STEP England & Wales Biannual Statement – December 2016

Alex ElphinstonSix months ago we were all stunned at Brexit. Now we are also wondering how a Trump presidency will unfold and what further shocks national electorates may give across Europe, given the various elections ahead.

STEP is monitoring the situation closely and is in discussions with other relevant professional bodies as well as maintaining lines of communication with civil servants and the like to do all we can to ensure our and our clients’ interests are taken into account. We have certainly begun to see decisions being made by the EU Commission where the UK is no longer being consulted as previously – such as negotiations around the Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive.

As a professional body, STEP seeks to remain at the forefront and be the gold standard for practitioners dealing in trusts and estates and related private client work. As such we have an enviable reputation for the high-level discussions with government and other departments with which we are involved about a variety of matters, and proposed or actual changes, that may affect our work. This will be all the more important for us as practitioners as the new domicile rules and consequent changes to the tax regime come into play. The UK Practice and Technical Committees will be keeping a close eye on these issues.

A number of members have expressed concern over the delays and poor service being given by HMRC, and the Probate Registry in particular. These continue to be matters the committees and STEP team seek to address. Clearly there is only so much they can do, but please let us know of any improvements or deterioration. Actual case studies can be more powerful than general observations.

Sometimes it may seem as if STEP sends out far more surveys than other organisations. However we work in a world where ways of communicating, delivering training and news are constantly changing. We want to remain as a trusted organisation whose members are equally trusted for their integrity and advice. It is vital that we remain relevant for members in a crowded market. We also want to remain nimble and not create yet more layers of regulation for members. However we can only do that when members engage and flag up matters.

In November, STEP held a worldwide Symposium which looked at a number of issues including views on perceptions about offshore work and centres: a number of England and Wales members participated in a survey which forms the basis of the Offshore Perceptions research report. While this may not directly affect many members in this region, it does impact on STEP as an organisation and so on our region indirectly. We also looked at staffing across the regions and resourcing. We remain lean in terms of staffing, not least as a result of their commitment and dedication for which we are grateful.

One of the main points of discussion was presenting STEP and TEPs to the public. This has been a theme for some time, and a number of plans were unveiled on how STEP will address the issues and raise public awareness. You will be hearing more on this, as plans develop.

The importance of the branch network was recognised, alongside the need to avoid volunteer fatigue by assisting local committees and encouraging new members. If you are not involved in your local branch do consider this: it is a great way to make new friends, develop new business opportunities and build your profile within the industry.

In January, Rita Bhargava TEP takes over as regional chair. I have very much enjoyed my time in the role and wish Rita all the best. I would also like to take one final opportunity to thank the STEP staff for their fantastic support and assistance – not just the committee and myself, but all of us as members.

Finally may I wish you all a Happy Christmas and prosperous New Year.

Alex Elphinston TEP is Chair of STEP’s England and Wales Regional Committee

STEP England & Wales Biannual Statement – July 2016

Alex ElphinstonWhatever may have happened over the last six months has no doubt been dwarfed by the EU referendum result and the seismic political fallout and current uncertainty on so many fronts – political, economic and financial – before we begin to consider the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.

STEP is monitoring the situation closely and is in discussions with other relevant professional bodies as well as maintaining lines of communication with civil servants and the like to do all we can to ensure our and our clients’ interests are taken into account. On this last point I hope you have seen the weekly digest of 30 June asking for comments as to concerns and opportunities. Please do respond to this.

While Brexit may be uppermost in our minds at the moment (closely followed perhaps for some by the perennial debate about the ability or otherwise of our sports players to perform), much else has been happening.

More than 300 attendees assembled for STEP’s second Global Congress in Amsterdam at the end of June. It was tremendous that the event was a sell out. Delegates came from 44 countries – a true sign of the global nature of the issues we currently face in our industry.

The focus of this Global Congress was ‘advising families across generations’ with sessions offered on private international law, conflicts, and the changing definition of ‘family’ on the first day, with the second day focusing on transparency, and looking especially at how members – as experts in their fields – can use their knowledge and skills to become part of the solution, informing the process and helping governments, the OECD and others to understand how trust and other structures work, and encouraging dialogue on issues that are critical to our world.All in all, the event was a great success.

And back in March we held the Branch Chairs’ Assembly (BCA), which was well supported with members of the Scottish regional committee in attendance as well recognising the many areas of mutual interest and common concerns at branch level. Members of the committee in Northern Ireland were also invited but unable to attend.

Particular themes coming out were:

  • The benefits of a central resource of the names of speakers and topics that branches have held to assist other branches in compiling their programme. STEP is looking at how best to provide such a resource.
  • Creating a higher public profile for STEP. This second point was consistent with feedback from the Leaders’ Forum last December and will be picked up in the ‘Your STEP’ initiative by STEP Worldwide before filtering back to the regional level for practical outworking.

We were fortunate to have Senior Judge Lush of the Court of Protection as our guest speaker who gave a potted history of some of the important court decisions relating to damages awards before suggesting that STEP provide qualifications for Deputies and case workers as there is no other body of which he is aware that is providing this on a holistic basis. We are looking into this possibility in conjunction with the Mental Capacity special interest group.

As it transpired, this was David Harvey’s last BCA and we wish him well for his future and thank him for his significant input to STEP over his 15 years as Chief Executive.

As always there have been numerous consultations and other issues over the last six months where STEP and the various committees have been actively involved – including the proposed hike in Probate Court fees, the Mossack Fonseca data leak, contributing to the revised code of Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation (PCRT) and discussions with the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) on some of their proposed changes. And this is before acknowledging the various different courses, webinars and other training and education events that have been organised across a wide range of subjects.

This will be my last report as chair of the regional committee and I want to thank all the staff at the STEP office for their tremendous support and enthusiasm over such a wide range of issues without which we would all be much the poorer and my role would have been impossible. I have also appreciated the dedication of members and others who give of their time and expertise on the various committees to help keep us up to speed on all the legislative changes (who can forget FATCA?!) as well as forging links with government departments and other influential organisations here and further afield. As a result STEP has often ensured a better understanding of the practical issues and seen changes made.

Finally my congratulations to all those who have been shortlisted as Private Client Awards finalists and the students who recently passed exams as well as those who won awards in the inaugural Worldwide Excellence Awards. The future of STEP should be in safe hands!

 

Alex Elphinston TEP is Chair of STEP’s England and Wales Regional Committee

STEP Will Code revision published

Alex Elphinston STEP’s Professional Standards Committee recently approved some revisions to the STEP Code for Will Preparation in England & Wales, which applies to all STEP members drafting wills in England & Wales.

Please find below a Q&A, which addresses the revisions and answers some common queries. If you have any questions about the Code please contact STEP’s Professional Standards Manager, Sarah Manuel on standards@step.org.

What is the point of the Code, and how does it benefit members and their clients?
The Code seeks to assist both the public and the STEP member by setting out a framework within which a will can be developed. By following the Code, you are able to demonstrate openness and transparency in the management of your client and they can be confident that you are following best practice. Following the Will Code also enables the public to identify that the person drafting their will is appropriately qualified and competent and abides by an ethical code.

What has changed in this revision?
The revisions are mainly typographical, with only one change of substance, which is to emphasise that members must make their clients aware of the existence of the Code and their adherence to it, and provide a copy of the Code to the client in an accessible format. We are flexible as to how members do this; whether by direction to the website (listed in the guide to the public) or by supplying a full copy to each client.

What feedback has STEP received from members about the Code?
Feedback from users has largely been positive with members finding the Code a helpful tool when drafting wills, although you would like greater public awareness of the Code’s existence. We will be looking into how we can achieve this over the coming months, but one easy way is for all full STEP members in England and Wales to display the Will Code logo.

Has STEP had any feedback from the public?
Much of STEP’s interaction with the public sadly comes when things have gone wrong between a member and their client and we receive a complaint. Recent complaints have highlighted issues around the lack of knowledge by both members and the public regarding the content of the Will Code. The complaints we have received have focused on the fees being levied, and the need for clear communications. In these cases, issues could have been avoided had the Code been followed by the members and had the clients been made aware of the Will Code’s existence. This is the key reason we have changed the guidance to ensure clients are aware of the Code.

Is there any information members can give to clients to explain what the Code is?
We have developed a Guide for the Public (PDF 110KB) that you can download from our website, which describes the standards that, as a STEP member, you will adhere to when drafting their will along with the considerations that they can expect you to have taken into account.

Who is eligible to use the Will Code logo and where can it be displayed?
The logo can be used by all TEPs in England and Wales; and Technicians, Affiliates and Students of STEP who have successfully completed the Advanced Certificate in Will Preparation. The logo can only be used by the individual STEP member and not by a firm as whole, nor should it be used in order to endorse a specific product. We have produced some Rules for use of the Will Code Logo (PDF 70KB), which provide helpful information to ensure you comply with our marketing guidelines.

What if there is a conflict between what the Code says and a member’s firm’s policies?
The Code has been deliberately designed to be a guide to best practice and therefore it is unlikely that a firm would not wish its members to follow the Code. The Code is a framework within which each STEP member can aim to best meet the needs of each individual client, while at the same time operating to appropriate standards. It does not set out a detailed and prescriptive procedure for will preparation. Ultimately the Code is designed to increase confidence and provide assurance to the public that their will drafter is appropriately qualified, will provide a good service and to make the process far less daunting than it may otherwise seem.

What if a complaint is raised against a member?
Where possible we would hope that any matters can be resolved locally without need for STEP to become involved. Sometimes this may not be possible and a client or member of the public may have cause to complain to us directly. When this happens we will consider the complaint under our usual Disciplinary Rules in order to determine whether a breach of one or more of our Codes of Conduct has occurred. We do understand that being notified of a complaint can be a stressful and upsetting experience and so early contact with the Professional Standards team is advisable.

Alex Elphinston TEP is Chair of STEP’s England and Wales Regional Committee

STEP England & Wales Biannual Statement – December 2015

Alex ElphinstonSince my last statement we have seen changes on the England and Wales Regional Committee with the retirement of Keith Dudley, George Lyall, Gary Killmister and Carol Cummins. I would like to acknowledge their collective contributions over the years – especially Keith and George who have been so integrally involved in the development of STEP from its origins less than 25 years ago.

As you may be aware, Peter McGeown, Denese Molyneux, Duncan Gardner, Deborah Jude and Amanda Simmonds were elected to either STEP’s worldwide Council or the England and Wales Regional Committee and so will formally be attending their first Committee meeting in January. I am also glad to report that Cheryl Farnham has been co-opted to the Committee. Cheryl has attended in her capacity as chair of the UK Practice Committee from which she will soon be standing down. Cheryl has made a great contribution to both Committees already and we look forward to her continued input.

We have come an enormously long way from our small beginnings in 1991 and the worldwide nature of the organisation is now an enormous strength. It is always tremendously heartening to hear from George Hodgson and Sean Smith in STEP’s policy team on how well-received are the representations made by STEP on fiscal and other issues. The international input and extent of STEP plays its part in this. Recently STEP has been very involved in addressing the potential implications of the proposed Common Reporting Standard with HMRC and other bodies. George Hodgson has visited a number of branches on this topic and members’ feedback has been invaluable.

In this regard I would again like to thank the unsung work of the Technical and Practice Committee members and those on the special interest group committees. Without their commitment and generosity in terms of time and expertise we would not be able to respond to the many consultations and proposals or make the representations that we do as a Society.

Volunteering was an issue that was mentioned at STEP’s Leaders’ Forum, held earlier this month in London and attended by representatives from all over the world. I am conscious how each branch relies heavily on the goodwill of, often, a small number of dedicated members. May I take this opportunity to thank you, and recognise your hard work. The local branch is a vital part of the Society providing regular opportunities for education and networking – making and maintaining friendships. If you are not already involved at some level, please do see if there are ways that you too can be involved: you will almost certainly gain more than you give.

The Leaders’ Forum picked up on the feedback you gave as to the priorities for your branch. There was a general recognition that we need to strengthen the brand and raise the profile of the Society. A variety of suggestions were made ranging from actions individual members can take through to branch and national level. The various ideas and suggestions from the Forum are being collated and will be discussed in part at the Branch Chairs’ Assembly in February.

I trust you all have a good break over the Christmas and New Year period, however long or short this may be. It seems to be the one time of year that our inboxes do not overflow in our absence. Having said that, I read today that, last year, 1,566 people filed their tax return on 25 December and over 17,000 on 24 December! I hope you have more pleasurable things to do!

Alex Elphinston TEP is Chair of STEP’s England and Wales Regional Committee

STEP England & Wales Biannual Statement – July 2015

aewpAnother six months have flown by during which time plenty has happened on the international and national stage including the election of the Conservative Party into government.

The first Tory Budget since 1996, announced on 8 July, was widely trailed in many respects. The UK Technical Committee has already been preparing for changes to the non-domicile rules and will no doubt be busy responding to these proposals and the various Consultations.

In February we had a very successful Branch Chairs’ Assembly at which STEP CEO David Harvey gave an overview of the major issues faced by STEP. He noted that there was much to be optimistic about although there are a number of challenges facing STEP and its members over the next few years. We are no doubt all aware of this in terms of regulatory requirements, which continue to increase.
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Another challenge is ensuring that we remain relevant to our members in terms of the resources, training, networking and brand. We are conscious that different branches have different pressures for a variety of reasons and want to ensure that we provide as much assistance as we can to help them thrive. STEP’s Worldwide Chair Ed Buckland attended the Branch Chairs’ Assembly and advised that the key question to ask was ‘what can STEP do for me?’.   Please do therefore feed back to me or staff at STEP on ideas you may have for supporting and strengthening your branch or STEP generally.

The first months of STEP’s new brand was raised at the Branch Chairs Assembly following its launch earlier this year.  The new brand clearly sets out the over-arching nature of members’ work in the new strapline ‘Advising Families Across Generations’. This has been well received and the strapline reflects a core aim of members.

We were also delighted to have Professor Elizabeth Cooke to talk about the upcoming Law Commission Wills Review.  This led to lively discussion on issues such as mutual wills, joint wills, the test for capacity, rectification and formalities for making a will.  It was therefore disappointing  later to learn that the Government has asked the Commission to put this project on the backburner while they review the law relating to the solemnisation of marriage. Hopefully we will see this issue back at the forefront sometime in the near future.

Yet again the Spring Tax, Trusts and Estates Conferences have been very well attended and well received and we are extremely grateful to all our speakers for giving of their time and expertise.  It is clear that one of the particular benefits that members most appreciate is the technical expertise that STEP provides in one form or another, including conferences, webinars, technical notes and courses. I am extremely grateful to everyone who is involved with these areas and with the representations made to government and international organisations. We have excellent Technical, Practice and Public Policy Committees, the members of which work very hard to support us all.

You will also be aware that there have been various changes to the education framework designed to give greater clarity, which have been well received. More recently Director of Professional Development Nigel Race and his team have been implementing the pilot of the new Employer Training Scheme (ETS).  A number of organisations have already signed up to
take part in the ETS and more potential partner organisations have been identified. It has been encouraging to see a number of accountancy firms engaged with this as well as lawyers and financial services.  Our thanks go to Nigel and his team for their hard work in this and seeking to engage with new members who will become part of the lifeblood of STEP.

We will shortly have the tenth annual STEP Private Client Awards, which
is a great occasion and enables us to celebrate the excellence of our peers around the world. This year again there are a number of practitioners from England and Wales vying to take home a coveted PCA. I wish them all the very best of luck.

On 9 December there is to be a Leaders’ Forum in London looking at the future member offer in a time of disruptive change. This will mean a strong emphasis on professional development and on the courses and related services that STEP should produce to support member careers over the coming years. STEP can only thrive and survive if the Society stays ahead of change to remain highly relevant to members and their careers and clients. This imperative is central to the STEP 2021 Business Plan. The Leaders’ Forum will help us achieve clarity about some of the bricks and building blocks of the professional development and related service offers for the next few years.

I would like to thank all of those at the STEP Office who not only support the England and Wales Regional Committee directly but who work hard in making sure that STEP remains relevant to its members and keeps up-to-date in an ever-changing world.

Elections for STEP Council and the England and Wales Regional committee open shortly so do consider getting involved. None of us have a monopoly on ideas, enthusiasm or youth!

Before I wish the summer away I trust you all get some form of break that will refresh and reenergise you.

Alex Elphinston TEP is Chair of STEP’s England and Wales Regional Committee

STEP England & Wales Biannual Statement – December 2014

aewpThere have been some important changes in the England and Wales Regional Committee since the last Chair’s statement in June. Most significantly Patricia Wass has recently finished her term as Chair of the Committee. As will be evident from the Committee’s recent statements Tricia has steered the Committee through a number of important discussions and decisions; not least as we face continued changes on regulatory and disclosure issues, legislative changes and the need to make sure that we meet the needs and aspirations of all our members. We are very grateful to Tricia for her commitment and contribution during her tenure as Chair.

Tricia will now be Vice Chair along with Rita Bhargava and I have taken on the role of Chair for the next two years.

Over the last six months the England and Wales Regional Committee has considered a number of policy, education and business development initiatives and opportunities. In all of this we are immensely grateful to the staff at STEP and those on various other Committees. I am extremely glad to be part of an organisation where we can call upon experts in a range of practice areas to make robust and considered responses to the many consultations, the outcome of which could significantly affect us and our clients.

FATCA is one such example and has occupied time at each of our meetings over the last six months as we grapple with its implementation in all its detail, what is ‘in scope’ and what is not. I am aware that the STEP Policy Team have spoken to practitioners about FATCA around the country and have worked closely with other professional organisations in producing updates and helpful materials.  We will now start to consider the Common Reporting Standard and how that will affect members and their clients.

On the topic of consultations, the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement indicates Treasury and HMRC have taken on board everyone’s comments about the proposed ‘settlement nil rate band’ and how unfairly that would operate, which is welcome news — even if we have yet to learn how new targeted rules will apply.

In the last Chair’s statement in June, Tricia referred to the new Code for Will Preparation in England and Wales. We will shortly be reviewing the Code to make sure that it is meeting its objectives as well as being workable in all respects. Mindful that we wish to be perceived as a gold-standard professional body, the Practice Committee will seek to be proactively involved in the Law Commission project looking at potential changes to the law around wills. We hope to have a guidance paper shortly as a first step.

Since June, STEP has also launched the Qualifications and Membership Framework with helpful information including FAQs on the STEP website. The new qualification system is simple and enables STEP to standardise entry requirements and create flexibility in how an individual can achieve membership of STEP through examination. This is an exciting initiative as part of STEP’s commitment to providing training for life designed to assist members in their career development.

The Committee have also had discussions around the 2021 Business Plan over the last six months and will continue to do so as we look at ways of strengthening the STEP brand and its offering, making it relevant to all members but especially younger members as we prepare for the future.

Once again the Autumn Conferences have been well received and attended and, again, our thanks are due to the STEP Events Team for the administration and coordination of these valuable occasions. In addition to the educational subject matter, these events allow us to meet with old friends and make new ones.  So much of our work is built around our network of friends and contacts and it is great to have these opportunities. The second annual SIG Half Day Conferences were also held over the past two weeks at the STEP Worldwide office in London. Just as last year, they all proved to be stimulating occasions and were well attended.

No report on conferences would be complete without reference to STEP’s inaugural Global Congress in Miami last month. While many of us were not able to attend, it was, by all accounts, a great occasion and highlights our role as a truly industry-leading international organisation. As we continue to expand, and with a growing number of our clients facing industry imperatives across many jurisdictions, and with a number of regulatory changes such as FATCA, anti-money laundering initiatives and the Common Reporting Standard impacting our work, the skills and expertise of our members is of paramount importance. Events like the Global Congress help us keep our finger on the pulse of industry changes around the world and maintain a professional edge for our clients.

September brought about the ninth annual STEP Private Client Awards, which saw 700 professionals from around the world celebrate the excellence of our peers. This year set a new record for nominations with 240 submitted across 21 award categories. I was very pleased to see so many practitioners from England and Wales take home a coveted PCA.

Finally, Branch Chairs should have received notification of the forthcoming Assembly at the STEP Offices on Friday 13th February when we will hear more about some of the initiatives mentioned above as well as welcoming guest speaker Professor Elizabeth Cooke from the Law Commission who will talk about the Law Commission project around wills.  I look forward to meeting the Chairs or a representative from their Branch then.

Wishing everyone a peaceful Christmas and prosperous New Year.

Alex Elphinston TEP is Chair of STEP’s England and Wales Regional Committee