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

Invitation to members – LPA discretionary investment clauses

Emily DeaneThe England & Wales Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) published an update in September 2015 providing guidance on financial lasting powers of attorney (LPAs) and how attorneys can delegate investment management decisions to a discretionary investment manager.

Under this guidance an attorney can appoint a bank or an IFA to act on their behalf to make investment decisions; however specific wording must be incorporated into the LPA. Since the guidance was issued in 2015, STEP and other professional bodies have contacted the OPG with their concerns.

The primary issue is that if an attorney is currently using a discretionary manager without explicit permission in the LPA, then they need to apply to the Court of Protection to obtain retrospective consent.

The suggested wording within the LPA can be similar to the following, ‘My attorney(s) may transfer my investments into a discretionary management scheme. Or, if I already had investments in a discretionary management scheme before I lost capacity to make financial decisions, I want the scheme to continue. I understand in both cases that managers of the scheme will make investment decisions and my investments will be held in their names or the names of their nominees’.

Tell us your views

STEP would like to invite members to provide examples of how the OPG guidance may be difficult to apply in practice, so that we can present a test case to the OPG and underline that the impact of this issue is potentially far-reaching.

Issues that have arisen include:

  • There is no guarantee that your bank or IFA will accept this wording, and you may need to confirm their agreement in writing before the LPA is registered.
  • HSBC has specific wording that it will not stray from, while other fund managers are willing to continue acting without the delegation clause. Other banks and IFAs may switch to the stringent guidelines in future.
  • You can re-do the LPA where the donor still has capacity, but this option may not be well received by the client, and is time consuming and costly.
  • If the LPA has already been registered without the express wording, the attorney can apply to the Court of Protection for the retrospective authority to appoint an investment manager.

This is also time consuming and costly.

If you are currently acting as an attorney and you have already delegated investment making decisions, there are some options available to you:

  • You could change your discretionary manager to an advisory manager so that you are still ultimately making the decisions, although you should check any potential liability issues that may arise.
  • You could speak to your discretionary manager about the firm’s policy and what their requirements are.
  • You could re-do the LPA where the donor still has capacity, or alternatively apply to the Court of Protection when the existing discretionary manager is not willing to continue/or start acting in accordance with the OPG guidance.

However, it might be prudent to wait and see whether the OPG will consider amending its guidance before taking any action. Currently, the OPG feels discretionary investment management accounts for a tiny percentage of registered Powers of Attorney, so the number of Attorneys affected is relatively small.

STEP is hopeful that by providing the OPG with a test case of practical working examples, then it might recognise and review the difficulties that attorneys and their advisors are facing in this connection.

The best case scenario would be the determination that the delegation of investment management by an attorney to a discretionary investment manager is already legally permissible, without the need to retrospectively apply for it through the court.

STEP will provide an update when further information is available.

We would very much value your input. Please send your examples to policy@step.org by 31 October.

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

The OPG: How solicitor deputies should manage deputyship accounts

Emily Deane, Technical Counsel at STEPThe Office of the Public Guardian in England and Wales published a practice note on 15 February 2016 (below) clarifying how solicitor deputies should manage deputyship funds. Whilst the information is widely understood as best practice, it is a helpful reminder regarding the administration and management of deputyship accounts.

The law states that all deputies should keep their clients’ money and property entirely separate from anyone else’s, and that includes solicitors’ client accounts. The Solicitors Regulation Authority and Mental Capacity Act Code of Practice also uphold that funds should not be combined with other people’s. This is to circumvent client funds being used fraudulently or for money laundering purposes.

The direct advice from the OPG is stated at Standard 1a(9), ‘Open a deputyship account in the client’s name with the deputy named as such on the account. Ensure that all funds held for the client are held in accounts and/or investments in their name and kept separate from the funds of the deputy or other parties.’

The exception to this rule is during the initial period, when you are setting up a client’s separate deputyship account, and in this provisional period you may hold their funds in a general client account as a temporary measure. The MCA Code of Practice advises that there would have to be a very good reason for mixing the funds with other clients other than during the initial administration stage. The funds should be segregated at all other times.

The OPG offers comprehensive guidance in its guide SD3 How to be a deputy; the basic message being that you should get to know your client as well as you can, so that you can act in their best interests. If your client is seriously incapacitated you should find out more about them through their friends and family. The decisions that you make about their finances should be in line with the nature of their existing investments and the size of their estate.

The OPG advises deputies, ‘There will be cases where large balances in a client account will not represent the best investment strategy for a client. In these cases the OPG will question the appropriateness of keeping significant excess funds in this way.’

STEP recommends that if the client no longer has mental capacity, you need to take into consideration the financial decisions that they made when they did have capacity, and if they have lucid moments, discuss their financial wishes at that time.

The practice note reinforces the principle that solicitors acting as deputies should be managing their clients’ funds ’with the best interests of their client in mind,’ at all times.

Emily Deane TEP is Technical Counsel at STEP