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Music Therapy – How Does It Benefit Patients?

This week I watched an inspiring presentation about the potential benefits of music therapy for people, who have been affected by brain injury or neurological disease.

The presentation was by an organisation called Chroma. Chroma provides music therapy services for patients with neurological and spinal cord injuries across the UK. I was particularly interested to learn about “neurologic music therapy” and how music can be used to help injured patients with their rehabilitation. This therapy can be used for people who have cognitive, sensory, and motor function deficits related to neurologic disease.

I studied neuroscience alongside law at university and have always been particularly interested by anything “brain related”. It was a (very) long time ago and inevitably science has come on leaps and bounds since then, but I remember learning about the concept of “neuroplasticity” and the idea that the human brain is able to change and adapt throughout its lifetime. Music therapy, as I understand it, can be used to encourage and promote this plasticity in the brain.

Brain or neurological injury can damage or disrupt neural networks in the brain, causing significant impairment. Plasticity involves the creation of new neural pathways and rehabilitation can be designed to promote this activity, which plays a part in helping people overcome impairments due to brain injury.

So How Does Music Therapy Help?

Listening to music involves several areas of the brain, as does learning to play an instrument. These activities may help to strengthen connections between neural networks in the brain and improve the brain’s ability to adapt to changes in the environment.

For example, if a patient is working on improving their gait, they can be encouraged to move to a particular rhythm. This has been shown to improve walking speed and distance in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Benefits have also been seen in stroke patients. I am sure that most people will be able to relate to the impulse to move in sync to a beat, even those non-dancers!

In addition, the enjoyment of listening to music, or playing an instrument, may also have an effect. This can release dopamine (a “feel good” neurotransmitter), which can have a positive effect on neural connections in the brain. It also plays an important part in learning and the brain’s motivation/reward systems. All key in forming and strengthening neural connections.

Brain and neurological injuries can have such a devastating impact on someone’s life and it is incredible to think that music could make such a functional difference here. It has certainly renewed my appreciation for music in general, although perhaps not for all genres!

Transparency/Accountability in the Private Sector

In the news this week there have been warnings of cancellations of operations on the NHS as a result of COVID-19. It would appear that this is to help the NHS cope with potential rising numbers of coronavirus cases this winter.

Many routine surgeries were cancelled or postponed earlier in the year because of the pandemic. The impact of the pandemic has also been keenly felt by oncology services, with worrying reports of cancer patients experiencing delays in treatment. It is predicted by the Lancet Oncology Journal that these delays will inevitably result in unnecessary deaths from cancer, which is a tragic outcome. NHS hospitals across the country are now facing a backlog and it could be possible that ongoing delays see more patients considering whether they are able to go private. With the ongoing strain on the NHS as a result of the COVID crisis, there is the potential for more services to be outsourced to the private sector.

Recently, stories surrounding orthopaedic surgeon Derek McMinn have made headlines, reporting that patient bones had allegedly been stored without full consent or licence over the last few decades. It is understood that many of his patients were seen at the private BMI hospital in Edgbaston. These accounts also bring to mind the fairly recent scandal involving breast surgeon Ian Paterson, who subjected many patients to unnecessary surgeries and exposed some of the gaps in protection for private sector patients.

How Easy Is It for Patients with Legitimate Claims to Receive Compensation?

Generally, doctors who work at private hospitals are not “employees” of that hospital in the way they usually would be if they worked for an NHS trust. Doctors working at private hospitals must therefore have their own individual indemnity insurance. This can sometimes make it more difficult for patients with legitimate claims to receive adequate compensation, which was one of the issues faced by Ian Paterson’s patients. Cases are, of course, fact-specific but the private hospital itself is not always accountable if things go wrong. This is in contrast with care within the NHS when it is the relevant NHS trust, which is accountable.

What Are ‘Never Events’?

Last month the Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN) published data on serious patient safety incidents in private acute care from 2019. This appears to be the first time a comprehensive dataset of “Never Events” involving private patients has been published in the UK. Never Events are defined by the NHS as patient safety incidents that are “wholly preventable”. The data published by PHIN refers to 21 Never Events being reported in a private setting and include instances such as wrong site surgery and wrong implants/prostheses being used.

The publication of the above information is interesting as this type of information is something that is already monitored in the NHS on a regular basis. The NHS has routinely published this information as part of an open and transparent approach to patient safety and so that lessons can be learned where things go wrong (whether this culture is, in fact, always adopted is a subject for a different day).

It is important to note that the PHIN data indicates that data was submitted from only 287 out of 595 private provided sites. This would indicate there is still some way to go in terms of improving transparency within the private sector. However, hopefully this is still a step in the right direction and patients will now have access to more information to enable them to make better informed decisions about treatment.

With increased transparency, it is hoped that this will also lead to better protection for patients in the private sector and greater consistency across the board with regard to accountability in healthcare generally.

Amendment to the Job Support Scheme

HM Treasury has today announced that the Government contribution to employers’ wage costs under the Job Support Scheme (“JSS”) for open businesses will be increased, and the minimum percentage of normal hours that must be worked by an employee under the scheme will be reduced.

Employers will be required to pay not less than 5% of the cost of unworked hours, capped at £125.00 per month, instead of the 33% (uncapped) originally announced; and the minimum hours requirement is to be 20% of the norm, instead of 33%. The requirement for employers to pay all employer’s national insurance contributions and auto-enrolment pension contributions is to remain.

The government will now provide 61.67% of wages for hours not worked, up to a cap of £1541.75 per month - more than doubling the maximum payment of £697.92 under the rules as originally announced.

The scheme for businesses legally required to close remains unchanged. For details of that scheme, click here

The JSS, which was originally announced on 24 September 2020, opens on 1 November 2020 and is intended to run for six months.

The government’s full announcement can be accessed here and its modified factsheet for the ‘open’ JSS is here

Seven Months on and I'm Still Juggling the Balls!

Unbelievably five months ago I wrote about the challenges faced working and adapting to “lockdown” because of COVID-19 and now we are somehow in October, and whilst currently we are avoiding “lockdown” we are still adapting to a new working world!

The challenge in the early months of COVID-19 was balancing work with home, whilst having everyone around, and ensuring the needs of clients could be met. A challenge I initially thought would be for a couple of weeks but, which quickly, turned into a couple of months. However, I coped and the new working way evolved. I started work earlier, I home schooled, I carried out motherly duties, hairdressing duties, housekeeper duties and progressed my cases as far as I could, with the courts granting stays on cases where steps to progress just could not be taken. Even defendant insurers were being reasonable!

Then came the next challenge…..the end of lockdown. Hooray! I thought, things will go back to normal…children in school, husband back to work, dad moved back to his own home and I can go back to work to progress my clients’ cases with them getting medical examinations and rehabilitation.

I waited, with excitement, for the ‘announcement’ from the managing partner for the date to return to the office. I was ready….I had seen my hairdresser so no longer looked like captain cavemen, my nails were done and I had bought a new pair of shoes. Yep I was ready!!

But, in the announcement the managing partner said he was not in a rush to get us all back to our desks, that we needed to wait to see what the impact on the virus would be when the schools re-opened, along with the bars and restaurants. Whilst I was disappointed I still thought it would be okay, I believed we’d know in a month or so that all was going to be fine and we’d go back to normal!

The services our firm offers are vast and often clients need their legal advice without delay. The plan to remain in the status quo, with some staff working at home and some staff working in the office, meant the cases could continue to be progressed. Should the worst happen, with someone working in the office receiving a positive test for COVID, those who’d been at home could swap places, meaning the vital services for our clients would continue.

Another few weeks on and the challenge continues. Unfortunately, COVID-19 does not appear to be going anywhere any time soon and so the business, and its people, have had to adapt to a new working world, but we have successfully found a way to do it. Clients are having rehabilitation such as counselling just through a virtual platform rather than a face to face, they can have their medical examinations for the reports required to progress their legal case, even if they too are on the virtual platform, their cases can be progressed and settled, virtual platforms can be used for court hearings, settlement meetings and meetings with barristers. I now have my own office in the spare room where my dad used to be, so when my boss rings he no longer can hear the washing machine in the background!

So seven months on and yes I’ve still got this! I still work at home but, can see clients either in person by appointment or virtually, at a time when it is convenient for them, even if it is outside “normal” office hours, whatever they used to be! I can deal with the court process so deadlines can be met and cases can still be settled. Whilst I personally very much hope the new virtual world will not take over completely, and there will be some return in the future to the old normal working world of one to one contact, it is a way of life that does work.

Whatever the new “normal” may turn out to be, one thing is for sure, I have got this! We are more adaptable than we think and I have a lovely new pair of shoes to wear!!

Driving Whilst Using a Phone

Reports in the national press over the weekend have highlighted changes to the law when driving whilst using a mobile phone, which are set to be implemented early next year.

It will now become illegal to pick up a mobile phone whilst driving, thereby closing a somewhat bizarre loophole, which currently allows drivers to escape punishment for taking photos or playing games for example.

The Department for Transport has confirmed that following the changes, mobile phones can still be used as hands-free devices to make phone calls, as satnavs if in a cradle device, and also to pay contactless at drive-through takeaways.

The proposed changes have been introduced to close current ambiguities, which have allowed drivers to successfully argue, for example, that filming or taking photos are not ‘performing an interactive communication’ whilst driving.

Comedian Jimmy Carr utilised such a loophole a few years ago, claiming that he was dictating a joke into his phone whilst driving and thus escaping a conviction.

More recently Ramsey Barreto was found guilty of using his phone to film a car crash but successfully appealed, leading to High Court Judges criticising the current legislation as failing to have evolved with the advances in smartphones.

Anyone convicted of such an offence would be looking at a fine and six penalty points on their driving licence.

For any advice or guidance on this or any other motoring law matter, please contact me or one of the team.

Extension to the Job Support Scheme

On 24 September 2020, the Chancellor announced the Job Support Scheme (“JSS”), as explained here. In its original form, the JSS would not provide support to businesses that are legally required to close their premises due to Covid-19 restrictions, meaning that employees are unable to work. Therefore, on 9 October, the Chancellor announced an extension to the scheme.

The extension will also apply from 1 November and will help businesses that are legally required to close their premises as a direct result of local or national Covid-19 restrictions, including those businesses that are required to provide only delivery and collection services. The extension will not apply to businesses that are required by local public health authorities to close following a specific workplace Covid-19 outbreak.

Currently, there is no exclusion for large employers based on a financial assessment test (as applies under the original JSS), but there is an expectation that large employers will not claim if they are doing well enough to make capital distributions.

For the extended JSS to apply to an employee, they must be off work for a minimum of seven consecutive days following an instruction from their employer to cease work as a result of restrictions applicable to the employer's premises. In addition, a Real Time Information (“RTI”) submission notifying payment to that employee to HMRC must have been made on or before 23 September.

The government will fund two thirds of eligible employees' normal pay, up to £2,100 per month, with payments to employers being made in arrears and subject to tax. The payments will only be made in respect of periods that an employee has ceased work altogether. The only contribution required from employers under the scheme will be to cover employer national insurance contributions and auto enrolment pension contributions, but employers may make additional the payments if they wish – and, indeed, they should bear in mind that as was the case under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (“CJRS”), unless they have the benefit of a contractual lay-off provision which entitles them to do so, they will need the agreement of the employee, or otherwise appropriately effect an amendment to their employment terms, if they are to lawfully make reduced payments.

An employer does not need to have made claims under the CJRS to make a claim under the extended JSS.

When its premises re-open, an employer can claim under the original JSS if it meets the criteria applicable to that part of the scheme.

As applies in the case of the original JSS, an employee cannot be made redundant or put on notice of redundancy during the period in respect of which their employer is making a claim.

HMRC intends to publish the names of employers that have used the JSS, so that employees will be able to find out if their employer has claimed for them. This has not been a feature of the CJRS.

The extension will sit alongside the original JSS and the Job Retention Bonus scheme. The online claims service is expected to be available from early December 2020.

HM Treasury has published a factsheet with some of the details as to how the extended scheme will work. However, clarification and guidance from HMRC is needed on both parts of the scheme, with detailed HMRC guidance and a Treasury direction yet to be published. For example, it remains to be seen how the two parts of the JSS will work together for employers that re-open and exactly what rules will apply to large employers in respect of the different parts of the scheme.

This leaves employers with little time to put appropriate arrangements in place by 1 November. However, we are assisting employers with arrangements based on the information currently available, to include reserving their position in respect of any developments in the way the JSS is to operate.

Guidance on the Job Retention Bonus

On 8 July 2020, the Chancellor announced that employers will be paid a £1,000 Job Retention Bonus (“JRB”) for each employee they bring back from furlough under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (“CJRS”) and continuously employ through to January 2021. The Chancellor advised that, for businesses to be eligible for the bonus, the employee must be paid at least £520 on average in each month from November 2020 to the end of January 2021 (equivalent to the national insurance lower earnings limit).

The government published a policy paper on the JRB on 31 July 2020 that provided further detail on the JRB and advised that further guidance would be published by the end of September 2020. In fact, the guidance was published on 2 October, in the form of claim guidance and minimum income threshold guidance.

On the same day, the Treasury published its fourth direction on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) (dated 1 October 2020). Treasury directions set out formal, legally binding rules as to how the CJRS operates. The fourth direction modifies the CJRS to establish the JRB. It also confirms that all CJRS claims must be made no later than 30 November 2020.

Eligible employers

The claim guidance advises that employers are eligible to claim a JRB in respect of an employee if they have furloughed the employee and made an eligible claim under the CJRS.

The fourth Treasury direction states that a qualifying employer for the purposes of the JRB is one who has:

  • A PAYE scheme registered on HMRC’s real time information (RTI) system for PAYE.
  • Made a CJRS claim in respect of an employee.
  • Delivered the required information to HMRC.

The required information is the PAYE information for relevant payments made by the employer in the period beginning on 6 April 2020 and ending on 5 February 2021.

Employers can still claim if they have made a claim for the employee through the [Job Support Scheme] (JSS).

However, the claim guidance states that employers cannot claim the JRB where they:

  • Have repaid the full CJRS grant to HMRC, regardless of the reason.
  • Made an incorrect CJRS claim in respect of the employee and they were not eligible under that scheme.

Further, no JRB claim may be made “if it is abusive or is otherwise contrary to the exceptional purposes” of the CJRS or the JRB.

Eligible employees

Employers can claim the JRB in respect of employees who:

  • Were previously furloughed and an eligible claim under the CJRS was made in respect of them.
  • Were continuously employed from the end of the last CJRS claim period the employer made in respect of them until 31 January 2021.
  • Are not serving a contractual or statutory notice period in respect of the termination of their employment on 31 January 2021. (The guidance states that this includes employees serving notice of retirement, and on the face of the wording of the Treasury direction it includes notice for any reason, whether provided by the employer or the employee.)
  • Meet the minimum income threshold.

Claim can be made in respect of individuals who are not employees, such as office holders or agency workers, as long as there was a claim under the CJRS in respect of them and the other eligibility criteria of the JRB are met.

Minimum income threshold

Employees must have been paid a total of at least £1,560 gross during the three relevant tax months:

  • 6 November to 5 December 2020.
  • 6 December 2020 to 5 January 2021.
  • 6 January to 5 February 2021.

Employees must have been paid at least one payment of taxable earnings (of any amount) in each of the relevant tax months.

The minimum income threshold criteria apply regardless of:

  • How often an employer pays its employees.
  • Any circumstances that may have reduced an employee’s pay in the relevant tax periods, such as being on statutory leave or unpaid leave.

Only payments included as taxable pay will count towards the minimum income threshold. Taxable pay is the amount reported to HMRC through Full Payment Submissions via RTI. HMRC will check the information submitted through RTI to ensure that employees claimed for have been paid at least the minimum income threshold.

Further guidance on whether an employee will meet the minimum income threshold is set out in the minimum income threshold guidance, which includes examples of different employee scenarios.

TUPE

The claim guidance advises that employers may be eligible to claim under the JRB for employees of a previous business who transferred to them where:

  • The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE) applied to the transfer.
  • The PAYE business succession rules applied.
  • The employees were associated with the transfer of a business from the liquidator of a company in compulsory liquidation where TUPE would have applied had the company not been in compulsory liquidation.
  • The employer claiming the JRB furloughed and successfully claimed for the employee under the CJRS as their new employer, and the employee meets all the eligibility criteria for the JRB.

An employer can therefore not claim the JRB for any employees who transfer to it after the CJRS closes on 31 October 2020.

How to claim

Employers will be able to make a claim for the JRB between 15 February and 31 March 2021.

The claim guidance states that it will be updated by the end of January 2021 with details of how employers can access the online claim service on gov.uk.

Before employers can claim the JRB, they will need to:

  • Have reported all payments made to the relevant employees between 6 November 2020 and 5 February 2021 through RTI.
  • Still be enrolled for PAYE online.
  • Comply with their obligation to file PAYE accurately and on time under RTI reporting for all employees between 6 April 2020 and 5 February 2021.
  • Keep their payroll up to date and make sure that they report the leaving date for any employees who stop working for them before the end of the pay period that they leave in.
  • Use the irregular payment pattern indicator in RTI for any employees not being paid regularly.
  • Comply with all requests from HMRC to provide any employee data for past CJRS claims.

When will payment be received?

No information has been provided as yet of how quickly HMRC will process claims. However, the claim guidance states that if HMRC are still checking an employer’s CJRS claims, it can still claim the JRB, but payment may be delayed until after those checks are completed.

Who keeps the payment?

The guidance makes it clear that employers do not have to pay the JRB over to the employee – and, indeed, the indication from the outset has been that JRBs are intended to be paid for the benefit of businesses and that they will therefore indirectly benefit employees by supporting their employer, as opposed to it being intended that they are to be passed on to employees.

Tax treatment

Employers must include payments they receive under the scheme as income when calculating their taxable profits for income tax and corporation tax purposes. However, individuals with employees that are not employed as part of a business (such as nannies or other domestic staff) will not have to pay tax on JRBs.

Shielding - Updated Guidance

Public Health England (“PHE”) has updated its guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from Covid-19.

Shielding for the clinically extremely vulnerable was paused in England on 31 July and in Wales on 16 August. On 13 October, PHE updated its Guidance on shielding and protecting extremely vulnerable persons from Covid-19 (“the Guidance”). It aims to strike a better balance between keeping the clinically extremely vulnerable safe and reducing some of the potentially harmful impacts on their mental and social wellbeing associated with the previous strict shielding guidance. The Guidance sets out the steps clinically extremely vulnerable people can take to protect themselves at each local Covid alert level. The conditions automatically covered by the definition of "clinically extremely vulnerable" remain unchanged.

The corresponding guidance in Wales remains unchanged.

The government has stated that it will only reintroduce formal shielding advice for England in the very worst affected local areas for a limited time. This is to only apply to some, not all, very high alert level areas and is to be based on the Chief Medical Officer's advice. The government will write to individuals to inform them if they are advised to shield.

Those required to travel into a different local Covid alert level area for work should follow the guidance for whichever area has the higher alert level.

The clinically extremely vulnerable are advised to work from home where possible, but otherwise go into their workplace – unless they live or work in an area where formal shielding advice is in place and they have received a new shielding notification letter, in which event statutory sick pay will be available to those who qualify for it.

Those who are not advised to shield who cannot perform their normal role from home are advised to discuss temporarily changing their role or working pattern with their employer, for example, to avoid travelling in rush hour.

The Guidance includes a reminder that employers are required to take steps to reduce the risk of exposure to Covid-19 in the workplace, and that in the event that they fail to do so, the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities can take action which can range from the provision of specific advice, issuing enforcement notices, and stopping certain work practices until they are made safe – backed up by the potential for prosecution in the event that employers fail to comply with enforcement notices.

A point not spelt out in the Guidance, but which employers should keep in mind, is that a failure to make reasonable adjustments to enable a clinically extremely vulnerable employee to continue working might constitute a breach of the Equality Act 2010. There is reference, though, to the fact that employees with disabilities who need support to work at home or in the workplace can apply to Access to Work – which can also help assess whether an employee’s needs can be met through reasonable adjustments. Assistance may include a grant to help cover the costs of travel to and from work or practical support in the workplace (which can include the employee’s home); and confidential mental health support is also available.

Divorce Trauma Akin to PTSD? Try Collaborative Law!

The Mail Online today (16 October 2020) tells the traumatic account of the 53 year old consultant from Telford called Sarah who was diagnosed with PTSD type symptoms following her divorce. Sarah says her body had been "catapulted into trauma mode" after experiencing her divorce. She felt in a perpetual state of terror. She says she is envious of anyone who can divorce amicably and that she had a terrifying thought that, if she and her estranged husband could not resolve their differences and the matter had to go to Court, it would cost thousands in legal fees. Happily Sarah is now managing her stress levels with the help of alternative remedies but she is stuck, with the Decree Absolute being delayed by lockdown, and struggling to reach agreement over terms of financial settlement with her husband.

The online article suggests looking into a broader support network of family, friends and counsellors, but it does not mention collaborative law or any other form of alternative dispute resolution for couples going through relationship breakdown. Helen, another woman cited in the article, says the current legal system only fuels hostility and puts families in huge amounts of debt. Kirstine, another woman featured, refers to taking antidepressants and being unable to sleep for worrying. The message from these women's experience is "if you don't prioritise your own mental and physical health, the whole family suffers. So put your own oxygen mask on first".

What a pity none of these ladies had the opportunity of resolving their relationship breakdown through the collaborative law approach. For Sarah especially, in view of there being a group of specialist solicitors in Shropshire actively practising the collaborative law approach, it might have made all the difference.

Under the collaborative approach, couples meet (yes, even in COVID-19’s restricted times!) each with their collaborative lawyer for support, agree not to go to Court and sign a Participation Agreement to that effect. Through a series of face-to-face meetings, they work through their own agendas to agree the best outcome for their family as a whole in a non-confrontational, respectful fashion.

The couple have access at all times to a family therapist and can choose at any time to suspend their meetings, to work through issues affecting their children, or learn coping mechanisms for processing the grief of the relationship breakdown itself. Couples take ownership of their process, working at their pace and identifying the issues they want on their agenda. Experts in pensions, mortgages and financial planning can join the meetings to explain the best options available for the family and help them to find fair, tax efficient and cost-effective methods to divide assets and plan incomes post separation. Specialist solicitors advise on what the principles of divorce law are, how they apply to the couple’s circumstances and assist them in discussions leading to a mutually agreed solution.

These discussions can be as wide-ranging as the couple wish, to include arrangements for the children, how assets are to be split, how pensions and incomes are to be shared and even arrangements for pets. Nothing is off limits, it is the couple’s process. This removes the worry and anxiety as the couple sets the agenda, there is transparency of advice and they can come out of the process with a Financial Order, granted by the Court and their Decree Absolute, in a much shorter timescale than if matters had to go through the Court process, especially during COVID times. It is a fraction of the price of Court proceedings too.

Communication is promoted which makes co-parenting easier and the children thrive seeing their parents continuing to work together, often attending school events and relating to the in-laws just as happily as previously.

I am a specialist family solicitor of 24 years and have been a collaborative lawyer for over 10 years and the collaborative practice has transformed my work for the good and I would recommend it without a shadow of a doubt to every client. For more information please go to www.shropshirecollaborativelawyers.co.uk.

Shop Local - Conwy Promotes Local Shops/Cafés

#buylocal
The message to support our local businesses is nothing new, but has been brought into sharper focus by Covid-19. People might be restricted from travelling during lockdowns, or might be reluctant to use public transport or be among strangers in busy high streets and shops. Many of us just want to recognise our local businesses for the support they gave to people in these difficult times, such as setting up armies of volunteers to take free deliveries to those shielding or self-isolating, or staying open and providing a takeaway service when we all needed a Lockdown Pick-Me-Up.

Some time ago I read a statistic which said that if you shop in an independent shop, 94 pence in every pound will go back into the local community, whereas only 16 pence in every pound spent in a chain store will be recovered locally.

I’ve never been much of a shopper, I do a couple of big outings to Chester per year and you can always spot me, I’m the one with a detailed list and a face that says, “Don’t come near me, I am a woman on a mission and I might mow you down in my bid to get out of town”. It’s fair to say I’m not one of Nature’s Browsers!

However, recently I have been able to spend a couple of really nice Saturday mornings in Llanfyllin far more enjoyably than I would after doing battle with a Park & Ride and crowds and, at the same time, I can fulfil my #buylocal mission.

One such morning recently involved brunch with my mum, walking into Llanfyllin in the sunshine and starting at the lovely little vegan café that Kim has opened, Vegan Goodies Wales. I’m not a vegan but can’t eat dairy and Kim does the world’s best soya hot chocolate with swirly cream and marshmallows, something I thought I would never be able to have again. I bought a slice of her amazing cherry lattice tart (because cake counts as a balanced meal on a Saturday, right?) which she put in a takeaway box made of compostable vegetable waste. We had our usual chat about her dogs and her family (my order of priorities!) and then crossed the road to Siân’s wonderful café, Something Tasty.

She is kindly very open to me bringing my soya drinks in to have with my breakfast there and she and her smiling staff make sure we can sit inside safely, or outside in the sunshine, and have a lovely brunch to suit any taste. My hash browns habit is indulged by her without judgement!

Off then to Wyvern Woofterz, a small shop selling local-made wax melts and with a dog-grooming business attached. More dog talk with the lovely guys who own it and then sniffing around in a way even the dogs in the grooming parlour would think excessive, at all the gorgeous scented melts and being easily persuaded that I need a pack of these in my life.

Daisy Blue, a little boutique on the square, was open – selling not only clothes but lovely scarves, bags and jewellery, even I could start to see the attraction of clothes-shopping! It is spacious and thoughtfully set out and the bamboo socks with cats on have had a firm seal of approval from my friend’s 15-year old daughter, high praise indeed…….

Into Wishing Well to browse their selection of beautiful artisan cards and buy a birthday present for a friend (an ornament now taking pride of place on her hearth). My mother bought a reusable face mask that she texted later to say was the most comfortable one she owned then recovery from all the excitement of the morning with one more cup of tea!

With Christmas shopping season fast approaching, thoughts will be turning to how to manage it according to our budgets and local restrictions. More than ever, we need those unusual little surprises in our lives, to make us smile and remind us we will get through this, and that, in the meantime, there is fun to be had. I’d suggest you will find all the ingredients of fun and surprise in your local shops and, in the process, you will be making sure that virtually every penny goes back into your local community.

Happy shopping!

Law Amended so Co-habitees Can Claim Bereavement Damages

When a close relative dies in circumstances where a civil action can be brought, the law is governed by the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. This Act specifies the categories of relatives who can bring claims for bereavement damages and loss of financial dependency. The statute already allowed co-habitees to bring claims for financial dependency, however bereavement damages were only permitted for a surviving husband or wife or civil partner.

In the case of Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Others the Claimant Ms Smith and Mr Bulloch lived in the same household as man and wife for a period of 11 years prior to his death. They never married and it was accepted by the court that the relationship was equal in every respect to a marriage in terms of love, loyalty and commitment.

Mr Bulloch died as a result of the admitted negligence of the Defendant Hospital Trusts. Because the Fatal Accidents Act did not cover a claim for bereavement damages for a co-habitee the Secretary of State for Justice was joined as a Defendant on the basis that the government had failed to enact law that was compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. As a result of Ms Smith’s case the Judge found that the Fatal Accidents Act was incompatible with the European Convention by excluding two years plus co-habitees. However the Judge was unable to award damages leaving Ms Smith with a claim to the European Court of Human Rights.

I have long been a critic of the amount of the award of bereavement damages which is currently fixed by law at £15,120. The award falls towards the upper end of the bracket for simple fractures of the forearm. I am pleased, however, to note that following the Smith decision, parliament has just passed legislation, which will mean that co-habitees will be able to claim bereavement damages for claims arising from deaths from 6 October 2020.

It is necessary for the co-habitee partner to prove that they:

  • were living with the deceased in the same household immediately before the date of death; and
  • had been living with the deceased in the same household for at least two years before that date; and
  • were living during the whole of that period as the wife or husband or civil partner of the deceased.

Cases involving co-habiting partners can be complicated if there have been periods apart and each case also needs to be carefully considered on its facts. I hope that this change in law will assist bereaved partners to at least have some recognition of their bereavement in those circumstances.

If you need advice, please contact our personal injury team.

Frequently Asked Questions about Pension Sharing in Divorce

Will I Have to Share My Pension?
This partly depends on when your pension was accrued. If it was accrued during the marriage or during cohabitation immediately before the marriage, then it will be considered a matrimonial asset, which is open to be shared. If your pension, or part of it, was accrued before the marriage or cohabitation period, then it may be excluded as a non-matrimonial asset.

However, a judge could still decide that is necessary to share part or all of a pension accrued before the marriage, if it is necessary for a fair outcome. Ask your Family Lawyer for advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

What Does It Mean If My Pension Is Shared?
Pensions can be shared in two ways. One way is for a proportion of your pension income to be paid directly to your ex-spouse by your pension provider. The payments only start upon your retirement when you start to receive your pension income. This is known as a “pension attachment order”.

The second way is for a percentage of your pension’s capital value to be transferred out of your pension pot into a pension in your ex-spouse’s sole name. The transfer takes place immediately, so that your ex-spouse can invest their share in a pension product of their choice and you can continue paying into your pension pot to build it back up before retirement age. This is known as a “pension sharing order”.

Your Family Solicitor can advise you about the pros and cons of these options.

How Much of My Pension Will I Have to Share?
The amount of pension to be shared will depend partly on the extent of your ex-spouse’s pension, the other assets in the marriage, and all the circumstances of the case, including how close you are to retirement. Speak to your Family Lawyer for guidance about how your specific circumstances may affect your case.

It may be possible to “offset” pension sharing against other assets in the marriage. For example, a wife may be able to keep all of her pension if the imbalance is offset by her husband taking more of the capital from the family home. A judge will only allow “offsetting” in this way if the overall outcome meets both parties’ needs, balancing pension needs with housing needs and income needs.

It may be necessary to have a pensions actuary prepare a report, to show what share would provide equality of income on retirement, and what is fair in terms of “offsetting”. Your Family Lawyer will be able to advise you on your best options for pension sharing.

For more information, please contact us.

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