250,000.

A first-time buyer is defined as someone who has never owned a freehold or leasehold interest in a residential dwelling in the United Kingdom or anywhere in the world, and who intends to occupy the property as their main residence.  All buyers in a joint purchase must be first-time buyers to be eligible for the tax relief.

First-time buyers purchasing property for more than £500,000 will not be entitled to any tax relief and will pay SDLT at the current standard rates.

Primary school and law firm bring Christmas cheer to Moldova

30th November 2017

An Exeter primary school and a solicitors’ office have joined forces to bring some Christmas cheer to people in the poorest country in Europe.

Children at Kenton Primary School and staff at Gilbert Stephens Solicitors have put together dozens of festively decorated boxes of presents for those living in poverty in Moldova, formerly part of Romania.

The shoeboxes all contain basic items such as soap, toothbrushes and facecloths, warm hats and gloves, along with notebooks, pens, coloured pencils, and sweets. Boxes for children contain small toys and games.

The boxes are put together during October and November, and collected from the school by Christian Response to Eastern Europe (CR2EE), which takes them to Moldova.

Kenton Primary School has been collecting for the boxes for about 10 years. Gilbert Stephens’ Exeter office became involved seven years ago through solicitor Helen Clegg, whose older son attended the school. Gilbert Stephens decided they would like to contribute to the appeal, and joined forces with their stationery supplier Devon Commercial Stationers to provide 100 notebooks and pencil cases filled with pens and pencils. DCS provide half of the items free of charge, and Gilbert Stephens pay for the rest, with DCS supplying them at cost price.

Gilbert Stephens staff also donate all the other items needed for around 30 boxes, and deliver them to Kenton Primary School at the end of November, along with the remaining 70 packs of stationery.

Central to the Gilbert Stephens Moldova Appeal operation is office manager Julie Besley, whose office begins filling up with piles of donations from October onwards. In her own time Julie packs the 30 boxes and puts together the stationery packs, which she and Helen Clegg delivered to Kenton school on November 22nd.

Julie said, “My office gets pretty cluttered for a few weeks of the year, but I love being involved in this appeal that brings a smile to the faces of so many Moldovans at Christmas.

“Collecting the toiletries and things for the boxes has become a year-round operation for me – I see soap or something on special offer and buy it, knowing I’ll be glad I did when November comes!”

Helen Clegg said, “Julie and I get a lot of pleasure from filling these boxes knowing that they may very well be the only gift a Moldovan child receives this Christmas.”

The changing face of residential conveyancing

22nd November 2017

Jane Gawn, Head of the Property Department at Gilbert Stephens, has seen many changes in conveyancing since she qualified as a solicitor over 25 years ago. She explains how all conveyancers, and others in the property market, need to adapt to the challenges lying ahead.

How times have changed

Back in the late 1970s/early 1980s, conveyancing was a less pressurised process, and estate agents helped to make it as easy as possible for the client. Completion dates were discussed when the client signed the contract and all the legal aspects were in order, and the conveyancer concentrated on the legal work. The completion or moving date was usually around 28 days.

2004 saw the introduction of Home Information Packs, designed to speed up the conveyancing process. HIPs, supplied to the buyer before the contract was issued or at the same time, contained local authority searches, an Energy Performance Certificate and a copy of the title, along with a list of what was included in the sale and other relevant information.  This was expensive for sellers, and many who spent a lot of time and money on the packs lost out when HIPs were scrapped in 2010.

Nowadays a seller’s conveyancer still uses material similar to that used in the Home Information Packs, including the Energy Performance Certificate, the Property Information form and a list of items included in the sale. Searches are carried out by the buyer’s conveyancers, not those of the seller, putting the onus on the buyer once more.

Another change is that members of the public now have access to title records at the Land Registry, which was not the case in the past. This has been rather controversial and makes it easier for fraudsters to register or obtain mortgages without the consent of the owner. People who do not live in the property, or have a mortgage registered against it, are at particular risk, although the Land Registry does give guidance and take precautions.

The increasing use of email and conveyancing case management systems is also very different to the paper-based system used back in the past. Clients, conveyancers and estate agents often use email rather than letters, and applications to the Land Registry can also be made electronically.

Banks and other lenders offer conveyancing services as well as other organisations which is increased competition for the High Street solicitor.

What is the future?

The Government wants to speed up the conveyancing process, using technology to expedite dealings with the Land Registry and possibly introducing contracts between sellers and buyers to prevent ‘gazumping’. However, the use of electronic methods in conveyancing services could lay them open to the risk of fraud and hacking, and precautions will be needed to prevent this.

It is not yet clear which proposals are going ahead, but conveyancers are certainly under increasing pressure from competition, lenders’ requirements and the large amount of time spent ensuring that transactions adhere to the Money Laundering Regulations.

Solicitors and conveyancers who move with the times will be able to offer the best service, but will face a great deal of forward planning. Exciting if challenging times are ahead, and buyers and sellers need to recognise the importance of choosing a solicitor or conveyancer suitably qualified to advise them.

Crediton YPN looks to attract new members

17th November 2017

A networking group of young professionals is to start hosting events in Crediton, bringing together the up-and-coming members of the town’s business community.

The Young Professionals Network (YPN) was founded the Exeter law firm Gilbert Stephens, which also has an office in Crediton. Two of the staff there, Claire Thompson and Nysha Forsey, are YPN members and keen to build up links with other professional people in the town.

They are hosting a Christmas drinks reception from 4pm on Thursday December 7th at their offices in North Street, offering nibbles and mulled wine.

Claire said: “The drinks reception is very much open to anyone who might like to join the YPN – it would be great to get some new members from Crediton and the surrounding district. We’re looking forward to organising further events in the New Year.”

December 7th is also the start of Crediton’s Christmas Tree Festival, and Gilbert Stephens have sponsored one of the trees.

Gilbert Stephens support local rugby teams

17th November 2017

Gilbert Stephens sponsored the Crediton v Sidmouth rugby match on Saturday November 11th  2017, played at Crediton Rugby Club.

Some of the staff from the Crediton and Sidmouth branches attended a reception before the match, along with their guests.

The players held a two-minute silence to mark Remembrance Day before the game, which ended Crediton 5, Sidmouth 15.

Richard Walford from Gilbert Stephens’ Crediton office said, “As a firm that has practised in Crediton for many years we are very happy to be supporting our local team, and we hope that this is a relationship which will continue into the future.

“We chose to sponsor the fixture against Sidmouth as we have offices in both towns, unfortunately our Sidmouth colleagues went back to Sidmouth happier than the home team.

“This was a great opportunity to support a community rugby club in one of the towns in which we are based.”

Promising Devon paralegal achieves childhood ambition

9th November 2017

Gilbert Stephens has strengthened its Litigation Department and helped a young Exeter woman achieve her childhood ambition in the process.

Trainee solicitor Cheryl Bolt joined the Exeter branch as a legal secretary in the Commercial Property department three years ago. She quickly progressed to the role of paralegal and has just become a trainee solicitor with the firm.

Cheryl explained, “The law has always fascinated me. I did well academically at school and wanted to test myself with an ambitious goal. When I was 14, my mind was made up: I wanted to practise law as a solicitor.

“Everyone kept on telling me how competitive the profession is, but that only made me doubly determined. Mind you, mum and dad knew better. They always said I was driven.”

A perfect example of what early ambition and hard work can achieve, Cheryl is now committed to helping other young people through her work with the Young Professionals’ Network. Set up by Gilbert Stephens in 2010, it enables the firm’s younger members to build up their own contacts and connections. It now has over 300 members from industry, professional services and the charity sector.

Cheryl said, “Apart from when studying law in Bristol, I’ve always lived in Exeter. YPN aims to support new businesses in and around Exeter by working with them to host events. There’s a real synergy when you get young people together in this way. They’re all keen to climb the career ladder or run their own businesses.”

Evidently in her stride, she continued, “It’s the ideal occasion to meet like-minded people from other professions. In my professional life, I deal with accountants, architects and surveyors every day. The YPN events mean that I get to know them socially.”

Cheryl joined the YPN committee in 2015 and, along with its three other members, organises the monthly events, which include sit-down meals and talks, along with activities as diverse as sushi making, bowling and laser tag. Cheryl said, “YPN events are always relaxed and fun. We don’t do stuffy. Laser tag and bowling have been my favourite events recently. It’s nice to be active after a day behind the desk.”

During her Training Contract, she plans to move to Private Client work and then qualify into Commercial Property in February 2019. But there is no shortage of variety in her present work in the Litigation department, where Cheryl deals with Employment, Personal Injury and Property Disputes.

On the transition to Commercial Law, Cheryl said, “I really enjoyed practising in Commercial. There is a huge sense of achievement with every completed transaction. I’m learning all the time. It’s a fast-paced environment. I like working closely with clients. I love being involved in an important part of people’s lives, when they are making big decisions and taking big steps, such as buying a business. It’s a stressful time but it’s also exciting, and I hope to ensure the experience is as smooth as possible.”

Cheryl clearly has no regrets about her choice of career or, indeed, her choice of firm: “I couldn’t have done it without the support and encouragement offered at Gilbert Stephens. It’s well-established. All the solicitors there are really experienced, but they haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be a trainee like myself. There’s so much to learn but they’re always there to help.”

Managing Partner Terry Bastyan said: “We are proud of our long tradition of encouraging the ambitions of our staff and supporting their professional development.   Perhaps one of the best examples of this is that I joined the firm as a junior clerk in 1971 and, after being given every opportunity to progress, ended up as managing partner. There are also two others who began their careers with the firm and are now partners.”

Things are on the up for Gilbert Stephens as well. Their Exeter practice is busier than ever and they also have branches in Crediton, Ottery St Mary, Sidmouth, Budleigh and Okehampton, employing over 120 people.

Unlike Cheryl, they’re hardly the new kids on the block. Gilbert Stephens can trace its history back to a firm which was founded in Exeter in the late 1800s by Henry William Gould.

In 1938, its original offices in Bedford Circus relocated to 17 Southernhay East and since then the firm has undertaken a series of mergers and acquisitions to extend its presence across mid, east and west Devon.

And what does the future hold? Cheryl said, “I am hoping to be Associate in five years, with Partner being the end goal. In the long term, I would like to eventually become more involved in charity work and look at becoming a trustee of a local charity.”

Young professionals support youth charity – in style

23rd October 2017

The Young Professionals Network, founded and led by Gilbert Stephens, have celebrated their relationship with Exeter YMCA at a Black-Tie dinner and dance hosted by the youth support charity.

The YPN was set up in 2010 to help Gilbert Stephens’ own younger staff in the Exeter area to build their own networks, but now has around 300 members from industry, professional services and the charity sector – including some members of the YMCA’s fundraising team who regularly attend YPN social events. The YMCA is also one of Gilbert Stephens’ chosen charities.

Given the strong ties between their organisations, the YPN saw the prestigious Black-Tie dinner at the Woodbury Park Hotel and Golf Club on October 20th as an ideal way to combine a social evening with support for the YMCA, so they booked a table for ten people.

Antonia D’Alessio, a Trainee Legal Executive at Gilbert Stephens, said:  “The YPN and Gilbert Stephens regularly participate in and attend local fundraising and awareness-raising events for the YMCA.

“Given that we are a ‘young network’ we know how important support is, and want to see young people do well.

“We visited the YMCA a few days before the dinner and it was great to see how community support goes a long way. We were told about young people they had helped through difficult times, who had recently gone to university and got jobs.

“It was lovely to see that support could really enable young people to lead a more stable life and achieve their goals. The volunteers were so friendly and helpful and the refit has made a massive impact on the young people staying there – making it really feel like a safe home.”

The YMCA’s Fundraising and Engagement Manager, Bethan Spencer, said:

“The YPN are fantastic – I’m a member myself and have really enjoyed their support, both the dinner this year and last year, as well as all the other fundraising events they have taken part in i.e. the Santa Abseil!

“YMCA Exeter’s relationship with Gilbert Stephens dates to the early 20th century when Mr Gilbert Stephens was on our committee. We still have a very close relationship with them today as our solicitors.

“The Black-Tie Dinner and Dance is our biggest ‘corporate’ event and second biggest fundraising event after our sponsored sleep out in March every year. This year we had 154 confirmed guests, on six tables, and a fundraising target of £12,000, through ticket sales, the Silent & Live Auctions and one-off donations.”

GS proud to support the Macmillan Gidleigh Opera fundraising Gala evening

17th June 2017

On Saturday 17th June 2017, the Macmillan Gidleigh Opera held a Gala fundraising evening in the beautiful grounds of Devon’s 5 star Gidleigh Park Hotel.  The event was introduced by the BBC’s ‘Any Questions’ host Jonathan Dimbleby and the National Opera Studio performed a glorious selection of highlights from the opera in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.  Gilbert Stephens were proud to make a contribution to the charitable event.

Our extended Private client team enjoy afternoon drinks with the local Crediton business community

26th May 2017

On Thursday May 25th, the firm hosted a drinks and nibbles event in the garden of our Crediton office.  The event provided an informal opportunity for the local Crediton business community to meet with the firms newly extended private client team as was hosted by Richard Walford, partner and head of private client and private client solicitors Claire Thompson and Nysha Forsey.  Also at the event were our other legal specialists from estates and agriculture, childcare and family law, residential property, employment and litigation and our financial advisor.

It was a glorious afternoon and much conversation was had as guests from all walks of the Crediton business community including accountants, estate agents, lenders and care homes, enjoyed meeting up in the sunshine over a glass of Prosecco  The business community in Crediton is thriving and a break from a busy work schedule to catch up with business colleagues proved to be just the order of the day to celebrate hopefully the start of a long summer.

To find out more information on the services provided by our private client team, please contact Richard Walford or Claire Thompson.

                                  Courtesy of Crediton Courier   

Many thanks to local caterer Nessie’s Bistro & Deli for supplying a wonderful summer spread for the event.

GS YPN host a ‘Dress for Success’ breakfast seminar with Pat Ayerst image consultant

25th May 2017

On Tuesday 23 May, Gilbert Stephens YPN hosted a ‘dress for success’ breakfast seminar at their offices in Southernhay East, Exeter.

The seminar was run by Pat Ayerst, an award winning image consultant in the South West who has over 20 years experience. Pat discussed how to choose styles, fabrics, colours and patterns that really flatter you and help you to look and feel great, showed how to make friends with the fitting room when out shopping and explained how to ensure your wardrobe only contains the right clothing for you.

The event was well attended and there was much one-to-one discussion with Pat following the talk, to gain as many vital snippets of dress guidance as possible before the event closed. The feedback was that the session had been very useful and informative to help with dressing for success in both business and personal life.  So much so that some YPN members were inspired to undertake a wardrobe spring clean … and of course this is also a very good excuse for a shopping trip.