Are you a client of Universal Wealth Preservation?

STEP has received an unprecedented number of enquiries regarding Mr Steven Long and the companies of which he is a Director, namely Universal Tax Solutions of Dencora House, 34 White House Road, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP1 5LT, which traded as Universal Wealth Preservation. Associated companies include Universal Asset Protection Ltd and Universal Trustees Ltd.

Mr Steven Long, Mrs Melanie Long and Universal Trustees Ltd act as Professional Trustees. Universal assisted clients with drafting and managing trusts, wills and lasting powers of attorney (LPAs), as well as providing secure storage of original documents.

STEP suspended Mr Long’s membership on 1 November 2017, pending the outcome of an investigation into a number of the complaints received.

Universal Asset Protection entered into compulsory liquidation in May 2018, with the business premises of Universal Wealth Preservation having closed several months previously. The company website has since been taken down. We understand that clients have experienced great difficulties in contacting Universal, with no responses to emails, letters or phone calls.
Clients have been concerned about the management of their trusts, with delays in estate administration and payments from the trusts being made, in addition to being unable to ascertain the whereabouts of their assets, or retrieve original wills and LPAs held in secure storage. Some clients have discovered their LPAs have not been registered with the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG).

Universal clients now face the realistic prospect that they are unlikely to retrieve original documents or to recover cash assets.

STEP is aware that Suffolk Constabulary are now investigating Mr and Mrs Long, and they have seized all documents that were held at Dencora House.

What should you do now?

STEP is advising Universal clients to:

  • Seek independent legal advice from an experienced trust and estate practitioner on your options, which may include how to make an application to the courts to replace Mr and Mrs Long/Universal Asset Protection Ltd as trustees, making new wills and LPAs
  • Check whether Lasting or Enduring Powers of Attorney have been registered with the Office of the Public Guardian – call the OPG on 0300 456 0300
  • If not in possession of an original will, make a new one without delay
  • Contact the Land Registry to ascertain in whose name your property is registered. Call the Land Registry on 0300 006 0411. We understand that the Land Registry is aware of the issues with Universal.
  • If appropriate, consider whether to make a report to Action Fraud quoting ‘Operation Ardent’
  • If concerned by marketing information received or direct approaches from other firms advising you to use their services, consider taking advice from Trading Standards/Citizens Advice Bureau.

STEP has produced an article on what to look for when choosing a trustee.

If you have any queries, please contact standards@step.org

Sarah Manuel is Professional Standards Manager at STEP

What’s been happening at STEP in England and Wales?

Rita Bhargava TEPIt’s been a busy few months at STEP.

Our public-facing website advisingfamilies.org marked its first birthday on 22 May. Launched as part of a wider campaign to raise public awareness of STEP and TEPs, the site has clocked up over 130,000 visits, and over 700 followers on social media. Members and their firms have done much to contribute to the 74 articles posted, and we are always looking for more.

In recent months we launched a new global member recruitment campaign, Grow with STEP. It focuses on the benefits of STEP membership for your career and your business. The campaign follows the introduction in February of three globally consistent routes to membership: exam, essay and expertise. If you help spread the word and grow STEP’s network by referring a colleague, you will be entered into a draw to win an iPad.

GDPR had been on many people’s minds long before its 25 May introduction, and you’ll have received an email from STEP about your own data. STEP is working hard to ensure its systems and processes are robust and fully compliant.

GDPR has thrown up some interesting and complex question for practitioners, in particular regarding firms’ responsibilities to notify beneficiaries of trusts and wills about the information held on file. The Data Protection Act 2018, which recently passed through parliament, is also in the spotlight, as unlike its predecessors, it removes the legal advice exemption. STEP is looking to assemble a working group that can examine this and other issues in this area. If you are interested in being involved, please let us know at standards@step.org.

Many members have voiced their concern over HMRC’s online Trust Registration Service (TRS), which was introduced in late 2017 to implement the requirements of the EU Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive. All trusts and complex estates which generate a UK tax consequence are required to register, and then update information on an annual basis. Following initial teething problems, HMRC has confirmed it will take a ‘pragmatic and risk based approach to charging penalties’ for trust registrations made after the 5 March 2018 deadline, particularly where trustees or their agents have made reasonable efforts to meet their obligations under the regulations.

The European Council formally adopted the Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive in May, bringing in further changes to trust registration. 5MLD will extend the TRS to all UK express trusts and non-EU trusts that own UK real estate or have a business relationship with a UK Obliged Entity. The new Directive will require HMRC to share the trust data with Obliged Entities and anyone with a ‘legitimate interest’ – a term yet to be defined in full. You can read more about the latest developments with the TRS in an earlier STEP Blog post. STEP is liaising with HM Treasury on this, so watch out for further updates in the UK News Digest.

Finally we have a packed autumn ahead. The UK Tax, Trusts and Estates Conference series starts in Manchester on 4 September, moving to London on 21 September, York on 2 October and finishing in Bristol on 16 October. And for those of you looking to network with members from across the world, our third Global Congress is in Vancouver on 13-14 September.

Back in London, the Private Client Awards are being held later than usual on 7 November at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge. We were delighted to receive more than 250 entries from 23 countries, and the finalists were announced on 6 August. Good luck to all of you who have entered, and don’t forget to book your place at the event before it sells out.

Rita Bhargava TEP, Chair, STEP England & Wales Regional Committee